I was recently interviewed by ITWorldCanada.com (the article isn’t out yet) about how to maintain employee morale during times of economic uncertainty. Keep in mind that I’m an OD practitioner, and not a lawyer.

Keeping morale up is difficult when all we hear is bad news everyday. This is probably the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression and unfortunately it is global in nature with the end nowhere in sight. So… what do you do as a leader?

I read an interesting article today in the Wall Street Journal, called From Attitude to Gratitude, This is No Time for Complaints. The basic premise of the article is that people are resilient and that surveys are beginning to show that people are beginning to appreciate the simpler things in life, and that despite the economic crisis, all is not lost. I mention this because to keep moral up, as the leader you have to believe that morale can be improved. You can’t go around like Pigpen and expect the morale of your employees to pick up. So the first thing you need to do, is to ensure that YOU are doing ok. How is your morale?

A quick tip (National Public Radio please forgive me!) is to stop listening to the news. If all you hear is negativity – then what you’re going to be is depressed and you won’t be able to help your employees feel better. Instead of the news, check out these two websites. Craving Confidence by Patricia Stark, and Inspire Me Today by Gail Goodwin.

So, assuming you’re feeling pretty good about yourself, what do you for your employees. Here are some tips.

  1. Be transparent. Uncertainty brings on fear and lowers morale. If your employees don’t know what’s going on, they’re going to make up their own version and when rumor control gets out of control, you are going to have one large group of unhappy campers on your hand.
  2. Solicit their help. If the company is having financial problems and you’re looking for ways to improve efficiencies, solicit the help of your employees because no one knows your processes better than the people doing the work. They will also feel like they are part of the solution, instead of the problem.
  3. Deliver bad news in person. Do not… ever… let someone go by email, phone or letter. Always deliver the news in person. If you have to let someone go, give them as much warning as possible. They might not like the news, but they will appreciate the lead time to look for other employment.
  4. Know the entire situation, before you start taking action. The County of Sacramento is being criticized for saying the budget was fine, as late as last December. All of a sudden, two months later, they are letting consultants go, cutting pay rates and may be asking for concessions from the Unions. They didn’t know the full story before they acted and they lost credibility in the process. If you have to make cuts… make cuts. Do it now and don’t prolong the issue. The people left behind will just wonder when their turn will come. If you make all the cuts at once, those left behind will perhaps be sad, but they will be motivated to help you move forward if they feel reassured that they will not be next.
  5. Walk the floors. As a leader, you have to know what is going on in the office. Grab the coffee pot and start walking around, pouring people coffee and stopping to chat. It doesn’t cost you anything and you will be surprised at how your employees will respond.
  6. Look to the future. The economy may be tanking… but there is opportunity out there. If you keep complaining and focus on the negative, you’re going to miss some of them. Be willing to change the way you do business, and look for new markets and/or products. Get creative. Now is not the time to put your head in the sand. The economy will get better at some point. You want to be around when it does, perhaps even stronger than before.

I hope these ideas help.

All the best,
All the time,

JT