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By Emma Price, ActiveOps

Love is in the air or, at least, the smell of chocolate and the sound of greeting card manufacturers cheering are in the air – as we celebrate Valentine’s Day. This year, as financial organisations all over the world face down volatile markets and the threat (or reality) of recession, it might be a good idea to pay some attention to the relationships in your organisation, too.

For instance, how are your team feeling? Especially your high performers? In these challenging times, your strongest employees are vital to success – but, ironically, they are also some of the employees you are most likely to lose, if you don’t handle things carefully.

In this blog, I’ll talk about why high performing employees are so vital during turbulent times – and why they may also be thinking about moving on from your organisation. Then, we’ll focus on the positives – what you can do to keep the spark going between you and your high performers.

What’s to love about a high performer?

Every employee contributes to an organisation’s success, and every employee deserves to be looked after by their employer during difficult times. However, your top team members exhibit a number of qualities that make them so important to your organisation:

  • They can deliver a greater volume of work than their colleagues.
  • That work is often of a higher quality.
  • They often inspire workers around them, bringing up the productivity and work quality of the whole team.
  • They may possess skillsets that are vital to running the business. They might have pioneered various processes, for instance, or championed a system and know it inside out.
  • Your high performers might also have leadership potential, representing the future of your department or even the organisation.

Plainly, your organisation will always want to hold on to these individuals, especially during turbulent times such as a recession, when their skills and their effect on the rest of the team can help keep the team afloat.

Trouble in paradise?

In challenging times, all employees are at risk of becoming demotivated and burnt out – but high performers are more at risk than others. Consider what operations leaders in banking and financial services organisations around the globe said is likely to happen during a recession in our recent research report:

  • 49% of respondents believe workloads will increase in a recession.
  • The most popular response organisations are considering to a recession is to absorb that increased workload with fixed staffing levels.
  • 1 in 3 respondents believe their organisation is considering cutting jobs.
  • 54% of respondents say that their organisation lacks the agility to cope with unusual workload variations.
  • 58% believe that better forecasting and planning will be required during a recession – implying that their current systems are not up to the task.

In summary: organisations will have to do more with less, workloads will become volatile, and they will be unpredictable.

In this environment, high performers are highly likely to suffer burnout and disengagement if they aren’t supported. They are more likely to stay late to finish work, more likely to help colleagues out, and more likely to be the only people with the correct skills to help with certain types of work, putting them under pressure. Crucially, due to their record of high performance and their drive, they may well be less likely to tell a manager if they are struggling with their workload.

Even if you decide to keep a vigilant eye on your people, 29% of respondents in our survey couldn’t see how people are spending their working time, and 28% couldn’t see when people are working. In a hybrid environment, where managers are often remote from their teams, those two pieces of data may be the only early warning signs you can get that show someone is overloaded or struggling with their work – so if you are in that boat, then keeping an eye on your high performers will be nearly impossible alongside your other responsibilities.

OK, we’ve reached the emotional low point of the blog. Staying true to our theme, now it’s time to make like a romantic movie, and move on to the happy ever after.

How to keep your high performers keen

1: Give yourself the insights to spot burnout

You can’t protect what you can’t see. It’s essential to get productivity data that shows you what everyone is doing in your organisation, so you see exactly what your high performers are up to. Are they working late all the time? How much time are they spending on other people’s work? Do they ever take a break?

2: Understand the red flags

From a wellbeing perspective, there are key things to look out for that might indicate a high performer is starting to struggle:

  • Are they working long hours for a sustained period of time?
  • Are they often working late at night or early in the morning, with no breaks?
  • Has their productivity suddenly dipped for no reason?
  • Are they absent from meetings or uncommunicative when normally they were chatty? Or indeed, the opposite, if they usually tend to focus on their work?

These are the signs that a manager needs to check in with that person. A conversation might be all it needs to understand the problem and fix it, so don’t put off that conversation!

3: Actively manage your workload

The productivity data you gathered about your individuals can also be used to get a handle on your workload. You can use that data to spot hidden capacity in the organisation that can be used to help overworked high performers get their schedule under control. Combined with accurate capacity data and historic workload data, you can also get to better forecasting and planning capabilities, to keep workloads more even in the future.

4: Look for ways to nurture high performers

We all know that, when things get busy, activities like nurture programmes, training and development, or even simple check-ins with your team members can fall by the wayside. Do your best not to let that happen. Even if you have no control over whether nurture programmes are being run, you can still look for opportunities each week to assign your high performers work that will keep them engaged and help them feel more fulfilled – and that will hopefully add more value to the business. Even carving out time to talk to them can make all the difference.

Love is for everyone

Ultimately, just as in your personal relationships, the key to keeping your high performers feeling loved is to understand them and their challenges, and show them you care by supporting them to be the best version of themselves.

However, I want to end this post by making the point that, important as it is to look after your high performers, almost all the things in this blog will benefit your entire workforce. Understanding everyone’s workloads lets you spot signs of burnout across all your departments and teams, protecting everyone, and being able to flex workloads between teams to even out productivity will help keep everyone working at an optimal level, not just your high performers. And if you can find opportunities to nurture your high performers, then you can also find opportunities to nurture everyone else – giving you a more versatile workforce that can share workloads more effectively, helping you do more with less.

Hopefully (and at risk of stretching the metaphor too far!) if you can manage these things, then you should find your high performers – and all your employees – manage to keep the love alive through thick and thin, for years to come.

Discover the secrets of operational harmony

Though light on romance tips, our latest report, Are you recession ready? How to do more with less, gives you plenty of tips for how to handle your operations during a recession to not just survive, but thrive. Click here to download.

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