Healing Recessionary Disengagement

Employees may be suffering from recessionary disengagement due to layoffs, hiring freezes and salary cuts. Learning leaders have an opportunity to help employees stay focused and avoid the worry.

Do your employees seem more reticent than usual? Do they have that empty look in their eyes? Are they doing just enough to get by?

According to Kevin Sheridan, CEO of HR Solutions, these are all symptoms of recessionary disengagement, which is the “collateral damage” from layoffs, hiring freezes and salary cuts.

“They’re what we call the ‘ambivalent employee,’” he said. “You could even call them quit-and-stay employees. They’re in the job. They’re getting a paycheck every two weeks, but they literally quit weeks ago. It’s not that they’re bad employees; it’s just that they need coaching [to] get them re-engaged to their job and the mission at hand.”

Layoffs can be especially detrimental to employees and heighten recessionary disengagement. According to research from HR Solutions, when employees are asked to provide qualitative information about what they like best about their jobs, at least 50 percent will cite co-workers they enjoy working with and/or co-workers who enable them to learn.

“Co-worker satisfaction is what I refer to as the unsung hero of retention,” Sheridan said. “Because of that, the minute an organization or a manager begins damaging that special part of the workplace, it incites all kinds of emotions, not the least of which can be anger. It’s an anger that is long-lasting and sustainable.”

In combating recessionary disengagement, both senior leaders and managers have a role to play.

“During these times, it is important that senior leaders be as open and honest as they can be about the financial realities of their company, the likelihood of further tightening of the belt [and] prospects for future business,” Sheridan said. “I think that great leaders are the first to announce that there’s going to be some pain down the road, and they’re the first to feel it.”

The immediate supervisor or manager is critical, though. They are the ones who should be conducting regular checkups to make sure employees are engaged.

“What that person can do is be a good communicator and have group huddles or staff meetings on a regular basis to listen,” Sheridan said. “If you feel somebody’s having a really tough time personally, take the time to meet with them one-on-one and give them coaching and counseling.”

As far as learning goes, organizations should continue to teach, but change their curriculum to meet the times.

“I think learning functions can change their curriculum[s] a little to make it less academic and more emotionally grounded,” Sheridan said. “One of the keys for the employee and the workforce at-large is to stay focused. [But] not everyone knows how to do that, particularly if they’ve just been hit by a whammy, like a layoff of their co-worker.

“Talent management people have an opportunity to teach [employees] how to remain focused [and] how to continue to set specific goals and timelines so there’s an accomplishment of work and there’s not the risk of needless energy being wasted on worry.”