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Raising and maintaining employee morale takes sincere communications and respect.
Traci Bell was really impressed with how her employer, David Weekley Homes, dealt with the layoffs of some of its employees. The chairman “made a video to explain what was going on, why it was going on, and what the company was doing to take care of those team members,” says Bell, a sales coach for the Houston-based homebuilder. But it was the way her bosses and co-workers supported her after she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease that really cinched her loyalty to the company. Bell had to be out two days every other week for six months, followed by two rounds of stem cell transplants. Everyone worked around her schedule and pitched in to help, and then she found out two days before Christmas that her team members in Charlotte, N.C., and Charleston, S.C., had donated 117 of their personal vacation days to her. “I will probably never work anyplace else,” she says. While Bell obviously has a reason to be satisfied with her employer and job, it doesn’t take that type of crisis to build employee morale, says Jonathan Simpson-Bint, president of Future US Inc., publisher of special-interest magazines and web sites. His San Francisco-based company was named one of the 50 Best Small & Medium Companies to Work for in America in 2006 by the Great Place to Work® Institute and the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). “The truth is employees don’t need much,” says Simpson-Bint. “That’s what is astonishing to me. It’s not like you have to fly them places and buy them stuff. What they want is to be recognized and feel as though they are a part of something bigger.”
Polls Highlight Low Morale
If it’s so easy, then why do so many polls report that employee satisfaction is at such low levels? According to a February 2007 Conference Board survey, less than half of all Americans say they are satisfied with their jobs, down from 61 percent 20 years ago. The decline in satisfaction transcends age, income and even residence. Workers under 25 years of age were most dissatisfied (two out of five), while workers ages 45 to 54 expressed the second-lowest level of satisfaction (45 percent). Additionally, a poll taken by CCH HR Management in October 2006 found that absenteeism is up in U.S. workplaces, and that there was a direct association with absenteeism and employee morale. Nearly twice as many companies with “Poor/Fair” morale reported an increase in unscheduled absences over the past two years compared to companies with “Good/Very Good” morale (33 percent vs. 17 percent). Moreover, 46 percent of companies with low morale reported that unscheduled absenteeism is a serious problem for them. Doug Klein, president of Sirota Survey Intelligence, a global professional services firm that specializes in organizational development and occupational psychology research, with U.S. headquarters in Purchase, N.Y., doesn’t necessarily agree with the surveys. First of all, he notes, employee morale and job satisfaction are not the same thing, though polls don’t always take that into account. Employee morale refers to how employees feel about the company they are working for; job satisfaction is about how employees feel about their particular duties. When it comes to job satisfaction, the general population of employed workers who have a choice—though perhaps not a great deal of choice—will self-select themselves into roles and occupations they like doing, Klein says. Employee morale, on the other hand, reflects an employee’s attitude about the company and is “a function of leadership and management practices,” Klein explains. He notes that even in companies that are struggling, solid leadership and management practices can mitigate the effects of external events like tougher competition or shocks to the industry, such as what happened to the financial sector right after Sept. 11. Often companies where morale is low try quick fixes like giving raises or new benefits or holding employee events, but that won’t work over the long run, says Steve Byars, vice president of administration for AMX Corp., a hardware and software solutions company headquartered in Richardson, Texas, and one of the 50 Best Small & Medium Companies to Work for in America in 2006 and 2007.
Taking Employees Pulse
Boosting employee morale starts with knowing where morale stands. For that, Klein recommends a multifaceted approach. He offers the following suggestions for taking an accurate pulse of your employees:
Exploring Trust Issues
What Employees Really Want
Don’t Stop Working On Relationships
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