How to Improve Employee Morale in a Bad Economy

How to Improve Employee Morale in a Bad Economy

According to a recent Time magazine study, approximately 80% of people feel disrespected at work. In today’s economy, it’s increasingly difficult to find jobs – but it’s also very important to maintain employee happiness in order to maximize the efficiency of the company in preparation for long-term success.

A few years ago, I attended a private leadership training seminar in Louisville, Kentucky, held by Adrian Gostick, author of “A Carrot a Day”. Gostick, who teaches the importance of maintaining employee morale through rewards and recognition, is one of the best public speakers I’ve ever seen. He runs the websites and along with his business partner Chester Elton. The two travel the world speaking publicly and offering advice for implementing greater standards of employee recognition in the business world.

During the session, he shared some of his tips for maintaining employee happiness in almost any size organization. Smart Money magazine recently reported that “optimistic diehards” are more successful in the business world – but anyone who has worked in that world knows just how difficult it can be to maintain a positive attitude sometimes.

Negativity is contagious and once it sinks into the corporate environment, it can spread like wildfire. So how do we combat it? With recognition, he says. An animated, witty presenter with a contagious sense of optimism, Gostick recommended praising efforts of employees who are attempting to improve their own performance, and actually rewarding them when those efforts bring measured results. Recognition is a huge factor in boosting employee morale.

If you feel that your employees could use a fresh breath of positivity, try personal or symbolic recognition, or positive re-enforcement of good behaviors. PERSONAL RECOGNITION Personal recognition is exactly what it sounds like: recognition for a job well done. It can be in the form of a “great job” or a pat on the back. Sometimes, it could go a step further and emerge as a thank you card passed from a grateful boss to an employee who just went above and beyond.

These types of recognition are almost always welcome – and can put a smile on someone’s face for the rest of the day. SYMBOLIC RECOGNITION Of course, in order to be effective, you want to avoid overkill. Too much of a good thing can become redundant or seem insincere.

If you are constantly praising your employees, your words may lose their meaning. Employees may come to expect praise, and view it as less of a “reward” – or, even worse, feel hurt when you forget to praise them for doing what they consider to be a good job. Make sure you praise frequently, but not TOO much.

Praise when needed, and when recognition is deserved, when building rapport or when a particular employee needs a morale boost. And try different types of praise. Personal recognition is highly effective, but symbolic recognition can also be very helpful. Symbolic recognition involves going a step further and rewarding an employee with something other than just words, a smile, a handshake, or a friendly pat on the back. Symbolic recognition is often tangible, and involves gifts or prizes.

I’ve seen companies provide everything from plaques to an employee’s favorite food, or even something as simple as a stress ball or bracelets. If you really want to make the employee feel special (and if it’s within your company’s budget to do so) a personalized trophy could be awarded to a top performer to proudly display on his or her desk. Now that we’ve discussed a few ways to recognize top performers, let’s examine how to be effective in our recognition.

In order for recognition to be successful, Adrian Gostick says it must follow the following three rules: – frequent – specific – timely In his book “A Carrot a Day” (which I highly recommend to anyone in a leadership or management role) Gostick recommends doing something to boost morale once a day. The theory here is, if you continuously work to improve employee morale and keep your top performers satisfied, they will continue to work hard and keep your business running smoothly.

However, if top performers are neglected, they may lose interest in working for your company.

This should not be underestimated, as top performers generally realize their own worth and know that, even in a tough economy, they stand a better-than-average chance of finding another job. Another reason recognition is important, Gostick says, is because “customers base their opinions of a company on its frontline employees.” Think about it. Front line employees are usually the first to see the customers, often dealing with them face-to-face in person.

Unfortunately, they are also usually the lowest-paid. Because studies have shown that people associate more money with happiness, this also means front-line employees often run the risk of becoming unhappy with their jobs and even quitting to pursue other options. If your front line employees are unhappy, are they going to provide top-quality customer service? Probably not. “Customers will drive further and pay more for better services or cheaper pricing,” Gostick says.

The key to employee retention is making your employees happy. Certainly, some idealism comes into play, but the theory itself is a good one and boosting employee morale can never be bad for business. In fact, Gostick states in his book that employees who are praised and/or rewarded regularly “focus better on company goals. They spot new opportunities faster. They have longer employment life spans.” The book even offers ideas for managers who are looking for new ways to praise, recognize and reward employees.

No wonder, then, that it quickly became a bestseller on both the Wall Street Journal and Business Week lists. Some of the most notable tips:

  • Remember to thank people who’ve influenced you. This too often gets overlooked. Don’t just promote front line employee morale; promote it on all levels of your company.
  • Bring out the star inside your fellow employees. Publicly reward when appropriate – and observe the change it brings in attitudes and performance.
  • Make a formal event out of recognition. Have a ceremony at least once a year to publicly praise top performers and make them stars. This also gives employees something to work towards throughout the year.
  • Keep track of what your employees like – or dislike. This doesn’t just mean their feelings about the work environment. It can also help you think of creative ways to reward them. Get on a more personal level with your reward ideas by asking them what motivates them. You could even do an anonymous (or not) written survey of all employees for prize ideas. If possible, tailor your rewards to each specific person you’re honoring. They’ll appreciate the personal touch, while knowing you were listening to their needs and wants. This is a great way to build rapport by letting them know you care!

Rewards don’t just have to come from upper management – so don’t exhaust yourself trying to think of new ideas! Create a formal employee rewards & recognition program that allows employees to nominate and possibly even reward each other when they appreciate something a coworker has done or notice a job well done. This boosts morale, team rapport, and takes some of the weight off your shoulders so you can focus on other important management duties. Just make sure you aren’t relying on your employees to provide 100% of the recognition.

Most of it should still start with you! Don’t underestimate the power of recognition. It is extremely important in the business world. Without it, you could actually lose employees. Top performers are the most capable of leaving because they have the very skills that other employers are searching for – and they KNOW it! Fail to show your top performers how valued they are and they may leave you for another opportunity, should one arise.

However, if an employee is truly happy with his or her surroundings, or feels respected and appreciated in the workplace, he or she might settle for less pay or a longer commute just for those feelings of value. To further illustrate this point, Gostick shared a story about his recent experience traveling in China. During his trip, he met a young Chinese girl who spoke a little bit of English.

Deciding to strike up a conversation with her, he asked: “Have you ever been to America?” The girl replied that not only had she never visited the United States, but she had never even left her hometown. Understandably amazed, Gostick decided to probe further by asking: “Why have you never left this city? Don’t you want to see the rest of the world?” “If I’m happy here,” the girl answered without hesitation, “why would I ever want to leave?” It sounds like businesses could learn a lot from this story.

Prepare and write by:

Author: Mohammed A Bazzoun

If you have any more specific questions, feel free to ask in comments.


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