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Home > Resources > Blog > Blue Monday – the tip of the iceberg for employee morale?

By Emma Price, ActiveOps

Yesterday was Blue Monday. For the uninitiated, Blue Monday is touted as the most depressing day of the year – though it must be remembered that Blue Monday was created by a psychologist for a travel company to promote its winter deals. Regardless of how real it is, Blue Monday is a valuable opportunity for organisations everywhere to put the spotlight on the wellbeing and morale of their employees. Because, as we’ll see, both of those things are going to be vital this year – perhaps more so than in any year this decade.

In our recent survey, Are you recession ready? How to do more with less, we found that 31% of our 1,000 respondents believe that employee morale is going to be one of the biggest negative impacts in a recession. The latest news reports indicate that key markets including the UK and the US are already in recession, while countries such as Australia are at risk of a recession in the coming months. With that in mind, in this blog we’ll look at what low morale can do to your operations (spoiler alert: it’s not good). Then, most importantly, we’ll talk about how you can protect employee morale as we kick off what promises to be a challenging year for banking and financial organisations everywhere.

Why is morale going to be lower in a recession?

Granted, it hardly sounds like a surprising statistic, but it’s worth digging into why employees are going to struggle. After all, if you know the causes of low employee morale, you can take steps to resolve it.

Our survey reveals some reasons why employee morale is likely to suffer in a recession:

  • 35% of respondents expect workloads to increase while staff levels remain fixed. Essentially, employees can expect to get busier, and therefore come under more pressure, in a recession.
  • 33% expect mandatory redundancies to come about. Anyone who has been through a redundancy process, whether they were affected or not, will tell you it’s not a pleasant process. It will also increase the workload of those who remain, further adding to their pressures.
  • 84% agree that cost-cutting will negatively impact customer satisfaction and experience, meaning that in a recession, customer experiences are likely to be more stressful for employees.

The experts we interviewed for the report also had insights to offer to explain why employees may be feeling demoralised. Jonathan Astley, UK-based banking operations expert, said: “You need to be respectful of the fact that, just like your customers, your employees are worried about their futures.” Even if redundancies aren’t being considered right now at your organisation, your team members might have partners, parents or children who are at risk of redundancy – and of course everyone will be struggling with the increased cost of living.

So, morale is likely to be low – especially as we navigate the post-Christmas blues and that January paycheck seems a million years away. But why does that matter for your operations?

The effects of low morale on your operations

Productivity decreases
Employees trudge through their work, doing the bare minimum. Throughput falls, backlogs increase, and customers suffer the consequences.

Customer satisfaction decreases
Demoralised employees are less motivated to help customers, and have less patience when those customers get angry – which is more likely, given that customers are also stressed right now.

Employees leave
If they get miserable enough, your employees may try to fix the problem by switching employers. You could lose vital talent and experience, with all the knock-on costs and consequences that brings, at the worst possible time.

Sorry for painting such a grim picture. But there’s good news – it doesn’t have to be this way. There are actions you can take to protect employee morale, even in a recession, in January, when it’s raining.

Ways to protect employee morale

1: Identify opportunities to balance workloads

Overwork is likely to be a major cause of stress and low morale. If you can get an accurate picture of everyone’s capacity and productivity, you can identify opportunities to facilitate cross-team collaboration to smooth out peaks and troughs in workloads.

2: Keep an eye out for burnout

Looking beyond the real time data that shows you what’s happening today, if you can predict what’s happening tomorrow and next week better, you can allocate resources to handle work without putting too much pressure on any group’s shoulders.

3: Improve planning and forecasting

Looking beyond the real time data that shows you what’s happening today, if you can predict what’s happening tomorrow and next week better, you can allocate resources to handle work without putting too much pressure on any group’s shoulders.

4: Upskill and cross-skill employees

30% of our respondents said their organisation will likely focus on cross-skilling and up-skilling in response to a recession. It makes your teams more versatile, helping to deal with spikes in workloads without overworking employees, but it also helps those employees feel engaged and satisfied in their work.

5: Be genuine with your employees

Jonathan Astley continues: “free tea and coffee and a metaphorical hug won’t do. You need to be honest, open, and real with [your employees] – even if the news is bad for them.” Whatever is coming your employees’ way, whether that’s more work, changing workloads, or redundancies, treat them as you would want to be treated. It will go a long way towards keeping them motivated and supported.

Good morale = better operations

“Downturns are an opportunity to build long-term agility and resilience in a new generation of leaders. Handled right, it can be a great experience for them.”

Jude Pinto, US banking operations expert and ActiveOps report contributor

We’ve talked about the challenges that low morale can bring – and they shouldn’t be taken lightly. But on the flip side, the opportunities that a highly motivated workforce presents are enormous. Besides being the right thing to do, looking after your employees during a recession will engender in them a loyalty that makes them incredibly motivated and therefore valuable individuals. The employees you treat with compassion and understanding will go further for you, grow with you, and may well become the next generation of leaders in your organisation. In a recession, competition is fierce, margins of error tight; the dedication of your employees could be the difference between survival and thriving. So, if Blue Monday got you down, just remember – if you can manage your operations to look after your employees, even during tough times, you’ll have multiple reasons to smile.

Want to learn more about weather the coming recession?

Download a copy of our latest report Are you recession ready? How to do more with less to understand how managers can support their team members not just to survive a recession, but come out the other side stronger than before.

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