As a global recession looms, people all over the world are keeping a close eye on their bank accounts. Inflation is skyrocketing, living costs are rising, and global businesses are feeling the heat. For many, that means making cuts: to programs, benefits, and even their workforces.

Difficult times such as these turn up the pressure on your people. Additional stress can lower employee morale and increase burnout rates, and job security can become a highly sensitive issue.

It’s up to managers to steer their teams through stressful times—and it’s up to HR to give managers the support, tools, and training they need to do so. Investing your resources in keeping people confident, satisfied, and productive at work will pay dividends, helping you keep hold of top talent for longer.

With a people-first company culture and an effective communication strategy based on honesty, transparency, and openness, managers can fuel higher  employee engagement and productivity levels that drive your business forward.

But to achieve those goals, managers need to have the right answers to some of the most common questions likely to arise. Here’s how to navigate the trickiest topics.

The 5 most common questions managers face in difficult times

Managers needn’t be caught off guard by anxious team members. By preparing for the most common questions, you can help them reassure their people and build trust.

1. “I can’t afford rent anymore. Is there any chance I could get a raise?”

For many managers, compensation is one of the most stressful conversations they can have with a team member. Money has long been a taboo subject at home, with friends, and at work, and many of us get particularly hot under the collar when the subject arises. Thankfully, with pay transparency becoming more widely accepted, having these conversations is becoming easier.

Openness is key to a healthy conversation here. With thorough benchmarking and transparency about what guides changes in pay (such as available budget, performance, or eligibility), managers can be better prepared to talk money.

It’s worth considering an additional bonus or goal–based pay program that allows the team member to achieve the increased remuneration they need. It is also worth exploring other ways to help, such as by reevaluating your benefits system. Encourage managers to ensure their team members take full advantage of existing season ticket or transport benefits or to reassess their hybrid work arrangements to help them save on fuel or heating costs.

2. “I know the company is feeling the crunch. Will there be layoffs, and will my job be cut?”

Again, honesty and transparency are key here. Help managers be clear and direct with their people, explaining exactly how the economic landscape is affecting your business in detail. People respect honesty: If things are looking rough, tell them. But also paint a picture of the challenges you’ve overcome in the past, and empower them to help the company build a brighter future.

If the company is planning layoffs, it’s all too tempting for managers and HR alike to keep it to themselves. Instead, consider being open about possible layoffs and the state of the business. There’s nothing worse for people than complete uncertainty, but this isn’t about needlessly scaremongering. 

By reassuring your people of their value to the business and that you’re there to support them whatever happens, you’ll build their confidence. Consider offering career counseling services, networking opportunities, or outplacements to demonstrate this support—no matter what tough decisions the company may have to make.

3. “I’m feeling very anxious about my financial situation. Is there any way you can help?”

Increased financial anxiety can significantly impact someone’s ability to perform at work. Consider offering financial counseling services as a benefit to help your people prepare and plan for the future, such as through workshops or even meetings with personal financial advisers.

Once the situation is clear, give managers the power to make one-off arrangements where necessary, to help team members with their budgeting and savings. These might include paying advances, offering low-interest or interest-free loans, or establishing a kind of special savings scheme either for them or their family.

4. “If getting a raise isn’t an option, what about improving certain benefits?”

In any kind of negotiation, it’s important to keep a broad scope of variables on the table, and benefits can be a big help to team members struggling with finances.

Flexible spending accounts or savings arrangements can be incredibly valuable, and for employers in the United States, you could increase the company’s contribution to 401(k) plans or provide enhanced pension options. 

You could also consider subsidizing essentials such as childcare, travel costs, or even groceries. Meal cards, an office canteen, or adjustments to your hybrid work policy can all go some way toward easing the pressure on financially stressed team members.

5. “The company has laid people off. Now, we’re dealing with even more work. What can I do to manage the stress of the increased workload?”

When someone asks this question, they’re likely feeling nervous about a lack of support and the security of their own role, as well as feeling the strain of extra work.

When managers discuss work-life balance, emphasize the flexibility of schedules, and underline the importance of self-care and taking time off, it can make a real difference to your company culture. Effectively communicating at regular intervals is key.

Equally, if freelance or temporary staff are needed to help lighten the workload, it’s important for managers to grasp exactly where the bottlenecks are. Simply discussing this possibility can make a big impact on stress levels and also help reassure the person that their job is safe.

Finally, encourage managers to pay continued attention to professional development opportunities for their teams. These don’t just help the company grow, but also demonstrate to team members that the organization is investing in them, believes in them, and sees just how valuable they are.

Open communication is the key

When dealing with stressful times, it’s important that managers bring people together to support one another rather than fuel isolation in the workplace. HR teams can help by encouraging and promoting open, honest communication practices in which people and managers are free to express their feelings, ask questions, and receive considered answers.

Managers should regularly instigate conversations to gauge morale, find ways to provide greater support, and understand exactly what people are struggling with. By being prepared for the most common questions (and being honest about any challenges your business faces) managers can build trust, increase loyalty and employee retention, and help you guide your company into calmer seas.

Tali Sachs

From Tali Sachs

Tali is a content marketing manager at HiBob. She's been writing stories since before she knew what to do with a pen and paper. When she's not writing, she's reading sci-fi, snuggling with her cats, or singing at an open mic.