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By Emma Price, ActiveOps

How are your team members feeling as recession begins? As someone who manages others, you know that looking after your reports is at the heart of your job. Unfortunately, that might be about to get trickier.

According to survey findings in our recent research report, operations teams are going to have to do more with what they have – and it’s very likely that they’ll have to do more with less, as redundancies are widely expected (and have already been announced at firms including Wells Fargo and Credit Suisse). The situation means employee morale is at risk – which can have devastating effects on productivity, customer satisfaction, and employee retention.

At ActiveOps, we’ve been helping managers in back-office operations to do more for over two decades. We’ve helped organisations achieve 80% positive employee morale, reduce overtime by 19%, and – crucially – reduce staff attrition by 44%, all while improving productivity by 39%. We’ve achieved these results with our clients by recognising that it’s impossible to unlock your operation’s full potential without protecting the wellbeing of your employees and ensuring they’re happy in their work.

In this blog, we’re sharing 10 things that we’ve learned in that time, so that you can do more to support your employees. The more supported they feel, the happier – and therefore more engaged and productive – they will be.

10 tips to looking after your employees

1: Use data to understand what’s happening

If you don’t know what’s going on with your people, you can’t help them. And in the hybrid environments that most of us work in, the only way to truly understand what’s going on is to gather data about productivity, capacity and workload and make it available to managers and individuals. That data can be used in multiple ways:

  • Identifying people who might be struggling and need your support
  • Facilitating cross-team collaboration to ease pressure on overworked teams
  • Celebrating wins to raise team morale
  • Facilitating objective conversations with those who are struggling about what support they need
  • Identifying training opportunities for team members that keep them engaged and help you tackle more work, faster

Putting this information in the hands of managers and team members, in real time, is the backbone of effectively supporting your employees during tough times.

2: Be compassionate

“In a world where you can be anything, be kind,” goes the saying. 31% of our surveyed ops leaders said that low employee morale would be one of the biggest negative consequences of a recession; just like your customers, your employees will be worried about their household budgets and their job security – and they might have partners and families with the same worries. At times like these, it’s going to be impossible for people to leave their personal problems at the door – so you need to help them through it.

Even if you can’t do anything else on this list, recognise the importance of a listening ear and of stepping into your team members’ shoes. If employees feel seen and heard, it’s easier for them to focus on their work when you need them to.

3: Communicate the plan with people

You know that butterfly feeling that comes when you know that something is happening higher up the organisation, but you don’t know what? Your team members are likely feeling that exact way right now. So, the sooner and more frequently you can tell people exactly what’s happening – and why it’s happening – the better chance you have of keeping them engaged.

Ideally that narrative will be supported with data: for instance, “we’ve decided to stop these activities because our data shows that they cost a lot to do for the return they give the business. Instead, we’ll be redistributing those team members across X, Y and Z activities.” These communications give your leadership a chance to demonstrate the values of the business too, helping bring everyone along on the journey your organisation is on.

4: Understand who is doing what

Picture this: one of your team members has to take some emergency leave as a family member is ill. Who can take on their work? What work are they even doing that needs handing over? Do you know? If you do, it’s much easier to redistribute urgent work to support team members while still making progress towards your targets and goals.

Understanding workloads will also help you handle unexpected work without overloading employees, and helps you to understand which employees could be burning out. If someone is working long hours for consecutive days or weeks, for instance, you’ll want to check in with them and see how they’re coping.

5: Talk to other managers about lending and borrowing resource

Creating a culture of cross-team collaboration is vital to surviving a recession. Being able to lend resource from quieter areas to support busier areas of the business won’t just help you tackle work – it’ll also help you protect your employees from overwork and burnout.

Borrowing and lending resource will also help you avoid the costs of outsourcing or overtime – which is handy, as 56% of our respondents agreed that there will be significant pressure on ops teams to do more with what they have in the event of a recession.

Creating a culture of cross-team collaboration is vital to surviving a recession. Being able to lend resource from quieter areas to support busier areas of the business won’t just help you tackle work – it’ll also help you protect your employees from overwork and burnout.

Borrowing and lending resource will also help you avoid the costs of outsourcing or overtime – which is handy, as 56% of our respondents agreed that there will be significant pressure on ops teams to do more with what they have in the event of a recession.

