Boosting Employee Morale
When consultant Roger E. Herman hears small business owners complain that
“people go where the money is,” he quickly retorts: “False! All the
studies show otherwise.” He points to a Robert Half International survey
which demonstrates that “compensation is not the predominant reason why
people leave their jobs for supposedly greener pastures.”
Instead, asserts Herman, “People are hungry for opportunities to grow
into their jobs. They crave advancement, both in position and stature, and
in responsibility and opportunity.”
Herman has just finished his fifth book on employee management, titled
Facilitative Leadership. He maintains that the most effective way to boost
employee morale is to provide an optimum working environment. He warns
that this can’t be done with pep talks when you notice a drop in the level
of enthusiasm. “You have to create an optimal environment in the
employee’s perception, as part of an integrated strategy that inspires
people to do their best day in and day out.”
There are seven key issues in creating such an environment:
Research shows that people often leave an employer because they haven’t
received the recognition they want, or feedback on how they are doing.
* Perhaps the first step in creating an atmosphere that will motivate
employees is expressing appreciation. Supervisors should commend progress
toward agreed-upon goals in a continual and consistent manner. Remember to
express your appreciation for the invisible people D the receptionist, the
janitor, the payroll clerk D as well as the stars. These employees all
need to be singled out from time to time and commended for their efforts in
keeping the company running smoothly.
Ferdinand Fournies, author of Why Employees Don’t Do What They’re
Supposed To Do, counsels that verbal praise should be given immediately
after an employee has completed a successful project. Generally, the
praise should be specific (“Thanks for getting the marketing report in on
time”) and honest (“Sections One, Two and Three are great, but let’s
discuss making changes to Section Four”). Fournies also claims that
tangible rewards such as bonuses, time off or gifts are effective ways to
express appreciation, especially when given more frequently than on a
* Show pride in your staff. You might reprint an article that quotes an
employee and send it to interested customers. Publish news about an
employee’s participation in a trade or professional association in your
company newsletter. And post copies of letters of appreciation to
personnel on the staff bulletin board.
* Celebrate successes. When people work hard to complete a project, make
sure their accomplishments are acknowledged before tackling the next
challenge. Celebrating today’s win provides the inspiration for tomorrow’s
People want to feel involved in their jobs and important to the success of
their companies. They are closest to the work for which they are
responsible, and know how it can most effectively be done. Supervisors can
motivate staff by asking them to set their own job goals and suggest better
ways to do things.
* Employees appreciate knowing they work for a company with a clear sense
of the future; they are even more committed when they help define that
future. While the benefits of having a company mission statement are
great, the benefits of involving each and every employee in constructing
that statement are inestimable.
* In a family, people care about each other, stand together against
outsiders (the competition), and support each other through times of
personal stress. When loyal family members have grievances, they possess
sufficient trust to deal directly with those differences. These attitudes
work just as well in business settings.
You can promote a family environment by encouraging people to car pool
or work on projects together, by holding gatherings such as a summer
barbecue, and by creating a health and fitness program for workers and
People who enjoy one another are usually more productive in the
workplace. They have greater loyalty to each other and to the
A company’s reputation rests on more than just the quality of its products.
People judge firms by their philosophy and level of customer service, their
involvement in community activities and their commitment to moral,
environmental and even political issues. Today’s employees are concerned
about whether the values of the company for which they work are compatible
with their own personal viewpoints.
* It will become increasingly important for businesses to demonstrate their
civic responsibility through involvement in community activities. When you
can do so in ways that involve your staff, you also increase their loyalty.
Low-cost and effective methods of strengthening community and employee ties
include matching financial donations to nonprofits, allowing time off for
community service, donating obsolete equipment to local organizations, and
having personnel give career-choice talks to area students.
People appreciate help on personal problems, and want the boss to care
about them as individuals. Today’s manager must invest a significant
amount of time in advising, counseling, coaching, training and listening.
