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May 18, 2009

Tough Times Call for Worker Morale Boost

The poor economy has been tough on American businesses, but it’s been tough on American workers too. Many employers are fighting low morale in their work forces as employees struggle with increased stress from financial worries on the job and at home. Poor morale negatively impacts production efficiency and product quality, decreases customer service, and can result in higher levels of workplace injury and absenteeism. Savvy businessmen will keep an eye on employee morale and address issues before they start to affect work quality.

The poor economy has created significant on the job stress for American workers. Many workers fear losing their jobs or being caught in the next round of layoffs. Even unpaid furloughs can cause significant financial strain. Those who still have jobs may not only suffer from survivor guilt when friends are laid off, but feel the pressure to pick up the slack from a reduced work force. With most companies cutting personnel to reduce costs, workers are being forced to accomplish more work with fewer people. Hiring freezes, loss of bonuses, reduced health care benefits and other measures necessary to keep businesses operating put further financial pressure on workers and have a demoralizing effect on a workforce that already feels over-burdened. Add in financial worries at home — mortgage payments, fear of foreclosure, high credit card bills, rising medical costs, high food and gas costs — and it can be tough for workers to fully focus on the job and stay motivated.

Business owners may have to step in and give workers a morale boost to help them get through these tough economic times. Here are some things business owners can do to boost morale and make workers feel needed and appreciated:

  • Personal touch. Make an effort to know your employees individually. Let them know you care about their lives, families and goals. In large operations, shift or line managers may fill this role; but anytime the owner recognizes employees personally, it boosts morale.
  • Roll up your sleeves. Whenever you can, roll up your sleeves and work along side your employees. Employees appreciate a boss who doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty and is willing to share the load.
  • Make it personal. Spend more time communicating face-to-face and less time communicating via email, phone and memorandums. Taking the time to make communication personal shows you value your employees as individuals.
  • Empower. Ask your employees for input and suggestions. Showing you value their opinions allows employees to feel they have a personal stake in the company.
  • Share your vision. Share your ideas and dreams for the business with your employees. Let them know you understand their concerns and are working toward a brighter future for all of you.
Dec 26, 2008

Is Absenteeism Hurting Your Bottom Line?

The nation’s 300 largest employers reported in a 2007 survey by research firm CCH Inc. that absenteeism costs their businesses more than a quarter million dollars annually in direct payroll costs. Add in lost revenue from lower productivity and unscheduled absences can have a significant negative impact on a business’ bottom line. In these recessionary times, absenteeism can make already slim profits disappear.

Only a third of all work absences are due to illness, said Susan Frear, director of education for the Dallas office of the Society for Human Resource Management. “The rest of the absences are related to having to be someplace else or they just don’t feel like coming in. So a lot has to do with the culture of the place.”

Changes in management style or corporate procedures can make a significant difference in absenteeism rates. “Take a hard look at the climate,” suggests Barb Ashbaugh, owner of Ashbaugh’s Trade Secret, a performance management company. Authoritarian managers “who make employees feel it’s their way or the highway” cause higher levels of absenteeism, Ashbaugh noted. Companies that count “occurrences” instead of individual days absent encourage employees to sneak in a couple of extra days off, warned Nancy Glube, an Atlanta human resources executive.

Retail giant J.C. Penney Co. is trying a new approach that shows promise for both large and small businesses. With 1,500 workers calling in “sick” and another 1,200 out on disability each day, Penney executives were concerned about the impact of growing absenteeism rates on the company’s profit margin. This fall they began project PowerLine. When an employee is absent for 3 days, the PowerLine team swings into action. They communicate with the employee to determine the nature of the absence and whether the employee qualifies for health insurance, workers’ compensation or short-term disability benefits. The team notifies store and department managers and insurance carriers and sends the employee the appropriate forms to complete. Daily absenteeism rates have dropped dramatically.

What has made the PowerLine program so successful in such a short time is the constant follow-up that continues until the employee returns to work. “I’ve found that when someone goes out on disability, that person undergoes a significant event in their life,” said Penney’s benefit manager Jim Cuva, “and if no one checks on them to see how they’re doing, they could stay out longer than necessary.” The PowerLine program is Penney’s way of “letting them know we care.”

Employees who know they’re valued work harder, are more productive and are absent less frequently. Making the effort to create a positive work environment can positively impact your bottom line. On Monday, we’ll talk about how implementing ergonomic practices in your workplace can improve worker morale, decrease worker injury and boost your bottom line.