1. Lessons In Leadership
  2. Thoughts from the Zeitgeist

Crying Wolf

Let’s disrupt the cycle of Recession Fatigue. 

Remember the fable about the little boy who cried wolf? He punked the good town folk too many times — warning them about a wolf that never came — and then when an actual wolf pounced, everyone ignored his cries. The story did not end happily for the little boy.  

I think about Recession Fatigue as a modern retelling of this story. The little boy is looking through binoculars and reporting, via multiple social media outlets, on the intermittent progress of the wolf. He provides constant updates on the wolf’s speed and trajectory; the wolf is taking its sweet time but is steadily approaching. He may even hit a few hen houses along the way. So the kid keeps reporting on its comings and goings. Eventually, many of the people just get tired of hearing about the wolf and tune it all out. They had a rough winter and now they adopt the motto that living well is the best revenge. They burn through their savings and take on debt, planning to go back to work eventually. But suddenly, the wolf is at the door, and they realize they are out of reserves, out of work, and out of luck. 

A recent article by Joyce Gioia in the Herman Trend Report does an excellent job of contextualizing the post-pandemic spending and the perilous rise in consumer debt. She tracks the general mood among employees (feeling that they are underappreciated), the subsequent Quiet Quitting as employees dial back their efforts to the bare minimum, and the more recent Loud Layoffs, characterized by cutbacks at several big tech companies. Underpinning all this economic churn is the threat of imminent recession, and an overall malaise as people speculate about what all the economic churn signals. It’s been dubbed “Recession Fatigue.” 

Full disclosure — I am an optimist who has had a hand in steering businesses through a variety of bad economic downturns. They are real, and they are no fun. But businesses that remain vigilant get through. It’s harder for individual employees who worry about whether they should worry. Responsible leaders should act to help mitigate employee stress. As the Herman report indicates, we can disrupt the snowballing disruption of Quiet Quitting by intentionally focusing on Employee Engagement. This means taking the long view regarding productivity and strategic planning. It means embracing an evolved definition of benefits that supports a strong corporate culture. It means promoting from within and creating career opportunity. And it means pressing forward to fill positions that are strategically important instead of hobbling growth by waiting for some vague economic portent. 

This brings to mind another story about a wolf. He was able to blow away the vulnerable houses that were quickly and easily constructed. But the brick house held. Strong businesses are built with strong people. People are the bricks. Invest there.

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