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  • Writer's pictureTephra Miriam

100 Seconds to Midnight: Will our Fight Against the Recession Breed Workplace Violence?

It wasn't until the industrial revolution that a Welsh textile manufacturer by the name of Robert Owen and the English inventor of the first mechanical computer, Charles Babbage, came to the collective decision that people are crucial to the success of an organization, and that the health and well-being of workers is actually the beating heart of any economy. Unfortunately, it took one more century for the seeds of the formal human resources management movement to be planted and many years after that for those same seeds to be fertilized through policy reforms and scientific studies.

Now, we exist in the era of quiet quitting, silent firing, the great breakup, mass shootings, the Russo-Ukrainian war, recessionary indicators, inflation, a mental health crisis, and the splinters of a public health crisis.

The culmination of this apocalyptic collection of circumstances has put a steady spotlight on people, and the recession is forcing the hand of business leaders that are now balancing as best they can their people and their bottom line.

In an effort to win the very real economic battle that the recession and inflation have produced leaves businesses extremely vulnerable to opening the door to workplace violence and human suffering if profit and/or revenue are the only metrics of success used. We will only be able to pioneer a way forward if we stop and think about where we are as people right now. And one way to assess and understand the current state of humanity is to explore the science behind the Doomsday Clock.

The Current State of Humanity

Whatever you may feel about the accuracy of the Doomsday Clock, the science behind it is certainly thought-provoking. Since 1947 the cryptic clock has been watching the world with silent eyes and actively searches for signs of implosion by our own hands. This year's announcement contained key points that drew attention to our divided world, the tension between nations, and the impact of the pandemic. The pandemic divided citizens, not only here in the U.S. but in all democratic countries worldwide. Research from PEW shows that people in advanced economies say their society is more divided than before the pandemic. BBC Reported, "Covid-19 could have been a crisis that pulled governments together to make all of us safer, as the Cuban Missile Crisis did 60 years ago, but it was not."

If you decide to read the official report, you'll be hit with topics such as the burgeoning biological threat to civilization and analysis of progress within climate multilateralism, nuclear posturing, and many, many more global events that have led this group of notable scientists to believe that we are the closest to doomsday than we've ever been since humans appeared on Earth.

We are now 100 seconds to midnight, but the good news is that corporations can play an active role in reversing the clock by making responsible decisions that put people first.

Battling the Recession

Recession-proofing is a vital part of strategic planning that also injects organizations with trickle-down anxiety, and if protectionary measures are not handled correctly, they can do more harm than good. The Department of Homeland Security states, "Employees typically do not just "snap," but display indicators of potentially violent behavior over time. If these behaviors are recognized, they can often be managed and treated." This workbook also states that fostering a respectful workplace is the best way to prevent violence.

Mental health must be talked about in the board room and must be present in executive conversations as part of recession planning, not because it's a "nice" thing to do or even the right thing to do, but because it's what we have to do to keep all of us safe against violent crime. Basic safety in society is more of an issue today, and organizations must do their part to protect employees.

Business leaders are dealing with slim budgets and staffing shortages and often feel expected to turn water into wine to meet expectations. Life has handed organizations a challenging set of cards, but it's how we play the hand we've been dealt that will define our legacy, and here's how we can recession-proof our organizations without breeding violence or compromising belonging.

Do No Evil

A recession will never be an excuse to cast aside our morals and stop doing the right thing—but what is the right thing? Flexible solutions that are both fiscally responsible and humanely sustainable must be innovated. So bring the best and the brightest from all areas of your organization together to brainstorm new measures that will address employee mental health alongside your financial and economic futures. Think about it as creating long-term healthy habits versus a crash diet.

Here are some straightforward ways to foster transparency while recession-proofing:

  1. Create an internal matrix that outlines any planned budget cuts, as well as a narrative description that explains the rationale and anticipated impacts of the cuts.

  2. Develop a communication plan to help employees cope with loss and greater demand on their time.

  3. Talk openly about how employee mental health will be protected during hiring freezes or layoffs.

  4. Hold meetings and ask for employee input on the choices and options that matter most to them.

Utilize Radical Belonging to Mitigate Risk

It's not enough to try and walk in your employee's shoes—you need to see life through their eyes. This means that every organizational action must be viewed through the employee experience lens first. This should be a driving force in what and how you communicate. It's important to reinforce why you are doing what you're doing. If it's a matter of doing all of the budget cuts you can to prevent layoffs, then make that extra clear. Also, use belonging as a tool to mitigate risk. It's so much more than water cooler conversations. It should be an active and measurable part of your workplace security plan.

Create FAQs That Matter

Whether through employee surveys, one-on-one meetings, or water cooler conversations, most businesses know what their employees are concerned about. If your employees are worried about pay cuts and job security, your best bet is to be upfront and bring what employees are thinking to the forefront. Then be proactive with your response to their concerns. Create a set of FAQs that answer fundamental questions that employees have and share them publicly. Some questions could be:

  • Is EVERYONE in the company taking a hit financially and not getting bonuses? Why or why not?

  • My team is understaffed, and it's taking a toll on my mental health. How can I get some relief?

  • Is the company losing money or not making goals, and how is that measured?

Let's Evolve Organizational DNA for the Greater Good

As a society, we are at a turning point today. We can take what we've learned about belonging and the importance of mental health and use it to lessen the burden of the recession, or we can disregard the lessons we've learned and brace for the worst. I call on corporate leaders across America to tackle this recession by improving belonging within their teams and workforce. The journey through an economic downturn with a tribe behind you is likely as complex as parting the Red Sea, but it can be done.

The decisions we make now about putting people first will one day take us farther away from midnight.

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