Keeping up in a down economy: Fixing employee morale

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Staff satisfaction

Keeping up in a down economy: Fixing employee morale

After reading this article, you will be able to:

  • Identify ways to help boost staff members’ morale

More than 90% of companies have instituted some form of cutbacks of late and, as a result, employee morale, motivation, and productivity have dropped precipitously.

In a recent survey of 1,400 CFOs from U.S. companies with 20 or more employees, the staffing giant Accountemps asked: “Which of the following has the most negative impact on employee morale?”

The results:

  • Lack of honest communication: 33%
  • Failure to recognize employee achievement: 19%
  • Micromanaging employees: 17%
  • Excessive workloads for extended periods: 16%
  • Fear of job loss: 14%

They followed up by asking executives: “In your opinion, which is the best remedy for low morale?” The executives’ responses:

  • Communication: 48%
  • Recognition programs: 19%
  • Monetary rewards for exceptional performance: 13%
  • Unexpected rewards: 11%
  • Teambuilding events or meetings: 3%
  • Additional days off: 3%

The following ideas discuss how some of the elements cited by the respondents can be more readily implemented in your workplace:

  • Communication. The most important tool for improving employee morale and motivation is communication. Employees need information about their jobs, but they also want to know more, such as what’s going on in the organization. These times demand more communication on a personal level from managers.
  • Recognition programs. Companies need to make a concerted effort to raise the awareness of managers as to why employee recognition is more critical than ever. They need to understand why employees expect to be recognized for their good work, how that recognition can further drive the goals of the organization, and what their roles are in making recognition happen.
  • Unexpected rewards. Most people think spontaneity means acting without planning, yet it is very possible to plan for spontaneity. For example, have the resources ready for spontaneous recognition: eCards for Starbucks or Amazon, party supplies, confetti, balloons. Host an ice-cream social, a pancake breakfast, a barbeque, or bring in a pizza.
  • Teambuilding events or meetings. A sure way to build morale is to spend time together. Doing a group activity that is fun, such as a field trip, attending a professional conference together, or getting “behind the scenes” passes to entertainment events, can all go a long way. If your group doesn’t respond well to doing a team activity, start afresh and challenge the group to come up with something new, fun, and creative.
  • Additional days off. Don’t overlook the use of time itself as a form of reward. This is an excellent option when more costly forms of recognition and reward are less available due to budget constraints. Work with leadership and HR to develop a policy. Perhaps an additional day off could be a reward for a project completed or outstanding performance.

Editor’s note: Bob Nelson, PhD, is president of Nelson Motivation, Inc. He is a frequent presenter to management groups, conferences, and events, and a best-selling author of 1001 Ways to Reward Employees. His latest book, Keeping Up in a Down Economy: What the Best Companies Do to Get Results in Tough Times, from which this column is drawn, is available from,, or your favorite bookstore. For more information, visit