A company’s traditional response when things got a bit rocky was to turn to layoffs, to downsize and cut costs. We are seeing a return to this practice by some, including large corporate names such as JP Morgan, Netflix, and Tesla. But is this truly the most strategic course of action?

Why it May Be Different This Time

This downturn follows an unprecedented employment scenario. Not all lost jobs lost during COVID have been recovered. With more than 11 million open jobs in the U.S., the result is nearly two jobs for every unemployed person. While this doesn’t suggest that each person is a perfect match for the open jobs, it does reflect the continued need for workers.

Even though job growth is mostly stagnant and layoffs may loom overhead, we still have the responsibility of maintaining a fully engaged workforce to secure our future and to retain the key talent in the organization. This is no small task, and when done successfully, it may be the single-most important thing a leader does to survive a poor economy. There are a few simple things that can be done to keep your workforce positive and focused on driving productivity and profitability.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

Keeping the lines of communication open often falls outside our comfort zone. We must be continually communicating with our workforce to maintain employee confidence. Remember, communication is a two-way street.

To effectively communicate, we must take the time to really listen. Perhaps we think that guarding information will eliminate rumors and speculation. Well, as one wise author once said, “You can fool the spectators, but you can’t fool the players.” Update your workforce on the health of the company. Solicit their ideas on how they can help in areas of cost control and eliminating waste. Be open and honest, thus earning employee trust and confidence. In Stephen M. R. Covey’s book, The Speed of Trust, he observes that when trust is high, speed is also high equating to low cost. When trust is low, the speed at which things are done slows and costs rise. If you have a large workforce, keeping lines of communication open can be challenging.

Employee Recognition

Do you have your finger on the pulse of your employees’ morale? In a recent survey of more than 900 employees across several business sectors, results showed that 60 percent of those surveyed reported that they had intentions to pursue new job opportunities. Just under a quarter of the respondents said they may leave and are currently networking. Six percent stated that they were not likely to leave; however, they have updated their resume.

To combat these statistics, don’t lose sight of the basics. Remember to reward employees for a job well done. The best recognition programs are often the least expensive. When you see it, say it. Don’t let good work or instances where employees perform “above and beyond” go unnoticed. Make sure your key players know they are indeed key players. Talk to them and keep them involved. If your key employees are engaged, they will set the example for others to follow. Build a positive image of your employees in front of their peers and in front of other leaders. These positive, motivating conversations will go a long way in building morale and employee engagement.

Manage by Walking Around

Stay connected with your workforce. There is often a disconnect between what the employee wants out of their career and what the employer thinks the employee wants. This ties in to our two earlier points: communicating with your employees and rewarding them for a job well done. All of this can be accomplished by being visible. Take the time to get to know your employees. Know them by name. What is the name of their spouse? What interests them outside of work? What are they really passionate about? Knowing your workforce cannot be accomplished from the office trailer or from the inside of your pick-up. The old cliché, “actions speak louder than words,” has never been truer than in the employee/employer environment we find ourselves in today. “Walking the talk” and building relationships of trust and instilling confidence equates to real money on the bottom line. It is a statistical fact that high employee engagement results in greater efficiency and overall profitability.

Where real leadership comes into play

It is not uncommon in these uncertain times for employees to become distracted, resulting in lost productivity. In some cases, they jump ship, especially if the company they work for has had to undergo layoffs or cuts to wages or benefits. Companies move into survival mode and may overlook the long-term effects to their workforce. Decisions in this environment are often made with a short-term view—“let’s just keep this thing afloat.”

This is where real leadership comes into play. Great leaders never lose sight of the big picture. They balance the need for financial prudence with maintaining a loyal and engaged work force. Great leaders recognize that no matter what happens in the economy, there is always a market for high performers. It may appear that your employees are fine. Don’t make that assumption. Communicate, recognize great performance, and engage with your team. The result? A strong bond between the company and the people. Loyal, fully engaged employees will help an organization navigate through the muddy waters of a tough recession.