How to Improve Work Culture During a Recession

During periods of financial instability, such as a recession, business leaders should prioritize bolstering company culture. After all, without a strong, motivated team, surviving an economic downturn is near impossible.

Finding tangible solutions may seem challenging, but many cost-effective ways exist to foster a healthy work environment — no matter the circumstances.

On Season 5, episode 9 of the Survive and Thrive podcast, host Jennifer Ayres continues part two of her discussion on maintaining a positive work culture amidst economic uncertainty. For part one on this topic, check out Season 4, Episode 8.

Why Your Company Needs to Prioritize Your Employees

During an economic downturn, it’s safe to say that stress is high both inside and outside the workplace, which can significantly impact your employees’ mental health.

According to a Clinical Psychological Science study, people experienced a 1.3-1.5x increase in poor mental health symptoms, such as depression, anxiety, and panic attacks, during the 2008 Great Recession. 

This behavior can be attributed to the overall financial insecurity of this time. Still, many employees were afraid that they would be let go if they prioritized their well-being, including taking breaks or time off.

When employees are anxious and stressed, their job performance suffers, leading to the company suffering as a result. 

A healthy company culture is critical to surviving a recession’s inevitable challenges. 

Therefore, business leaders must include a recession-resistance plan in their business model to ensure they can always bring out the best in their team.

Affordable Solutions

Even through economic instability, there are many affordable ways businesses may improve company culture. 

Positive Feedback

One easy and free tactic for boosting your employees’ morale is through a culture of feedback. With no cost to your company, you can implement a positive feedback loop at meetings, through emails, or on one-on-ones. When you let your employees know what they are doing well, that you understand their efforts, and how their work is important, they will feel appreciated and valued–and will be motivated to work through any difficulties that come your company’s way. 

According to Bamboo HR, employees who experience regular feedback are 2.7% more likely to be engaged with their jobs. 

Cost-Effective Rewards

Of course, many employees would want a salary increase, especially during a recession. A study by Bamboo HR found that 25% of employees would leave their jobs for higher wages. When there is no room in the budget for raises, there are other ways to reward your team. 

By increasing PTO, providing flexible schedules, allowing them to access 50% of their paychecks in advance, and offering performance-based bonuses, you can still address your employees’ growing financial needs without draining your business.

Ongoing Training

According to Harvard Business Review, 86% of workers would leave their jobs for more career development opportunities. With this in mind, it’s essential to consider how you can help your employees climb the corporate ladder. 

You can guide your team and increase employee satisfaction through cost-effective mentorship programs, skill-building classes, and promotion opportunities. Through ongoing training, you can establish a mutually beneficial pipeline that will outlast any periods of economic instability.

The 4-Day Work Week

Although this is a newer concept, implementing a 4-day workweek can improve company culture while reducing costs. The New Zealand Consultancy company, Bradford Jacobs, revealed that a shorter workweek led to a 7% decrease in workplace stress and a 24% improvement in work/life balance. Not only does a reduced workweek allow employees to have more time to recover from potential burnout, but your business can save money on office supplies, heating and cooling, and other everyday expenses. 

As long as the work gets done, a 4-day work week may be a key factor in surviving a recession–and improving work culture as a whole.


In the face of financial instability, your employees will appreciate any gesture to prioritize their needs, even if that gesture is small. Your employees will feel valued through your concentrated efforts, motivating everyone to unite and weather the storm.

If you would like to learn more about improving company culture despite a weak economy, check out this week’s episode of the Survive and Thrive Podcast.