Curing the “Recession Hangover”

Jan 24, 2019

By Jon Gordon

The recession is over. These are the words of hope that employees and managers alike have waited for. The worst may be over, but the effect of those grim days still lingers in corporate America. Call it the “recession hangover.” Despite the hopeful talk of recovery, many employees remain anxious, distrustful, and—worst of all—disengaged.

Why should leaders care about employees’ emotional states as long as they show up and do their jobs each day? The answer is productivity. Research from Gallup estimates that disengaged employees are costing their companies big bucks—up to $1 out of every $3 spent on payroll. In other words, a full one-third of your company's payroll is being thrown away due to negativity. Moreover, whether that funk has descended on your company in the past couple of years or it's been there all along, you absolutely must address it now.

The new focus should be on culture. It should be on purpose, morale, and loyalty, all of which boils down to two words: engaged relationships. Engaged relationships are interactive, collaborative, and meaningful. They are also essential: To effectively lead, coach, work with, or live with someone, you must truly know them and have a strong bond with them. No matter how busy you are, you can’t afford to be too busy to create these bonds.

How to begin? Here are some strategies for getting your company's culture back on track:

  • Busyness and stress are a manager's two worst enemies. They sabotage our efforts to build engaged relationships. With projects to complete, to-do lists to accomplish, goals to hit, and outcomes to achieve, life can feel like we are on a runaway bus in the movie Speed. We're speeding through life at 100 miles per hour, and instead of taking the time to get people on our bus, we run them over. We become so focused on creating success that we don't make the time to develop the relationships that lead to true success. In times of busyness and stress, the brain goes into survival mode, and we stop thinking about serving other people, mentoring them, and helping them thrive.  What our employees need the most, we deliver the least; and so the problems grow and multiply. It's a perpetual cycle.
  • Where there's a void in communication, negativity fills it. Recovery or no recovery, these are uncertain times. Employees are wondering what's going to happen next, whether their jobs will be impacted, and what action to take. That uncertainty creates a void. Unless you, the manager, fill the void with clear and positive communication, people will assume the worst. Fear and negativity will creep in and dominate their thoughts, behaviors, and actions. The number one thing a manager can do during times of uncertainty is to communicate with transparency, authenticity, and clarity. Even when the news is not so positive, you can communicate it positively: tell the truth, give them a plan, and help them believe, “Hey, we can turn this thing around.” Optimism is a competitive advantage; you need to convey it in all you say and do.
  • Employees need nourishment to thrive. These may seem like strange words to apply to the workplace. Yet the main questions every employee in every organization wants answered are: Do you care about me? Can I trust you? If your answer is yes, your employees will be more likely to stay on the bus and work with you. Employees who feel cared for, honored, and nourished are more engaged in what they're doing and will work at their highest potential. Learn to view your employees like a family—a functional family. This will change the way you treat them. You'll see them as people who deserve your trust and who require authenticity from you. If you want to be someone they can trust, you need to take the actions necessary to earn it.

Remind yourself every day that it's not the numbers that drive people, but people and relationships that drive numbers. Leaders become so busy trying to achieve success that they forget to take the time to develop the relationships that lead to success. However, trying to build a winning team without great relationships is like trying to build a house on sand. It won't stand. Relationships are the rock that creates the foundation upon which winning teams are built.

About the Author(s)

Jon Gordon is a consultant, keynote speaker, and the international best-selling author of The Energy Bus, The No Complaining Rule, and Training Camp, and most recently, Soup: A Recipe to Nourish Your Team and Culture, all from Wiley. For more information, visit: and