Do you show great respect for employees by valuing what they value? Time is your greatest gift. When you find ways to design a more flexible work schedule that gives your staff more time with their families, you are building morale at work and at home. Nothing is better than a spouse or significant other singing your praises at the dinner table.
Do you invest in your employees? Most businesses, even those with razor thin margins, can find some way to partially support an investment in training for their folks. Give life-long learning opportunities (local college tuition support, corporate-funded training, online classes, etc.) and you’ll build your morale escrow account quite nicely.
Do you bring the right amount of fun into the workplace? We are living in ultra-serious times, and it’s important to remind ourselves that all is not lost and laughter still is the best medicine. Fun is affordable and it can be designed to match your culture. Not one for seltzer and pie fights? No problem — schedule a biannual cleanup day where every employee is assigned an area for organizing and sanitizing. Best wipers get a modest prize. If you’re unsure if formalized fun will fly, then surprise everyone with small “events” to break the routine. Gather your troops some morning and form into teams. See who can come up with the most songs or movies that have the words “work” or “working” in the title. Winners get a pizza.
BRING THE SAFETY!
Achieving strong, high-impact morale is made all the more difficult when your staff is either subjected to, or frightened by, the possibility of heavy layoffs, the discontinuing of overtime, wage freezes, reduction in hours, benefit cuts and, ultimately, the chance that a worker’s retirement plan will have to be delayed. Even without such financial shocks to the system, there is a constant state of stress and tension pulling at everyone these days — and that especially includes owners and managers. The true culprit amidst these depressing economic clouds is the undermining loss of control that most people feel. The evening news wrap-up details the chilling effects of this stress on our countrymen’s lives. Greatest among all of your weapons to fight plummeting morale is the sense of safety and confidence you can bring to your people. No, you cannot make the world turn in reverse, but you certainly can help to create your own weather. What I love about business ownership is the opportunity you get to declare yourself an independent state with a culture and rule of law of your own design.
BE PROMISING WITHOUT MAKING PROMISES
While you can’t make promises that no economic harm will come to your employees, perhaps you can find a way to share certain information with them to assuage their fears. If staff cuts don’t seem too likely, or downsizing is something you would hold off until your dying day, tell your workers just that. Give out all the legal disclaimers you need, but try your best to find the genuinely good news and share it. It will be a perfect opportunity to ask your employees for more productivity, more loyalty, more effort . . . more of everything. When genuine trust is reached, your employees will amaze you with their performance. If need be, carefully break the rules you’ve learned about separation and supposedly confidential information and you can almost guarantee a great return from some genuinely appreciative people. Whenever possible, bring them some safety in exchange for sky-high morale. Be promising without making promises you cannot keep.
AT THE CORE
Morale begins and ends with a sense of pride and a desire to live up to the traditions of a group — it doesn’t matter if the group is big or small, young or old. In fact, in larger organizations you can even have a subset of members with their own distinctive traditions and morale: installers, sales and marketing teams, etc. If it helps, don’t restrict the growth of anything positive. Today we have many people living in their own Blackberry worlds, experiencing life as a solo project. Camaraderie and fellowship have become rare. Your ability to foster goodwill and rapport among the diverse populations that make up your staff is a very welcome result of your management skills.
A FINAL WORD
There’s a really tough question you can ask yourself that will help you accurately measure your firm’s morale. Does every member of your organization want your company to succeed? If they do, then nearly anything is possible. If they all don’t really care, then there is some tough work to be done. You just can’t survive if you’re not firing on all thrusters.
Yes, morale is twitchy. It is the corporate version of the proverbial greased piglet. Dive on it and, too often, you’ll come up with manure stains and a big armful of nothing where that slippery porker was supposed to be. It doesn’t matter how slick or evasive morale can be — your job, as always, is to fix it and, given today’s challenging environment, fix it fast.
About the author: Chris Traynor, Surface Fabrication’s senior business columnist, is the director and knowledge scout for Whip-Smart Management Consulting LLC, Wayne, N.J. (www.whip-smart.com), as well as a board-certified senior professional in human resources (SPHR). Traynor has 25 years of experience in the solid surface industry as a consultant to fabricators, distributors, manufacturers and associated firms. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.