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How HR can support managers in a recession

You've seen the news: a global recession is coming. So businesses plan for the worst and hope for the best. And HR priorities change yet again; or do they? Recessions create challenges for businesses as sales fall, costs spiral and uncertainty grows at every turn. But ensuring great performance and strong employee engagement are essential whatever the financial climate. The only change is the way you must support managers in a recession.

With an uncertain backdrop, the shape and direction of the business changes. So visions shift and goals adjust. Your role is to make sure managers can support their teams, now and in the future. So you need short-, medium- and long-term strategies to support managers and safeguard the business against turbulent times. It's time to review:

  • Short-term support managers need from HR
  • Building engagement in the medium-term
  • Future strategies for business success

Immediate support for managers in a recession

Recessions are stressful. So give managers tools to help employees through the uncertainty. Start by addressing immediate concerns, and help managers build trust with their teams by showing they care and can offer support.

Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) and financial advice

Spiralling credit card debt, increasing food costs and higher mortgage repayments. All realities of a recession that affect people differently. So give managers resources employees can access. Employee Assistance plans offer counselling and mental health advice. And financial plans reduce stress by helping employees budget better and feel more in control of their finances.

Share a clear vision

From senior leadership to junior managers, communication is key. As the impacts of recession become clear, visions change and OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) shift. So bring managers at all levels into the new plan. They need to know how their teams fit. Your support for your managers during a recession will ensure they can help drive business survival (and success) when the economy improves.

Weekly check-ins help managers in a recession

Managers understand their teams, personally and in their performance. They must continue removing barriers to success for employees and identify changes in attitude or approach and offer relevant support. And you must encourage them to complete their own check-ins and regularly review employee check-ins to support their team's overall wellbeing.

Managers feel uncertain in a recession, yet they're expected to drive delivery and success. So give them tools to support their teams, but don't introduce new processes. Don't suddenly request performance reviews if they aren’t normally due. Managers will be sceptical and assume it’s linked to making redundancies, so you won’t get a true picture of what’s happening.

Medium-term strategies to support managers to drive performance and engagement in a recession

According to a Chinese proverb, the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago; the second-best time is today. Once you've dealt with the initial shock of a recession, it's time to start looking ahead. So if you don't already have the managers you need, develop these skills, and make sure you have them for the future.

Better resilience

Managers must deal with change and help employees do the same by building resilience. Use regular feedback to celebrate success and flag any areas of concern. It allows self-reflection on challenges and identifies improvements needed. So people become less fearful of negative comments and better able to take things in their stride.

Regular communication

Managers are key in employee engagement. And great managers communicate with their teams often. They know how projects are progressing and actively remove obstacles. And they encourage people to share concerns and notice changes in behaviour or approach. So make communication an essential skill. So the best way to support your managers in a recession is to introduce employee check-ins. And get the benefits of more effective performance management too.

Drive recognition

Celebrating success is easy when things go well, but it's essential during a recession. You need managers who recognise the little things and shout about achievements in their team. It creates a positive culture and drives commitment and engagement because employees feel valued even before the economy improves.

Long-term strategies to support managers in a recession

Providing long-term support for managers in a recession looks a lot like creating effective people strategies. In fact, that's exactly what it is. You might face a budget challenge or delay to recruitment but the principles remain, regardless of the economic situation. So use this opportunity to refresh your people approach. And remind managers about their role in making it happen:

Create strong relationships

Employees need to know how they're doing. And managers must provide that guidance. But they need a structure to work to. Employee check-ins provide two-way interaction where employees update and managers support and re-direct. But not all managers know how to have these conversations. So teach them how to get to know their teams.

Set clear OKRs

The shift for many businesses to remote and hybrid working models has changed how performance is assessed. So get managers clear on the vision and how that impacts their team. Then teach them how to write great OKRs so you can focus on the right goals for the future.

Develop your teams

Recessions often mean cutbacks in the workforce, but that doesn't mean there are no opportunities. Managers must develop team members with skills you need for the future. They should seek secondments or projects that will grow their skills, even when promotions might be scarce. Don't scale back how you support managers in a recession, encourage personal growth.

Provide regular feedback

Make timely feedback part of a manager’s toolkit. It helps employees celebrate success in the moment and gives time to adjust their course when OKRs are going off track. So employees build trust with their manager and feel more connected to the business. But not all managers have this skill, so train them to do it better.

Managing in a recession isn't easy, but you must build the foundations now. So create medium- and long-term strategies that develop the skills you need for the future.

To read more about employee engagement and performance during a recession, download our latest best practice guide: Managing People in Tough Times.