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Don’t Be a Downer: How to Keep Employees Happy During Down Times

Updated Mar 24, 2023

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Gone are the days when we would leave our personal lives at home. In a world where pandemic exhaustion, inflation woes and political uncertainty run rampant, it can be hard for employees to turn off their personal anxiety and stay happily focused at work. With personal and professional stressors blurring more and more, workers are looking to their employers for solutions.

Although some business owners might want to say, “Suck it up and get to work,” high levels of employee engagement and happiness are linked to higher levels of employee performance, productivity and retention. So, whether it’s for the sake of your employees or your organization, you should get to work on maintaining employee happiness during down times. Here are six mood-boosting strategies to try.

Increase transparency.

Running a business during times of economic turmoil or uncertainty can be challenging. The thought of the “unknown” is scary and stressful for many people. To alleviate some of that stress and improve employee moods, you should maintain near-total transparency with your employees. Instead of wondering “what if” and spiraling to the worst-case scenario, they will be better equipped to handle what is coming their way if they are regularly informed about the company’s operations.

For example, inflation might be affecting your business and eating into your bottom line. Your employees could sense that, and some might wonder what you have planned to make up for the loss. If your plans are to temporarily increase service prices instead of laying off employees, make that known. In this scenario, such a level of transparency could help alleviate some of the stress and worry your team members are feeling around job uncertainty.

It’s OK if you don’t know the answer to something, but being as transparent as possible can help employees cope with what is happening around them.

Did You Know?Did you know

A study published in Frontiers in Psychology shows a correlation between “uncertainty stress” and its effects on mental disorders. It’s important to support your employees’ mental health, and increasing transparency can help do just that.

Embrace employee feedback.

You can also improve employees’ moods by soliciting their feedback. Encourage employees to ask any questions they may have and then answer their queries to the best of your ability. Don’t just limit feedback to day-to-day responsibilities, either. Allow staffers to give feedback on company policies or benefits as they see fit. If they have concerns about what is going on in the world, you can put them at ease by addressing those too.

For example, the overturning of Roe v. Wade had many employees questioning how new laws would impact their health care opportunities and limitations. An organization that embraces employee feedback would allow their employees to raise their health care concerns without fear of retaliation. In fact, a company that cares about employee well-being would be willing to address this issue head-on.

Sometimes, though, workers just need to vent. In any case, take your employees’ questions and concerns seriously and respond to them as best you can. In the example above, an organization might use that employee feedback as motivation to offer benefits that accommodate their employees’ new health care needs. Doing so is likely to make your team feel more secure in a changing society.

FYIDid you know

Allowing workers to submit anonymous employee feedback can be a great way to gain honest insight on tough topics that impact your team and your organization.

Host team-building events.

Your employees are people first, and people tend to be happier when they feel connected to those around them. Instead of having employees work in siloed environments away from their peers, facilitate connections through team-building events. These activities are a great way to get employees away from their typical work responsibilities and into an environment where they can get to know their co-workers on a more personal, stress-free level.

As employees work toward pressure-free goals at these events, they create a sense of teamwork, purpose, trust and belonging. Team-building not only strengthens employee relationships and productivity, but it can also result in employees who are happier and more resilient.

What constitutes a good team-building event will depend on your employees’ interests, so ask them what types of activities sound desirable. This will help you plan events that are fun as opposed to anxiety-inducing. For example, if your employees are uneasy in social settings due to the ongoing pandemic, the last thing you want to do is exacerbate employee unease by hosting an in-person get-together. Fortunately, there are many ways to host virtual team-building events online these days.

Celebrate the wins, no matter how small.

Positivity is infectious. Not only that, but positive thinking can also have beneficial effects in the workplace, like boosting productivity and resiliency and reducing stress levels. One of the best ways to increase employee positivity, and therefore happiness, in the workplace is to celebrate wins – the big and the small.

Publicly and privately recognize employees for doing good work, reward teams as they reach their goals each week or month and openly celebrate company wins with your organization. Celebrating wins doesn’t have to be expensive. Giving verbal recognition or a small gift can go a long way in terms of making employees feel rewarded and satisfied. Since positivity is contagious, create a company culture that encourages others to celebrate their wins as well. In times when it can feel like everything is going wrong outside the office, reminding people of what’s going right at work can have a real impact. [Learn how to make employees feel appreciated.]

Innovate new benefits and work perks.

In recent years, several global factors have influenced how workers prioritize employee benefits. While business owners once thought ping-pong tables and free snacks were the holy grail of recruitment and retention, those days are long gone. Employees are now looking for employers to offer benefits that can help them manage outside stressors like pandemic exhaustion, political strife, inflation expenses and an impending recession.

For example, the pandemic caused many companies to offer new health benefits and permanently incorporate work-from-home opportunities, relieving a lot of the stress associated with health care and commuting amidst the spread of COVID-19. To help employees deal with the consequences of inflation, your organization could offer financial benefits like 401(k) retirement plans, health savings accounts and flexible spending accounts, financial planning services and even raises. In an era of political unrest, you could grant employees the ability to take paid time off to vote in elections and volunteer for the causes they find meaningful.

Survey your staff about employee benefits using the “Start, Stop, Continue” method. Ask them what kind of new benefits or work perks would make them happier — those are what you should start offering. You’d stop providing the current benefits they say are no longer relevant, and you’d continue facilitating the perks that are most valuable to them. This will help you stay up to date with what benefits will keep your workers happy.

TipBottom line

Sometimes figuring out the “why” behind employee benefits can help you choose perks that are affordable and desirable to employees. For example, if a staff member wants to work remotely to take care of their children but you need them in the office, you could satisfy both of your needs by offering child care benefits.

Remove unnecessary workplace stressors.

Employees already have enough stress to deal with during down times; you don’t need to unnecessarily create more in the workplace. For instance, just because you’ve always done something one way doesn’t mean it’s the best way to keep doing it. When employees come to you with job-related frustrations or concerns, think of ways to increase efficiency and make their jobs easier.

While you can’t eliminate every workplace stressor, changing the ones you can relieve some of the burdens your employees are feeling and improve their overall happiness at work. Though the home is often a respite from the workplace, sometimes the opposite setup is necessary. Providing a good work environment can not only keep employees happy but also be a boon for your business.

Skye Schooley
Staff Writer at
Skye Schooley is a human resources writer at and Business News Daily, where she has researched and written more than 300 articles on HR-focused topics including human resources operations, management leadership, and HR technology. In addition to researching and analyzing products and services that help business owners run a smoother human resources department, such as HR software, PEOs, HROs, employee monitoring software and time and attendance systems, Skye investigates and writes on topics aimed at building better professional culture, like protecting employee privacy, managing human capital, improving communication, and fostering workplace diversity and culture.
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