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Employee Satisfaction And Economic Uncertainty – Can They Work Together?

Have you ever tried juggling? Perhaps your upcoming Christmas party is the perfect time to bring out your long-lost childhood party trick. Juggling three Christmas puddings at the staff party is bound to bring out raptures of laughter as the inevitable fail happens. How about juggling a chainsaw, a bowling ball and an apple while standing on a lump of jelly? 

As a business leader, this is probably how you are feeling right now as you face multiple challenges from global uncertainty and the likely fallout from a weakening economic environment.

The cocktail of challenges is as nightmarish as it is fluid, with: 

  • Inflation and interest rates increasing

  • Fuel prices soaring

  • Stock markets falling

  • Increased talk of recession 

Strategically, it’s tough, but as you step back, you realise there are even greater challenges building – the effects on your employee satisfaction, welfare and engagement. The more the economic environment bites into your business, the more the survival instinct will bite into your employees. 

Stress levels are rising directly with rising mortgage costs, food and fuel prices. If recession becomes a reality, job insecurity will add an additional layer, meaning employees will become laser-focused on keeping a roof over their heads.

In this article, we explore how employee satisfaction ebbs and flows in line with economic environments and how to juggle between the two in a post-pandemic world.

Why is employee satisfaction so important?

Any business is only as good as its employees. To remain competitive, businesses must work hard to create satisfied employees who are committed to their work. With higher employee satisfaction, teams are more likely to go above and beyond for customers, leading to enhanced customer experiences and improved customer loyalty. 

When employees are happy, they are more engaged, which increases productivity. Conversely, unhappy employees will be less engaged and less productive. 

Employee satisfaction also contributes to a positive company culture, an essential drawcard for attracting top talent. It also helps boost employee morale, making people feel they are part of something bigger than themselves – especially if they are aligned with the values of the organisation. When employees feel part of a positive, supportive culture, they’ll be more likely to stay for the longer term

According to a Gallup report, companies that are better at engaging their employees to enjoy greater financial performance, with those in the top quartile of employee engagement enjoying four times greater earnings-per-share than their competitors. 

Workplace wellness is essential for any company that wants to be successful. By focusing on employee satisfaction, companies can create a self-reinforcing cycle.

How do we juggle employee satisfaction as the economic environment worsens?  

We can learn so much from the pandemic that had profound effects on many, especially in the workplace. We went from working in bustling offices to working from home, often alone and with little warning or preparation. This sudden change was challenging, and employee satisfaction levels suffered as a result. 

The pandemic also forced businesses to make significant changes in the way they operated. The rise in digitisation brought in the Zoom generation, enabling great boons in productivity. Instead of commuting to the office or walking to the cafe, we could do business online instantly. While not the same as meeting in person, it was highly functional and very efficient. Greater levels of working from home also meant reductions in office space requirements, opening new models of office utilisation. Rotating office days and hot-desking meant reduced office costs. Behind all the productivity benefits, however, there were challenges to employee satisfaction.

We are social animals and during lockdown, mental health became a major issue. We questioned everything, especially our work life. This led to talk of the great resignation that was prevalent in mid-2021 – where 40% of global employees were contemplating resignation. Poor communication strategies only sought to make the situation worse.

One common complaint among employees was the lack of communication from leadership. Being surrounded by so much uncertainty, many felt left in the dark about important decisions affecting their jobs and their health. In addition, working from home was tough for people who were used to the structure and the camaraderie of an office setting. Many employees suffered from increased workloads due to staff sickness. This increased stress levels and markedly extended the working day.

This lack of an office setting also created challenges for businesses. With a lack of interaction, there was also reduced sharing of ideas and knowledge that helps fuel the DNA of any organisation: 

  • Mentors were not easily available, reducing upskilling

  • Brainstorming had a very different dynamic digitally

  • Creativity of ideas in after-work activities stopped  

These challenges created some unease with some business leaders wanting to change from working from home to working back in the office.

Collectively these all led to feelings of isolation and burnout, leading to negative employee satisfaction. On the flip side, this also saw a rise in workplace wellness programmes. 

Workplace wellness and employee satisfaction

From long hours to demanding deadlines, there are plenty of factors that can contribute to burnout. While a certain amount of stress is part of any job, chronic stress can lead to significant health problems that need to be addressed. 

By adopting workplace wellness programs healthy lifestyle choices are promoted to employees. These may include:

  • On-site exercise classes and gyms 

  • Healthy eating initiatives 

  • Programmes to help stop smoking

  • Mindfulness and meditation training

While workplace wellness programs show your employees that you care about their overall well-being, they are designed specifically to help improve employee engagement. Research shows they also have a positive impact on the bottom line. 

A Harvard Business Review Study on employee wellness programs pointed to an ROI of between $2.71 to $6 for each $1 invested in the case studies they reviewed, with cost savings achieved through reduced healthcare costs and reduced absenteeism. 

Improving employee satisfaction during uncertain times 

Employee satisfaction is crucial to long-term success. Employers can help deal with the negative effects of the current uncertainty by:

  • Being proactive and openly communicating with employees, reinforcing your values 

  • Releasing updates on important developments in the business 

  • Answering questions and employee concerns 

  • Helping those who may be struggling to work from home by providing resources and support 

  • Implementing workplace wellness programs 

  • Being understanding about increased workloads and lightening loads where possible

One example of a company that I know of, has shifted their office space from a flexible hot desking situation, to more pods and meeting spaces, where full teams can book to come in and work together in one space, rather than having a desk for the one day they are in the office for. The result of this? More connection and improvement of team and cross-divisional relationships that were not thriving before.

Workplace wellness, virtual or real, is no longer just an option – with it beginning with the simple question “R U OK?”. 

As we approach an increasingly challenging economic environment time over the next 12 to 18 months, we also need to ask ourselves “how do we approach working from home/hybrid working? 

  • Do we insist that people come into the office so we can all bunker down together to ride out any future challenges? 

  • Do we talk through the situation with all employees and actively embrace feedback?

  • How do we best allocate time to building internal relationships within teams? 

Either way, it is essential to embrace and support employees by providing them with the resources and support they need. Watch this FREE webinar on ‘Virtual Coaching Skills for Leaders & Managers’.

As business leaders, we can help make this challenging time a little easier and help de-stress employees that are undoubtedly going to feel increasingly uncomfortable if the economic environment deteriorates. Employee satisfaction is in your hands. How you influence your teams will be critical to getting that delicate balance between generating maximum performance whilst maximising employee satisfaction.

Transform your influence over your teams and create a work environment where employees feel empowered. Enquire now about ’The Art of Influence’ program. This training program can be tailored to your business needs and engage your teams with world-class, in-house, corporate communication skills training. 

The Colin James Method® Facilitators train corporate executives to improve their professional communication skills with a proven methodology. Our highly trained Facilitators and Coaches are recognised for their experience in their fields and have worked with many individuals and organisations around the world to master the art of communication.

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