As we enter 2023, the world is facing an unprecedented level of economic uncertainty, and we in the Nordics are not immune either (even though it has sometimes felt that way). For HR leaders and managers, this can mean dealing with difficult conversations with employees about job security, pay cuts, and other financial pressures. It's important to remember that these conversations can be incredibly stressful and emotional for both you and the employees you're speaking with.
And why me you ask? Who is this guy? Good question, I am not an expert on this topic per se. I don't have a Ph.D. on the ins and outs of a market downturn. But what I do have is experience as someone starting out his career in the US during the big financial crash of 2008. As someone that had just landed his dream job as a junior account executive at an ad agency, and was blind to everything outside his own bubble. And as someone on the receiving end of many difficult conversations that year–including being handed a layoff notice from a visibly emotional (and truly empathetic) leader.
So in this post, I want to share some tips on how to handle these difficult conversations with empathy and professionalism, and a sprinkle of common sense:
🔎 Be transparent and honest
It's important to be upfront and honest with your employees about the financial situation your company is facing. This will help to build trust and credibility with your team. Share as much information as possible about the company's financial situation and the steps that are being taken to address it. Employees will appreciate the transparency and will be more likely to understand the difficult decisions that need to be made.
💬 Communicate regularly
During times of economic uncertainty, communication is key. Make sure to keep your employees informed about any changes or developments that may affect them. This includes updates on the company's financial situation, changes to benefits or compensation, and any other relevant information. Regular communication will help to keep employees engaged and informed.
👭 Show empathy
It's important to remember that your employees are people, not just numbers on a spreadsheet. They may be facing their own financial challenges and may be feeling anxious or stressed about their job security. Show empathy and understanding in your conversations with them. Listen to their concerns and do your best to address them.
✅ Be prepared
When having difficult conversations, it's important to be prepared. Make sure you have all the information you need to answer any questions that may come up. Be ready to discuss the financial situation of the company, the steps that are being taken to address it, and how it may impact your employees.
🤝 Be respectful
Remember that these conversations can be emotional and stressful for everyone involved. Be respectful of your employees' feelings and do your best to address their concerns in a calm and professional manner. Avoid being defensive or dismissive of their concerns.
🗣️ Encourage feedback
It's important to hear feedback from your employees during difficult times. Encourage them to share their thoughts and concerns with you. This will help you to understand their perspective and may also provide valuable insights on how to address the situation.
💁♀️ Provide support
During difficult times, it's important to provide your employees with the support they need. This could include offering financial counseling, mental health resources, or other forms of support. Showing that you care about your employees' well-being will help to build trust and engagement.
🥳 Celebrate successes
It's important to celebrate successes, no matter how small. Recognize and reward employees for their hard work and contributions. This will help to keep morale high and remind everyone that there is still hope for the future.
👍 Keep perspective
Economic uncertainty can be stressful and overwhelming, but it's important to keep perspective. Remember that this is a temporary situation and that the company will eventually recover. Keep a positive attitude and focus on the steps that are being taken to address the situation.
Handling difficult conversations with employees during economic uncertainty is challenging but necessary. From my own perspective, this is not a task to be taken lightly but I believe we can make things easier on all involved parties by not overthinking it, and remembering that we are all human beings at the end of the day and just need to feel seen and heard.
Breaking the process down into 'manageable' tasks like some of the things listed above, it will make the conversations less difficult and help you build trust and engagement with your team and its people. Remember that your employees are the backbone of your company, and they deserve to be treated with respect, empathy, and understanding during these difficult times. And in my case, it will be something you will look back on 15 years later and actually see as a positive learning experience that you will stay with you for the rest of your life.