Some advice on how to do just that

BY JOYCE M. ROSENBERG
Associated Press
Monday, October 10, 2011

 

NEW YORK — In the early months of the recession, human resources consultants advised small business owners to take steps to boost their employees’ morale, or risk losing them when the economy got better.

That advice still stands.

As the economy weakens, many small companies still aren’t able to give out raises. Many are still increasing workloads instead of hiring new staffers. All this is certain to take a toll on employees’ already sagging morale.

HR consultants say taking time to talk with your staff and listen to their concerns will go a long way toward helping you keep them. It also might help you make their jobs easier — and make them more productive.

Talk is not cheap

Perhaps the most important thing you can do to help morale is “acknowledging the stresses and circumstances that your employees are feeling,” says Arlene Vernon, president of HRx Inc, an Eden Prairie, Minn.-based HR consultancy.

That may sound familiar, because it’s the sort of advice consultants were giving out during the financial crisis. They suggested company owners walk around the office, factory or selling floor and talk to workers. Ask them how things are going. Listen to them vent about the economy. See if they have questions about the company.

These chats may not seem important, but they do go a long way toward helping employees feel better. Employees also need to feel that they’re really being listened to, not patronized.

One on one:

Owners also got this advice during the recession: Sit down with each of your workers and have a detailed talk about their jobs. If you have many employees, then your top manager needs to help you with this.

Some small business owners have fallen out of the habit of checking in with staffers. The excuse is often, “I don’t have the time,” says Beverly Kaye, an employee retention consultant in Sherman Oaks, Calif. She calls that a smokescreen for the fact that many owners are scared of these conversations.

Many owners really fear they will open up Pandora’s box about problems that won’t be able to solve, she says. For example, an employee asks for a raise and there just isn’t the money to give them.

In that case, an owner needs to ask, “is there anything else I can give you?” Keep asking until you can give staffers something they need or want, like flex-time or a promotion.

Work overload?

Money isn’t the only reason for morale problems at work. And, actually, many employees understand that raises are still hard to come by in this economy. The bigger problem may be that as you’ve had to cut back, you’ve asked your workers for more than they can reasonably get done. Even your hardest workers will feel bad if they can’t get the work done well.

Vernon says owners need to tell workers, “let’s look at your job structure and see what we can do.”

Many companies have this problem: Staffers leave and their work is just handed over to their former co-workers. The boss often doesn’t stop to think about how it’s getting done, or the impact the workload is having not just on morale, but on the quality of the work and productivity.