What are you doing to build morale in a recession?


Eurasian Eagle Owl
Originally uploaded by eschipul

Question: What are you doing to build morale in a recession? People are worried!

Answer: Not much really. I no longer view it as management’s job to entertain the troops.

Or to put it another way; whatever will be will be.

Whether the issue is the price of gas, the price of food, the
electric bill, the war, the recession, the unemployed, the lack of
health care, the broken government run by the boomers to be paid off by
the millenials who haven’t figure it out yet, the devaluation of our
currency, well, there are just plenty of reasons to be in a craptastic
mood as an American right now
.

I’ve done this dance before. 2001 was crap even before 9-11 and it
went down from there. And we were told to "go shopping" while we
figured out who attacked us. (Rant: This time buy a smaller car. Carpool. Move closer to work (gasp!). Get a roommate. Save money. Meet
the neighbors. Organize card nights to save money from restaurants and
have a better time and get the kids playing in the streets again. Think.)

As a company we had an mini-exodus of employees in 2001 and went from 12
employees all the way down to 6 at our lowest point. As a leader I
blamed myself for this. No longer. Maintaining employee morale and a
sense of determination is far beyond the ability of one leader.
Particularly given the inputs of so many outside of work.

We had another period of exodus at the firm about 18 months ago when
it seemed everyone I knew outside of work, family and friends, was sick
or dying or dead. I learned from this as a CEO you will receive no
sympathy. Why people
don’t expect a leader to recover stronger than before is beyond me, and
of course was the outcome. And on the plus side you get rid of the
disloyal and non-visionaries so it isn’t all bad.

Which leads us to now. The great craptastic economic 2008 election
year. At our company we have lost four or five very good very capable
people in the last two months. As a firm with 26 employees that is
quite a lot. A variety of reasons. My take on it is mainly people see
the cheese moving. They want to move with the cheese. They just aren’t
sure which way so they jump. This is beyond my scope of control. I wish
them the best.

From a business perspective this does not diminish a 10 year old brand, or a 7 year old brand, or our software-as-a-service recurring revenue model. Interestingly enough, in the short term, employee departures actually increase profits. Weird, huh? It wasn’t like that in 2001, but it is now given we learned our lesson.

Tim O’Brien, APR, in the latest PR Tactics has an article titled
"Substance over style: The myth of managing employee morale during
tough economic times
." A few quotes from Tim’s article:

The
first question is not whether senior management can maintain employee
morale, but whether it’s management’s responsibility to do so. It seems
a forgone conclusion today that if employee attitudes take a turn for
the worse, management is accountable. Reverting back to an obsolete
paternalistic corporate model
….
Let employees know that if
they put someone else in control of their morale, they’re giving
someone else too much power over their lives and careers.

During tough times, the best message to send employees company wide is that the organization’s focus is on the business.

In strong organizations, nothing improves employee attitudes like achievement and its commensurate rewards.

So,
has the wave crested with our organization or will we lose a few more?
Maybe. It’s not that it isn’t a significant expense. It’s not that I
don’t care.

It just isn’t a leader’s job to arrange ice cream socials to help people realize THEY are in charge of their own attitudes. If
you feel you must go, go. If you stay, as a business man I will do my
damndest to make sure you are rewarded first financially, secondarily
with a challenging position at a high growth company, and third we have
a pretty good time at work despite my tough talk.

If this is your first time leading an organization through a
difficult period, just keep your eye on the business. If they leave?
Meh. Innovate and stay focused on your clients and the bottom line and
the rest will work out.