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How to Gracefully Address Job Insecurity in the Workplace

80% of US workers suffer from job insecurity fears, a recent survey reports. 

How did we get here? In April, we were operating in an epic talent shortage and now the top story is layoffs and hiring freezes. It makes employees jittery. And when there’s anxiety about job security, people tend to shop around. In this article, we’ll offer some talking points for your next all-company meeting: Why rounding everyone up to talk about the R-word may not be your best strategy. Here’s what you need to communicate about job insecurity to retain your top performers.

1. Maintain an optimistic posture.

Panic causes markets to crash, and consumers to pull back on spending, and it won’t do you any favors in the workplace either. Rather than fret about what’s going on in the headlines, it’s time to celebrate current wins and actions that position the company well moving forward. As Warren Buffet famously explained, “Be fearful when others are greedy. Be greedy when others are fearful.”

2. Have a success narrative and quantify it.

“We had double-digit growth in the first 6 months of this year.” 

“We’re in 5 new business pitches at this very moment.” 

“We unveiled a new service offering and uptake has been off the charts.”

“Our biggest client just awarded us $1MM in incremental business.” 

Whatever the silver lining is, run with it. Hyperbolize, if it’s in your nature. Salespeople often begin motivational meetings with their recent wins. It demonstrates that success can be achieved despite adverse conditions.

3. Listen to job insecurity concerns and offer empathy.

Talk to your managers and hiring teams about responding to common questions about the company’s financial health, past or impending layoffs, rumors, etc. Find out what’s on employees’ minds and agree on a humane and authentic dialogue. Hiding behind vague policy statements or failing to acknowledge employees’ concerns suggests you’re withholding information and acting in your own self-interest, which will quickly erode the loyalty of your team.

4. Commit to keeping people informed about their job status.

Four out of five workers are showing up to work every day wondering if they’ll have a job. Job insecurity is stressful. They want to be able to go to their manager and trust that they’ll be reassured or given the courtesy of time to prepare for a downsizing. Being let go is pretty terrible, but being blindsided is worse. 

5. Be as generous as possible.

If it does come down to layoffs, set an example by being as generous as possible. Employees take note when their peers, including their freelance peers, are unceremoniously dumped. Bring back all those tricks we learned in the pandemic: Reduced hours, pay cuts, furloughs. If you must lay off, offer severance and help finding your employees other jobs. Remember the scramble to rehire that came just 6 months into the pandemic? Assume that you will want to bring those employees back and take care of them now.

6. Promote employee engagement.

Especially in remote and hybrid environments, it’s a challenge to prevent rumors and doomsday thinking from taking hold and spreading further job insecurity. Every office has a culture champion, whether official or unofficial. They naturally round up the troops for team-building events. Get them on the case. 

Employees (and prospective employees) want to see and hear how your company promotes a fun and cohesive workplace. Even when people don’t come to the office every day. Even when dollars are tight. Capture company outings, employee promotions and recognition, and new hires on social media and in company communications. 

7. Watch for job insecurity-induced burnout.

In hiring freezes and layoffs, employees are asked to do more with less. Burnout is already a thing. Remote work has blurred the lines of when the workday begins and ends. Put yourself in the shoes of someone who has worked really hard to justify a hire and now she’s been denied help. Fatigued workers are vulnerable. Work-life balance is one of the top reasons people start looking.  

8. Don’t assume it’s an employer’s market.

Woe to the company that decides to reinstate the 5-day work week. No one’s interested in returning to the Before Times. Asking employees to choose between flexibility and job security feels a bit tone deaf. 

In conclusion, these past 2 years have taught us that there’s nothing we can’t handle, not even a toilet paper shortage. This is not a big, scary shape-shifting virus. It’s the normal ebb and flow of the economic cycle. We’ve done this before and we can do it again. With more grace, in fact.

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