“If work dries up, performance management suffers. To address that, we gave our people opportunities to explore items that they had in their individual development plans in other areas of the business.”

Jane Pretty, operations expert and ActiveOps employee

6: Watch for signs of burnout

Especially in a hybrid or remote workforce, you won’t always know if your team members are struggling with burnout – but since nearly half of respondents in our report said they expect workloads to increase in the event of a recession, you can be sure that burnout is going to be more common in the coming months. You need to look for red flags that show someone might be in trouble. Those could include:

  • Regularly emailing late at night or very early in the morning
  • Logging long work hours – regardless of whether the productivity is low or high
  • Sudden changes in behaviour – have they stopped contributing to group calls, is work suddenly late, or are they more needy and demanding than usual?

These signs mean it’s time for you to check in with that person – face to face, if you can. If there’s an issue, you can work with them to fix it.

7: Stop activities that don’t make sense

You know that there are activities which don’t add value in your team’s lives. It might be processes that you are sure could be shortened, or manual data gathering tasks that could be automated to save time. It might be as simple as keeping people out of meetings that they don’t need to be in.

Once you’ve done that, your people will be more focused on their core tasks – reducing the pressure teams are under and increasing productivity. Even if there’s nothing that can be fully stopped or cut out, consider whether some projects could be put on hold to reduce the pressure on your people so they can focus on higher priority work.

“Are all projects truly required? Are all meetings necessary and do so many people need to attend them? The more time people spend on core tasks, the more work will be cleared, and the more work can get done.”

John Henderson, banking industry expert and ActiveOps employee

8: Set clear, short-term goals

Take a look at your team’s current goals. Do you think they’ll still be achievable in a recession? Perhaps they’ve become meaningless if your company is responding to changes in the marketplace already. These goals will be de-motivating your team. While you’re in the thick of it, we advise weekly goals – monthly at the very most. Shorter-term goals give you more opportunities to celebrate wins and create a sense of momentum, while shifting focus as needed to adapt to changing situations.

9: Look for training and development opportunities for your team

57% of our respondents said that cross-skilling and upskilling will be needed to help balance workloads – which, as you know, will help you keep team members engaged and happy. Who’s in charge of Learning & Development in your organisation? Ask them to facilitate training programs for your team that will help them support other areas of your business.

Don’t forget to consider what your team members want to learn, too. Do they have any aspirations that you could help them fulfil with training or perhaps a secondment? Not only will it get more work done – your team members will love you for helping them on their career journey.

10: Look after yourself, too

As they say in the aeroplane safety briefing, put your own oxygen mask on before helping others. If you’re stressed, burnt out and underperforming, then there’s no way you can look after your teams properly. Are you working long hours, struggling to focus, getting irritable at work or at home? If so, you might be burning out and need help.

If that’s you, talk to your manager and peers – they are there to support you, after all. Put a plan in place with them to get yourself feeling happy and well again – and let your team know that you’re struggling, so they know what’s going on. It will make it easier for your team to admit when they are struggling too.

The more you do, the more you get

The tips in this blog all work better together than in isolation. For instance, if you take the time to understand exactly who is doing what (tip 3), then you’ll find it easier to fit in learning and development activities for your team without derailing productivity (tip 8). Talking to other managers about borrowing and lending resource (tip 4) will also create a space for you to talk with your fellow managers about the pressures and challenges you’re facing, creating a support community that helps you maintain your own wellbeing (tip 10). It is worth noting, though, that precise data about productivity and workload is a foundation for many of these tips.

That’s not to say you can’t do them without that data – but you’ll be much more effective if you can. Data shows you where you need to spend your attention to look after your teams, identifying people who are struggling and workloads that need handling carefully. Data also gives you the tools to look after people by showing ways to move resources around or suggesting development opportunities that keep them engaged while delivering value to the business.

What we’re talking about, in a way, is data-driven compassion. If you can get it right, then being kind to employees who are struggling doesn’t have to come at the expense of productivity – and neither does productivity have to come at the expense of employee wellbeing. Data-driven compassion helps both co-exist – and can even help both grow together.

Want more insights?

Of course, employee engagement is just one part of the puzzle when it comes to recession-readiness. To get the inside scoop on how organisations are preparing for recession – and advice from a panel of industry experts on how to thrive during the coming storm – download a copy of Are you recession ready? How to do more with less today.

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