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How to Maintain a Strong Corporate Culture During a Downturn

July 24, 2020 Leadership
sebastien ricard
By Sebastien Ricard

The pandemic has caused the most significant economic downturn since the Great Depression. According to the International Monetary Fund, the lost economic output from COVID-19 could reach $9 trillion through 2021. This grim outlook will clearly effect the worldwide business community. A focus on company culture can help businesses weather this devastating storm.

Why focus on company culture?

A healthy company culture isn’t a mere nicety. Your culture has a major impact on the bottom line. In fact, SHRM estimates organizations lose $45 billion per year due to employee turnover caused by poor company culture. So while more concrete metrics such as payroll or marketing costs may be the first things you look at during a downturn, your company’s culture should remain a priority.

What can you do to maintain a positive culture?

Recessions are stressful times for everyone. Fortunately, there are ways to keep company culture strong while still making difficult business decisions.

Be Transparent

Internal transparency about the organization's situation may seem counterintuitive, especially to more old-school executives. After all, you want to put on a strong face no matter the struggles, right? Acknowledging issues puts more stress and anxiety on employees, doesn’t it?

Not so fast.

Research indicates that uncertainty is a major cause of stress. If management is opaque or even deceitful regarding the state of the company, it will cause undue anxiety for employees.

Strive to be transparent about changing business objectives. People appreciate honesty and can even help position the company toward better outcomes. It is important to not be hyperbolic or negative but to present reality as it is. Striking this balance is difficult, but necessary to inform your workers about the company’s direction in a clear, concise manner.

Related Article: Leadership During a Crisis Means More Than Keeping the Lights On

Solicit Feedback

An organization’s most important asset is their workforce. Your employees are on the front lines every day, dealing with common issues. They may have cost-cutting solutions that upper management haven’t considered.

Provide an avenue for employees to give feedback and follow through on the ones deemed useful. The new policies will not only improve the bottom line, but involving employees in creating solutions also will increases their overall satisfaction and engagement. In fact, employees who feel heard are almost five times more likely to do their best work. It really is a win-win situation to listen to your workforce.

Related Article: Is Your Organization Really Listening to Employees?

Create Opportunities for Ongoing Employee Growth

A major part of a good company culture is providing employees with opportunities for growth. During normal economic times, this is a much simpler proposition. According to a LinkedIn survey, nearly 95% of people say they would stay at a company if the organization offered effective learning programs to aid professional growth.

In the midst of a deep recession, it’s more difficult. Even with frozen or cut pay rates, resist the urge to stall development paths. Continue learning programs and consider low-cost initiatives such as mentorships. That way, learning continues, and when the economy does improve, your employees will be more educated, empowered and engaged. Productivity is then higher, the business is more competitive and you can compensate your workforce fairly.

Related Article: Lifelong Learning Is Key to Continued Business Success

Focus on What Matters

Company outings, free lunches, magazine subscriptions are nice to have, but not essential. And in the long run, these little bonuses are much less important to employees than the more substantial efforts mentioned above.

So, if you’re spending a lot of money on employees’ free lunches or subsidizing gym memberships, suspend those programs until better days. As long as you’re transparent and open about the reasons, your workforce should understand. It may even galvanize them, as they could take on an "all hands on deck" attitude. Honesty goes a long way here.

In the end, what employees want is a healthy, productive and inclusive work environment where their contributions and hard work are recognized on a daily basis. As long you have those core pillars in place, small perks can wait.

We Truly Are All in This Together

With recent surges in COVID-19 cases, along with the uncertainty around a future vaccine, nobody really knows how long this downturn will last. The important thing is to keep employees up to date about the company’s situation and do your best to maintain a strong culture. Cut expenditures where you can and lay off employees only as a last resort. Additionally, executives should be on board to take pay cuts or forgo bonuses to maintain a resilient, engaged workforce.

It may be an overused phrase, but we truly are all in this together. Prove to your employees this is the case and show how everyone is making the necessary sacrifices to save livelihoods. In the long run, you'll benefit from a close-knit company culture that thrives on engagement and honesty.

About the Author

Sébastien Ricard, currently founder and CEO of LumApps, has been an entrepreneur for over 20 years, creating major companies in business intelligence and cloud. Passionate about technology, he’s one of the cloud pioneers in Europe and the US, as the creator of gPartner (distribution and integration of Google Enterprise in Europe) and LumApps (worldwide editor on the digital workplace market).


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