Employees who are helped to perform will feel better about themselves and
the company for which they work.
* Managers often worry that staff members don’t want them “interfering” in
their private lives, but when people are hurting they appreciate whatever
assistance is offered. Supervisors are often among the few people who can
influence an employee who needs mental health counseling, or should attend
a drug or alcohol clinic. Often people need assistance, as well as
confidentiality, to use these facilities.
Managers can also help workers find child care facilities, legal
specialists and other professionals. It’s not unusual for employers to pay
for some of these services, advance paychecks and commissions, or grant
special leaves of absence to help valued employees through periods of
* Some firms allow employees to use company equipment or facilities during
non-business hours. For example, workers may use company trucks to move
furniture, borrow shop tools over a weekend to work on home projects, or
use the photocopy machine at night to reproduce a community newsletter.
* Concern for your employees, as well as your liability, mandates a healthy
— not just a safe — workplace. If a safety inspector stopped by
tomorrow, what infractions would be found? Even the most conscientious
company can let conditions deteriorate. And employees can get careless
about wearing earplugs and safety glasses just as managers can get lax
about enforcing the use of safety devices. If your people are working in
areas that cannot be kept dust and odor free (as in some production
facilities), they should have breathing masks and “clean” rooms. Employees
appreciate your concern for their health and safety.
If you expect your people to be loyal to you, you have to be loyal to them.
That means avoiding layoffs as much as possible, backing up personnel when
they need help in dealing with customers or suppliers, and understanding
when they make an honest mistake. Make it clear to employees from the very
beginning, advises management consultant Fournies, that they will never be
ridiculed or punished for well-intentioned actions.
* If there’s a difference between how you want employees to treat customers
and how they actually do treat them, you might look to see if there’s a
similar difference in how you treat your workers. Preaching attentiveness
to customer needs is hollow if the needs of your own staff are not given
equal priority. And if employees perceive a double standard, they’ll
resent being on the losing side of it.
* Do your policies support or obstruct how effectively your staff can deal
with customers? An employee who has to get three supervisors to sign off
on a product exchange will have a difficult time preventing the waiting
customer from becoming impatient or angry. Giving front-line people the
authority to “make it right” for customers reinforces their pride in their
company while also building stronger customer relationships.
The physical place in which people work says a lot about the organization,
its values and its policies. Employees are more productive when their
environment is comfortable, pleasant, and efficiently organized for the
tasks to be performed. Make sure the heating, ventilation and air
conditioning systems work properly, that desks are spaced so phone
conversations can be private, and that the noise level is comfortable.
* As you arrive tomorrow morning, look objectively at your neighborhood,
building, entrance area and the individual offices. You may be
unpleasantly surprised at what you see. And look again on the way home,
especially at the parking areas and walkways employees have to traverse if
they work until after dark on a winter’s night.
While working with your people as a group, never forget that each of them
is an individual. While they see themselves as part of the team, even more
importantly, they see themselves as individuals. Value all employees for
who they are, and recognize the contribution each person makes to the
* Make sure all guidelines for staff behavior are reasonable and
appropriate. While employee input takes time, it is usually more efficient
to have staff participate in formulating workplace rules than to constantly
have to reinforce compliance with unpopular regulations. When you make a
policy ruling, explain its purpose and enforce it fairly.
* Periodically your employees are going to disagree with your decisions.
But whether those disagreements result in stalled productivity depends less
on the decision than on how it is explained and carried out. When you take
the time to explain your decisions, and listen carefully to people’s
responses, you are acknowledging their importance in bringing about the
desired outcome. Another advantage of listening to employees when they
disagree with your instructions, as Fournies points out, is that they may
* If important tasks go undone, Fournies counsels that for the most part,
this situation is not that employees are not working. Instead, they are
simply working on what they think is important in contrast to what the
manager thinks is important.
Fournies suggests assigning priorities to tasks as you delegate them
to employees, and explaining why some tasks are more important than others.
