5 Ways People Leaders Can Help Employees Navigate Economic Uncertainty

Call it a recession, a market correction, a downturn — times of financial uncertainty can be scary to navigate. This is how you can help your people through it.

Written by Jason Medley
Published on Aug. 24, 2022
5 Ways People Leaders Can Help Employees Navigate Economic Uncertainty
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Since the Great Recession ended in 2009, weve been lucky to enjoy relatively steady economic growth. But that means that today there are many people in tech jobs who have never experienced a real economic downturn and the impacts it has on our business. 

Now, with another recession looming on the horizon, companies like Facebook, smaller startups, and everyone in between are focused on efficient growth rather than growth at all costs. As layoffs and cutbacks mount in the technology industry, employees across the board are looking for one guarantee in particular: safety. 

The hard part is that job security is the one guarantee we as people leaders cannot make. However, there are a variety of ways we can support and communicate through a lens of humanity that will help our employees tap into their resilience in times of economic uncertainty. 

5 Ways People Leaders Can Help Employees Navigate Economic Uncertainty

  1. Be honest about what is happening.
  2. Set realistic expectations for the short and long term.
  3. Keep messaging consistent and timely across the organization.
  4. Listen without judgment.
  5. Help them stay positive.

Read More About Recession-Proofing on BuiltIn.comA Designer’s Survival Guide to Economic Uncertainty


5 Ways People Leaders Can Help Employees Navigate Economic Uncertainty

1. Be Honest About What Is Happening

Be upfront and honest about whats happening in the economy, the industry, and your company. Keep in mind that your employees may not be as tuned into the news, especially industry news, as you might think. Help them understand the factors at play causing your company to tighten budgets, re-evaluate goals, or even let some of its employees go. 

Be as transparent as you can be about the discussions happening at every level of the business — and when you can’t be, help your employees understand why you are not able to share everything at this time. Your employees will take great comfort in knowing that you will communicate openly when you can.  


2. Set Realistic Expectations for the Short and Long Term

For the short term, be clear about any revised goals or adjusted budgets. Help employees understand what initiatives or projects will be cut or shelved, which will continue, and why. Employees want to know they are working towards a larger vision and goal, and while some priorities might have shifted, they remain critical to the collective success. 

Restating the importance of running the company as effectively and efficiently as possible and helping employees clearly understand the plan and strategy at this moment in time can instill confidence in the leadership team’s ability to weather the storm and be reassuring for employees.

Communicating about long-term impacts can be tricky as none of us have a crystal ball. It is important to help employees understand that the situation is fluid, Things may change in the future, and there might be tough times ahead. Being clear that you don’t have all the answers and that you cannot guarantee job security is important. Letting your employees know that you are committed to open communication as things evolve will signal to them that you value them as human beings. Also, it’s critical that they know the leadership team is doing everything possible to minimize pain in the organization.   


3. Keep Messaging consistent and timely across the organization

From the CEO to each people leader (and within your internal communication channels), employees need to hear consistent and relevant messaging in each interaction. 

If your people managers don’t have the resources they need to communicate clearly and confidently with their staff, you can be sure rumors and misinformation will breed. Disparate messages only fuel anxiety and fear. Invest in well-thought-out communication resources for your people leaders, including talking points, FAQs, slides, and more. Then, set up people leadership training or communications sessions to ensure managers feel comfortable delivering the messages and answering tough questions.


4. Listen without judgment

Make sure your people know you’re there to listen without judgment. It’s essential to listen and validate their concerns. Try to avoid giving advice or solutions right away. Sometimes people need to vent their fears without being given a list of things they should do differently.

It can be challenging to hear about people’s fears and anxieties, but it’s important to remain calm and understanding. If you need to, take a step back and remember that everyone reacts differently to stress and uncertainty. You can always follow up later when you feel better prepared to listen and offer support.

Consider talking about your own experiences. Share your story with them if you’ve been through a downturn before. This will help them understand that you understand what they’re going through and can provide guidance and support.


5. Help them stay positive

Whenever you can, help your employees understand that you care about them and their future. Tap into their resilience by reminding them of the valuable skills and work they bring to the team and encouraging them to focus on the future. Validate that these are hard times and communicate that it won’t always be like this.

Downturns can be a great time to hone in on personal and professional goals. What do they want to achieve in the next year? In the next five? Help them develop a plan to stay on track, even during tough times. 

While it can be difficult to navigate how to speak positively about the future, it is important to note that challenging times often create opportunities. Opportunities for talent to learn new skills and grow their careers. 

Lastly, you should encourage your people to take some time for themselves. Economic uncertainty for the company and your employees can cause a great amount of stress. Encourage your people to focus on their well-being and take advantage of any benefits or resources the company offers to support them at this time, including mental health benefits, financial planning support, education reimbursement, or career coaching resources. 

As human beings, we are not particularly wired to handle uncertainty well economic slumps and recessions can be upsetting for everyone. But company leaders who lead with a sense of humanity, communicate transparently, and listen without judgment can be a valuable resource for our people as we navigate this uncertainty together.

Read More About Empathetic Leadership on Built In’s Expert Contributors NetworkWhen My First Big Test as a Manager Came, I Failed. Hard. I’m a Better Manager Now Because of It.

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