16th March 2023

Start a new conversation: how to grow employee engagement in times of uncertainty

Some of the world’s most-high profile companies across tech and finance have struggled with the economic downturn, using workforce reduction, downsizing, priority realignment or restructuring as cost-cutting strategies.

Meta, PayPal, Microsoft and Stripe, amongst others, have all recently trimmed a percentage of their workforce. Global banking firms Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Credit Suisse have also slashed a share of their staff.

In the case of big tech, many companies were on hiring sprees until as recently as 2021, experiencing outsized growth and market valuation through the pandemic. When the trend reversed, however, as online engagement seen during global lockdowns declined and inflation reared its head, these independent-minded tech founders were unable to resist outside market forces to make job cuts.

Tapping into real value

Some corrections to recent hiring trends are not an unreasonable measure for a company to take. But when so many companies conduct layoffs at the same time, it tends to feed a perception of ruthlessness in the industry. Suddenly, the gushing bottom line that kept investors happy, running in tandem with exuberant employee relations, came to a grinding halt. Big tech went from the mantra of making the world better, to making the business more profitable.

And what does this new lifecycle mean for employees that remain?

For the so-called “survivors” of layoffs, downsizing often detrimentally affects engagement and workers’ overall well-being, faced as they are with increased demands and fewer resources. That’s exactly why investment in employee engagement is especially critical during a downturn or period of downsizing.

Lay-offs are stressful and discombobulating for all. Employees need to feel they’re still valued. They need to be reminded how their work contributes meaningfully to the success of the business and its stated purpose. They need to know that they still matter. That’s human nature.

Unfortunately, to build employee engagement, many companies tend to tap perks like free lunches, access to massage therapists or even laundry collection. While nice to have, these kinds of offerings can serve the company’s needs more than those of employees. To workers, they can feel like efforts to control their time. After all, employees no longer need to leave their monitors to manage pesky life tasks.

Different strategy for a different world

To positively grow employee engagement today requires a fundamentally different strategy—because the world is fundamentally different than it was just two years ago in 2020. What employees want now goes deeper than ticking a box on a to-do list. The pandemic irrevocably changed the core factors of employee engagement. That means employers and employees will need to come to the table and hold entirely new kinds of conversations.

Through the misery of the pandemic, workers fundamentally re-framed how they think about work and how it fits into their collective lives. Companies need to respond in kind. In order to meet business goals and objectives, they need to rethink the relationship they have with employees—whom they often refer to as their “most valuable asset.” They need to re-evaluate how they’ll meet the changing demands of today’s workforce.

There may be an upside to this period of upheaval and uncertainty. There is real opportunity for companies to redefine their sense of meaning by developing a deeper understanding of their employees, who they are and what they value.

The tech founders we thought of as the utopian visionaries won’t provide the answers, that much is clear. So it’s up to us to reshape the conversation. The opportunity cannot be lost.

Betsy Henning leads FINN Partner’s Global Internal Communications & Employee Engagement Practice. FINN Partners is one of the world’s fastest-growing independent communications and marketing firms, with over 1,400 people in 33 offices in Europe, North America, and Asia. 360, based in Dublin, is a FINN Partners company. For more, see www.weare360.ie and www.finnpartners.com

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