We’re in the middle of the worst recession in 70 years. In fact, even well-respected economists like Paul Krugman refer to this as the Great Recession. And, while there is some positive economic news coming through on a regular basis, one thing remains constant – business leaders are focused on getting by with less.

One of the problems with this approach, however, is that our workforce is experiencing higher levels of stress and anxiety than ever before. Leaders are under immense pressure to cut costs and one of the first budgets to get cut is routinely that of the Training Department. In fact, one HR executive that I recently spoke with said that her company canceled ALL of its training several years ago. Employees are “begging” for professional development opportunities but the company refuses to invest in this area.

What are the consequences of companies turning a blind eye to the development of their most valuable resource? Employees are not equipped to handle the increased pressure to deliver. Pile on the fact that they are anxious about the economy and their jobs, this leads to a downward spiral on performance:

  1. Increased workload leads to greater stress
  2. Greater stress decreases performance
  3. Poor economic performance leads to layoffs
  4. Layoffs lead to higher levels of stress and anxiety
  5. Go to step 1…

I am not one to ignore the realities of this economy. Sending employees for week-long courses in self-awareness, leadership, or other ‘soft’ skills does not make sense for every company in these difficult times. Professional development can be incredibly expensive, in some cases. And, of course, training is not the answer to every problem. But, if we continue to ignore the emotional needs of our employees, we will continue to see stress, anxiety, and depression cost us billions (yes, billions) in direct and indirect costs.

So, how do we help employees cope with the reality of this economy without breaking the budget? Here are some quick tips to make a more informed decision about choosing a program for your company or team:

  • Do a reality check – Employee surveys do not need to be expensive or take months to develop. Services like Survey Monkey can be used for free and provide even small businesses with an opportunity learn more about their employees.
  • Look behind the curtain – Select consultants that use a research-backed approach to their programs. Challenge them to back up their content peer-reviewed research.
  • Run a pilot – Don’t feel that you need to commit to a consultant’s pricing scheme or a promise of discounts for purchasing multiple implementations of a program “right now.” Ask for a free pilot and gather feedback.
  • Get free materials – Ask for copies of the materials prior to signing a contract. It’s difficult to evaluate any program without seeing exactly what is in it. Would you buy a car without seeing the specs (or, for that matter, taking it for a test drive)?

Employee stress, anxiety, and depression will always be with us. And, no program should ever take the place of an individual seeking professional help for an emotional disorder. But, investing in a quality program that can reach hundreds of employees in a short time and uses research to build resilience and critical thinking skills can be a cost-effective way for you to invest in the well being of your employees (and your company!).


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