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Emerging stronger from economic uncertainty hinges on investing in employees

Company leaders are not the only ones focused on the potential of an economic downturn: employees are concerned too. Sixty-one percent are worried about the economy, according to an Eagle Hill Consulting survey of U.S. employees on the topic of recession readiness. For some employees, this anxiety is in addition to burnout resulting from increased workload, staff shortages, work-life balance, and other influences. In fact, 46% of U.S. employees say they are experiencing worker burnout amid today’s economic environment. 

Ignoring employee anxiety and burnout is a risk to organizational performance—and won’t help to prepare your business for a recession. With people being an organization’s best asset, emerging stronger from economic uncertainty hinges on investing in them. 

Companies can (and should) act now to optimize their workforce. The key is balancing near-term efficiency with long-term success, focusing on the realities of today’s cost-focused environment without losing sight of what’s needed to support employees. Here’s how to strike the balance:

Workforce investment strategies to get your business recession ready


Optimize workforce capacity now to drive greater efficiencies

Preparing for a recession often means operating with resource constraints. Companies looking for cost-saving opportunities can maximize efficiencies by conducting targeted workforce assessments. Once leaders assess the current workload versus total capacity, they can use real-time data to identify gaps and ways to close them through skill development, process redesign, work reallocation, and cross-training. Because the post-recession future is uncertain, leaders should proactively model multiple capacity scenarios to forecast potential impacts and determine required actions.


Continue building the future workforce with the right investments 

Leaders want to be confident in how they direct limited workforce investments—making the right build-versus-buy decisions, especially in cost-conscious environments. To make sure investments are poised to deliver the highest returns, organizations can engage leaders from across functions in structured, strategic workforce planning exercises. It’s important to answer critical questions such as: How does my future business strategy impact the work that needs to be done? What skill and role investments do we need to accomplish this new work? This is an opportunity to redefine the talent needed now and in the future. The goal is to reallocate talent thoughtfully to fill talent gaps and help reduce workload burden.


Be transparent in communications to reduce anxiety

Economic uncertainty increases anxiety among the workforce. We found that nearly one in four employees (24%) lacks confidence in the leadership of their organization, and 32% are less confident in their organization than they were six months ago. To build trust, leaders should prioritize clear and intentional employee communications across all levels of management and channels. Employees want to hear about what the business is expecting and what actions are being considered. Sharing this information can help to reduce people’s anxiety and negative impacts that can ripple across the organization.


Get creative with retention strategies

Tighter budgets make rewarding top talent with pay incentives more difficult. It’s critical to use creative ways to make employees feel valued. For example, companies can create an internal talent marketplace, which opens new career pathways. Our research on internal mobility programs shows that while 54% of employees believe they have better job opportunities inside their current organizations, this potential is untapped. Only 23% have been able to move into a new internal role. To support inside talent, it is important to connect with employees around their long-term goals, actively promote networking, and remove barriers to transitioning roles. 


Champion a strong purpose to motivate employees to go above and beyond

While relationships and culture matter to employees, our research on employee connection reveals that what they ultimately want is to feel a sense of purpose and connection to their work. Sixty percent of U.S. employees say that feeling connected to work has the greatest impact on their ability to do their job over feeling connected to people or to their organizational culture. Given this finding—and constantly shifting market and customer landscapes—leaders should assess whether their organizational purpose is still relevant and inspiring for employees. This requires an objective look at what the organization is doing to foster and improve employee connection and asking employees what they need to feel connected. It may also be time to rearticulate why the organization exists and the impact it wants to make for customers and other stakeholders. 

Preparing your business for a recession involves tremendous pressure and many competing priorities. But remember that people are still your best asset. The best way to emerge stronger from a weak economy is not only optimizing for the here and now, but also strategically investing in employees to prepare for what’s next.  

Learn more about how to prepare your business for a recession and turn economic uncertainty into organizational opportunity.