If priorities should change, let staff know immediately. And avoid the
tendency to label numerous tasks “top priority,” or this designation will
* Don’t swear. Profanity makes many people uncomfortable; they find it
difficult to respect someone who curses, and hard to believe that person
* Be fair and honest with everyone. You can’t expect your employees to
believe you are honest with them if they see you cheating on your
* Tactful discipline is a key issue for employees. While workers respect
a policy calling for a reprimand when work is not up to par, or company
rules are broken, they still expect to be treated with respect. A
reprimand should be private rather than public, and should address the
specific fault rather than the person’s character.
Provide each supervisor with clear guidelines for disciplining
employees, and insist they be applied without favoritism. A well-planned
policy prevents capricious actions, and ensures that your disciplinary
process will stand up in court. Showing that you respect your people will
help build a team with the knowledge, skills and attitudes to perform at
the high level of production which will accomplish your organization’s
The business that conscientiously tries to meet these employee needs
will build a loyal and self-motivating staff. “You have to inspire people
by giving them a good place to work and good work to do, and letting them
motivate themselves,” maintains Herman. “Recently the owner of a chain of
floral shops told me a competitor had tried to recruit his top designer by
offering her considerably more money than he was paying. She turned the
competitor down saying, “I like it here. I’ve got flexibility. Our views
are compatible with what’s important to me. I’m appreciated.”
Herman warns that despite the best of intentions in creating an
optimal working environment, not every employee will respond the same way
to everything you do. “A good leader should focus on treating each
employee not equally, but fairly. More than ever before, we are leading a
workforce of individuals. It is essential we recognize that and appreciate
their differences.” People are hungry for opportunities to grow into their
jobs. They crave advancement, both in position and stature, and in
responsibility and opportunity.
Everyone Needs Attention
At a time when small business owners are hard pressed to maximize every
payroll dollar, recognizing and rewarding employee contributions through
recognition programs can be an excellent way to boost productivity and
morale. In addition, they reinforce specific behaviors and types of
performance the company values, such as innovation or good customer
It’s important to tailor the recognition program to what motivates
your employee base. Workers who put in long hours on a successful project,
for example, may be motivated by getting extra time off. Personnel working
in companies where top management is not highly visible may value a
handwritten thank-you note from the president. Those who work the night
shift or behind the scenes may be inspired by having their picture on a
poster that is prominently displayed.
Whatever rewards are chosen, all recognition programs should be
designed with the following seven principles in mind:
1. Make sure the program is compatible with your culture and values.
2. Clearly define the selection criteria so everyone understands the
connection between achievements and rewards.
3. Recognize and reward recipients with open and well-publicized attention
so as to acknowledge and communicate desired behaviors and performance.
4. Keep the selection process clean.
5. Never establish quotas or you will destroy the program’s spontaneity.
6. Keep the programs fresh with short life cycles of six to 18 months.
7. Don’t use recognition programs to mask an inadequate compensation
American Business Systems Provides Tangible Morale Boosters to Employees
Despite a lingering recession that has hit the Northeast particularly hard,
Portland, Maine-based American Business Systems D which sells and services
copiers and fax machines D grew 35 percent in 1992. As co-founder Charles
Cianciolo asserts, “This phenomenal growth is basically because of our
employees.” Willing to “pay more to get the highest quality people,”
Cianciolo’s 66-person firm offers a benefits package covering major
medical, dental, disability income and pension programs. “We also provide
the tools necessary for employees to perform at a high level of quality,”
he explains, “including full computerization, pagers for all field
personnel, and educational opportunities relative to each employee’s area
of expertise. These are all real morale boosters,” claims Cianciolo. “No
one in the industry has a package that matches it. Employees know that the
better the company does, the more secure their future will be.” Cianciolo
says that originally he and his partner, James Packard, “started with the
little guys and grew as they grew. Our adage has always been that
customers come first, and they know we’ll do whatever is needed to make it