How To Raise Employee Morale

PLANET HR consultant Bill Cook offers tips on motivating employees to landscape contractors.

In the midst of employee layoffs and pay freezes, many employees are in a tense and dispirited mood. During the earlier months of the downturn, employee productivity increased higher than at any time in the last decade. But now employees are starting to face burnout.

Recent surveys indicate that almost 30% of layoff survivors are considering leaving their current employer when the economic recovery picks up. Among your key positions and top performers, you may soon be facing labor shortages. What can you do now to encourage, motivate and show a little appreciation for your employees?

Remove the De-motivators

Remove any atmosphere of distrust. If you secretly feel that employees are basically lazy and untrustworthy, those feelings will show. If you’re not happy with the performance of your employees, you are identifying a management problem more than an employee problem.

Understand and recognize that employees are also your customers. Also understand that each employee is an individual and thinks like one. You can’t survive without these folks.

Stop having low expectations. Ski Giczewski, president and owner of Designs Scapes of Sarasota, FL, attributes much of the high performance of his award-winning team to his management style. “I have high expectations of our people, I expect superior performance, and I find that you will usually get what you expect,” Giczewski says.

Remove the demanding and restrictive rules and policies. Companies with 20 employees and a 100-page employee handbook full of small print and legal jargon create a wall between the company and their employees. Keep rules and policies to a minimum and make them reasonable and easy to understand. Check the wording for respectful terminology. These are not naughty children or inmates to be dominated.

Stop the inner sanctum of secrecy. Communicate, communicate and communicate. Let employees know what is happening in the company. Any new products or services being planned? What’s happening now that may affect them next week? Do you have a newsletter? E-mail and the Internet make it much easier to communicate these days. Make every employee and insider.

Clean the place up. A dismal, dirty or unpleasant workplace makes people feel dismal, dirty and unpleasant. Prisons are designed to be harsh, and colorless, made of concrete and steel, full of lifeless sounds and sights. That’s because they want from their prisoners just the opposite of what you want from your employees. They want intimidation, obedience and no action. You want trust, self-starters and productivity. Brightness, color and attractive are the words for your workplace.

Eliminate problems before they fester. Respond to complaints and resolve problems—and don’t wait them out hoping they’ll go away. Be fair and ethical. Employees long remember ignored complaints or unresolved problems. Unions do not organize companies by promising higher wages. They organize companies by seeking out and listening to problems that are not being resolved.

Resolve Concerns About Pay

Money is not even in the top five things employees want in a job, but it needs to be addressed before anything else can be effective. If employees feel underpaid, this must be resolved either by making the proper adjustment or by letting them know why this is not possible or when it will be resolved.

Is the employee (or all employees) currently being underpaid? Are they actually at a competitive pay rate already, or even above it? Let them know. Can you issue bonuses instead of pay increases? Whether through explanation and understanding or by agreeing to a time when this can be resolved, the pay issue must first be dealt with.

Alternatives to Pay

Once the pay issue has been dealt with, you can focus on the things employees really want—things that encourage them to stay with a company, even when the pay is better elsewhere.

More control over their work. Good employees desire the freedom to make decisions, less tight supervisions, and the freedom to set schedules or exercise some element of control over their work.

Belonging to the in-crowd. Good employees want to be in the flow of communication and have some input into the goings-on at the company. Provide company group meetings, breakfasts, lunches, pizza gatherings, etc. Build up a team atmosphere and pay attention to every individual on the team.

Opportunity for growth and development. Provide additional training, cross training opportunities and special projects; establish career paths for employees with potential.

Leadership, counseling. Let employees know that someone in charge is aware of who they are and is concerned about their welfare and development.

Recognition for performance. People want recognition for their individual performance. That includes poor performance. Good employees want to know how to improve, especially if you can tell them in a positive, non-disciplinary manner.

A conscious focus on the individual. It’s about individual performance, recognition, guidance and concern. An employee who is improving is more likely to be a better employee who will stay with the company longer.

Lighten up. It can’t be all about shoulder to the wheel, nose to the grindstone. Allow employees to take an unscheduled break and introduce a little humor into the workplace.

Finally, don’t be afraid to bring employees together. Tell them that you’re interested in improving morale and ask them what you can do together to make it happen. Emphasize the “together” part. Discussing this with your employees can result in better ideas. The best benefits are those your people like. And they’ll like them even more if they participate in their creation.

Cost-Effective Perks That Work

Wellness Programs

Any form of fitness, smoking cessation or stress reduction program can significantly improve employee health and well-being. This can be a highly organized and professional system, or simply one that is conducted by employees.

Company Discounts

Letting employees buy company products or services at discount, even if it’s just one major item or an employee purchase day, can be a great benefit. Bring in a supplier/vendor who will offer significant discounts or purchase plans.

Discount Clubs

Companies previously leveraged the group buying power of their employees to enroll them into buying clubs that offered big mail order catalog discounts. Many companies still do, but membership cards in warehouse clubs like Costco or Sam’s Club are becoming more popular. In some cases, the company even gets a rebate on the total volume, which they raffle off or use to host a company party.

Direct Deposit

Give employees the option of having their paychecks directly deposited at any bank or credit union that is a member of the Automated Clearing House (ACH). One big advantage, besides improving their credit standing, is that the money is immediately available to them without three-day waiting periods or fees. Some banks can issue ATM cards for paychecks.

Business Cards and Titles

It may seem trivial, but business cards with the employee’s name and title carry an emotional appeal to people. There is a level of professionalism and pride that comes from a business card with the company’s logo. This works for hourly people, too.

Computer Loan with No Interest

Many employees would value the opportunity to buy a laptop or desktop computer. Determine the dollar limit or the loan that you will provide. Set up an automatic payroll deduction. Assure that a formal agreement is signed and adhere to the payroll deduction laws in your state.

Instant Recognition Rewards

Recognize employees for doing something extra, completing a tough job ahead of schedule or assisting someone. This can be done in the form of a ticket for a free pizza, DVD rental, $5 fast food coupon, two movie tickets, a coupon for two free dinners at a sit-down/server restaurant, $25 Amazon gift certificate, and so forth. Can you award an employee with extra time off? Can you do that for everyone?

Goodies, gimmicks and gala events are the frosting, not the cake. Such perks aren’t the solution to improving morale, but they have a place in the well-motivated workforce. Avoid approaching these ideas with cynicism or disdain that they are just another HR feel-good program. These are standard fare in the most successful companies in the world. Good managers know that it’s the little things that matter—and every little thing matters.