With a pending recession in sight, leaders are most likely experiencing some heat from their teams looking for answers on economic uncertainty.
And they’re not wrong to worry: One alarming BBC headline claims “US prices rising at fastest rate for 40 years.” A scary reality for most Americans who are struggling to recover from the hardships brought on by the pandemic.
“Prices in the US have been rising since late last year due to supply chain disruption from Covid and higher food prices caused by severe weather,” the article reads. “The war in Ukraine has also pushed up commodity prices globally.”
As CEO to my own form-building company for over a decade and a half, my team and I have weathered many hurdles together, but nothing compared to the intense pressure these last few years have caused. We’ve dealt with health and safety concerns, learning to quickly adapt to Zoom meetings and new ways of collaborating, juggling childcare responsibilities with work, and many other challenges. But throughout, my strategy for calming anxieties has always come down to these two qualities: full transparency and compassion.
Speaking openly with my employees is how I get ahead of feelings of anxiety.
Why honesty is key to communicating with employees
Speaking openly with employees about economic uncertainty, rather than avoiding the topic altogether or making light of it, can ease the minds of your team members who are looking for answers. Here are some of the strategies that have worked for us.
Maintain open communication channels
Lately, it’s more and more vital for leaders to communicate often and openly by engaging with their employees. As a leader, I give regular updates about any changes in the economy and industry that can cause us to make adjustments—whether that means tightening budgets or changing goals. We also make it a point to ensure people feel empowered to voice their concerns and have a platform for giving their own feedback through surveys or face-to-face meetings. Remember that in addressing people’s anxieties as they arise, you’re also building a culture of trust.
Help your team navigate uncertainty
More than honesty, employees need to feel a sense that they’re being cared for. One of the ways you can quell their fears is by prioritizing their needs and well-being. Part of this involves giving more room for flexibility, offering more benefits and perks, and providing them with ongoing mental health support. Being consistent like this makes it easier for employees to feel more confident in the workplace.
Focus on building employee morale
Transparency and open communication can mean very little if there isn’t a personal element coming from leadership. Connecting with your employees as individuals and building rapport through ongoing relationships will help motivate your team to feel safer and more secure despite shifts in the economy. Encouraging people by offering resources like a mentorship programs and allowing them to take time off when they’re feeling burnt out not only improves morale, it shows a genuinely caring environment that looks after its team.
Provide a vision
Recently, I came across the words of college professor and pastor Joseph Castleberry. The professor at Northwest University writes, “We can never know for sure what will happen next. In truth, leadership always occurs in times of uncertainty. [. . .] Uncertainty is what makes leadership necessary in the first place.”
As a leader, his statement on creating a mantra to focus upon resonated with me. He writes, “The main thing leaders provide is a vision to pursue, and that always involves more than just predicting what the future will bring; declaring a vision means deciding what future to build.”
At my company, I know that my job as a leader is guiding my ship to shore, whether it’s smooth sailing or whether the waters turn rough. And they’ve been rough for some time now since the COVID-19 crisis began. Every time I record a weekly message for my team, or have lunch with an employee, I make sure they don’t only know how appreciated they are, but that they are immensely valuable to my company’s success.
Leaders often confuse vision with outcomes. But there can be no vision without the teamwork that goes into helping your business grow. Providing a vision during times of disruption and economic uncertainty is one of the most important aspects of leadership.
“In times of greater-than-normal uncertainty, leadership undoubtedly takes more courage than it does in times of relative stability,” writes Castleberry. I’ve found this sentiment to be true. The courage to listen, to be vulnerable, to choose connection over productivity: all of these are acts of bravery that help assuage people’s anxieties.
Foster a culture without judgment
I believe honesty is one side of the coin; the other is listening and reacting without judgment. But as leaders, we have an opportunity to convey vulnerability and validation.
Becoming upset over people’s concerns, avoiding the topic altogether, or making it seem less relevant than it is is a form of corporate gaslighting. And that has no place in a company that values people over productivity.
That’s why as a leader, it’s up to you to set the pace—to speak with honesty and transparency at all times, but most of all, with optimism for an unknowable future because you believe in the team you’ve built. And that belief will trickle down, relieving anxieties, but also providing something even more valuable: a greater hope for what’s to come.
Aytekin Tank is the founder and CEO of Jotform, a leading online forms SaaS solution.