The Recession Hangover Culture Cure: How Residual Negativity Is Costing Companies Big Bucks

The recession may be over, but it’s left its mark on your employees. And as it turns out, all that negativity could be costing your company big bucks. Here’s how to build engaged relationships, revitalize your company culture, and reclaim up to one-third of your payroll in the process.

The recession is over. These are the words of hope that employees and managers alike have waited for. And now that signs are pointing to recovery, we can all heave a collective sigh of relief and go back to business as usual. Right? Wrong. The worst may be over, but the effect of those grim days still lingers in Corporate America. (Call it the Recession Hangover.) Yes, too many employees these days are feeling overworked, under-appreciated, and skeptical. And despite the hopeful talk of recovery, they remain anxious, distrustful, and—worst of all—disengaged.

So why should it matter how your employees feel, so long as they show up and do their jobs each day? The answer is productivity. Research from Gallup estimates that disengaged employees are costing their companies big bucks—up to $1 out of every $3 spent on payroll. In other words, a full one-third of your company’s payroll is being thrown away due to negativity. And whether that funk has descended on your company in the past couple of years or it’s been there all along, you absolutely must address it now—and that means focusing attention on the state of your company’s culture.

Here’s what happened. For years, managers were focused on the numbers, and the numbers were good. So morale was up and everyone was happy. But then the recession hit and the numbers went down. Well, when you’re focused on numbers and they’re going down, morale also goes down. So does engagement—and so does performance. Now the research is showing us that it directly affects the cash flow in your organization—at a time when every precious penny still counts.

This has thrown managers into a quandary. They need to change their leadership focus, and most of them don’t know where to begin.

The new focus should be on culture. It should be on purpose and morale and loyalty. And all of that boils down to two words: engaged relationships.

Engaged relationships are interactive, collaborative, and meaningful. They are also essential: To effectively lead, coach, work with, or live with someone, you must truly know and have a strong bond with them. No matter how busy you are, you’re not too busy to create these bonds. You can’t afford to be that busy.

In my new book, Soup: A Recipe to Nourish Your Team and Culture (Wiley, 2010, ISBN: 978-0-4704878-4-6, $22.95,, I explain the connection between engaged relationships and success and lay out the ingredients that make up a nourishing culture. The people “stirring the pot” have a powerful and lasting impact…and if you’re a mid-level manager, that means you.

So how can you build engaged relationships with your employees (and start getting your money’s worth again)? Here are some insights for getting your company’s culture back on track:
Busyness and stress are a manager’s two worst enemies. They sabotage our efforts to build engaged relationships. With projects to complete, to-do lists to accomplish, goals to hit, and outcomes to achieve, life can feel like we are on a runaway bus in the movie Speed. We’re driving through life at 100 miles per hour, and instead of taking the time to get people on our bus, we run them over. We become so focused on creating success that we don’t make the time to develop the relationships that lead to true success.

In times of busyness and stress, the brain goes into survival mode, and we stop thinking about serving other people, mentoring them, and helping them thrive. This is where we drop the ball. Just when we need to be the most engaging, we become the least engaging. What our employees need the most, we’re delivering the least. And so the problems grow and multiply. It’s a perpetual cycle.

Where there’s a void in communication, negativity fills it. Recovery or no recovery, these are uncertain times. Employees are wondering what’s going to happen next, whether their jobs will be impacted, and what action to take. That uncertainty creates a void. Unless you, the manager, fill the void with clear and positive communication, people will assume the worst. Fear and negativity will creep in and dominate their thoughts, behaviors, and actions.

The number one thing a manager can do during times of uncertainty is to communicate. Communicate with transparency, authenticity, and clarity. Even when the news is not so positive, you can communicate it positively: Tell the truth, give them a plan, and help them believe, “Hey, we can turn this thing around.” Optimism is a competitive advantage right now, and you need to convey it in all you say and do.

Employees need nourishment in order to thrive. These may seem like strange words to apply to the workplace. But they are spot-on. The main question every employee in every organization wants to know the answer to is this: Do you care about me; can I trust you? If your answer is yes, your employees will be more likely to stay on the bus and work with you. Employees who feel cared for, honored, and nourished are more engaged in what they’re doing and will work at their highest potential.

Learn to view your employees like a family—a functional family. This will change the way you treat them. You’ll see them as people who deserve your trust and love and who require communication, transparency, and authenticity from you. You want to be someone they can trust, and therefore you need to take the actions necessary to earn it.

Remind yourself every day that it’s not the numbers that drive people, but people and relationships that drive numbers. Leaders get so busy trying to achieve success that they forget to take the time to develop the relationships that lead to success. But trying to build a winning team without great relationships is like trying to build a house on sand. It won’t stand. Relationships are the rock that creates the foundation upon which winning teams are built.

About the Author
Jon Gordon is a consultant, keynote speaker, and the international bestselling author of Soup, The Energy Bus, The No Complaining Rule, and Training Camp, all from Wiley. He and his books have been featured on CNN and on NBC’s Today show, as well as in Forbes, Fast Company, O, The Oprah Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times. Jon’s principles have been put to the test by NFL football teams and Fortune 500 companies alike. He has worked with such clients as the Atlanta Falcons, the PGA Tour, Northwestern Mutual, JPMorgan Chase, and Publix Supermarkets. A graduate of Cornell University, he holds a master’s degree in teaching and works with numerous businesses, professional sports teams, schools, universities, and nonprofit organizations. For more information, please visit: and

About the Book
Soup: A Recipe to Nourish Your Team and Culture (Wiley, 2010, ISBN: 978-0-4704878-4-6, $22.95, is available at bookstores nationwide, major online booksellers, or direct from the publisher by calling 800-225-5945. In Canada, call 800-567-4797.

Founded in 1807, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., has been a valued source of information and understanding for 200 years, helping people around the world meet their needs and fulfill their aspirations. Wiley’s core business includes scientific, technical, and medical journals; encyclopedias, books, and online products and services; professional and consumer books and subscrip
tion services; and educational materials for undergraduate and graduate students and lifelong learners. Wiley’s global headquarters are located in Hoboken, New Jersey, with operations in the U.S., Europe, Asia, Canada, and Australia. The Company’s Web site can be accessed at The Company is listed on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbols JWa and JWb.