How to motivate and retain your team during a recession

How to motivate and retain your team during a recession
Opinion: Career Leaders

You might not be able to guarantee a pay rise, but you can put understanding into practical action. 


Pay rises, promotions and bonuses may be off the table during a recession. So how can you motivate and retain your team during this difficult time? 

Start by considering your employees’ mental health. Fear is often an overriding emotion during recession periods, especially fear of the unknown and uncertainty. In the current cost of living crisis, we’re hearing at NABS that people are worried about job security, meeting basic living costs and redundancy to name just three. Recessions create the perfect storm of financial and emotional worries.  

Be honest and clear

Starting from this point, you can see that you have extra work to do to motivate your staff, especially when you look at what we’ve been living through since 2020. We’ve collectively bounced from the pandemic, to post-pandemic, to the cost of living crisis – all under a backdrop of political instability, climate crisis and war. It’s exhausting, it’s uncertain and it’s difficult to keep wading through one challenge to another. 

What’s more, we don’t just have the recession to contend with. There’s also the ongoing talent crisis, and the growth of quiet quitting, to consider. 

However, you can be a positive factor in your employees’ lives by providing some much-needed clarity and certainty in the areas that you’re involved with, for example project briefings and client work. Be honest and clear and you’ll get your people on-side. Anything that can help to chip away at the fear and uncertainty prevalent during recession times is a huge help, and employees will respond to this rare piece of certainty with motivation to engage. 

Learning and development opportunities can be hugely motivating. Invest in your people’s future, help them to grow, and you’ll keep them motivated and engaged as well as building skillsets that will help your organisation, and the industry as a whole, in the future. See where your teams can develop further or strengthen the qualities that they already have. Direct them to NABS’ Masterclasses and coaching for free development opportunities, for example.  

Give employees room to grow

Do you have regular check-ins with your team? These are an opportunity for two-way discussion. Are you giving them feedback? This is all part of their development too. Work with your people to ensure that they can access quality learning and coaching. When they can grow, they’ll feel less frustrated and more motivated. 

At NABS, we often talk about listening and appreciating people. Now is the perfect time to zone in on this key action. Have you asked your team members, individually, what motivates you? What makes you get up and come to work? A lot of insight will come from that. You can’t assume why people come to work. You’ll find out more about that person when you ask that question and you’ll be able to find new ways to motivate them as a result. 

On the flipside, make sure that your staff understand what your organisation stands for. You need to match their values with that of the business. When there’s a mismatch of values, this often causes stress for individuals. But when people are aligned and understand why they’re doing something, they’re motivated. Ongoing and honest communication is key here. 

Bring in the human factor

How well do your teams know each other? In times of crisis, you need support around you; we all need to feel as though we’re working together as a team. This also helps people to link their work back to their purpose, which is a huge motivating factor. 

There’s a such a power in thanking someone for their work and recognising them. Bring in the human factor as much as you can. Share people’s contributions in team meetings and acknowledge that it takes a team to do your work. Maybe someone’s work isn’t being shown enough; give them more exposure to help them feel recognised and valued.

Quiet quitting is taking place because people have been working hard but not feeling valued in return. They’ve realised that the one thing they can take away from their employer is their time. 

To help turn things around, make an effort to provide people with an environment that suits their personal and work needs. Working to understand where they’re at and how you can support them is a huge part of showing appreciation and value. Because of the way we’ve been working since the pandemic, we’re all in a good position to rethink our ways of working, even if just as a temporary measure.

You might not be able to guarantee a pay rise, but you can figure out what you can do to help support people with flexibility (which isn’t just for working parents – flexibility applies to everybody in different contexts). When you put understanding into practical action, you can reap the rewards of a valued and motivated team. 

Uzma Afridi is head of careers at the UK advertising and media industry’s wellbeing charity NABS.

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