Thank your employees

During the 18th century, British sailors were rewarded with an extra ration of rum after a successful voyage. Now that your employee and management teams have successfully navigated the turbulent waters of the economic tsunami, how will you reward them? How will you maintain motivation, morale and reduce the anxiety associated with the recession?

At a recent COSBE (Council of Small Business Executives) meeting, members of the board shared success stories on how, with the assistance of their employees, they were able to navigate around the economic tsunami.

When faced with the need to reduce production hours, one company went directly to their employees to develop a solution, instead of just laying off a number of employees. The result was a collaborative solution that reduced hours without laying off a single employee. There was a twofold result: no one was laid off, which had a positive impact on employee morale.
Jonathan Fitchew, the founder of Pareto Law, and a past winner of the Sunday Times Best Small Company to Work For Award, makes the following observations: “The credit crunch is forcing a lot of businesses to assess their expenditure on benefits. However, while this might be necessary, it doesn’t mean you should forget about staff motivation altogether. Think smarter, and develop more cost-effective ways to motivate your team.”
Fitchew outlines five steps he has taken to maintain staff motivation in these tough times:
  1. Communication – Keep everyone informed of company successes through regular communication, such as a weekly motivational newsletter.
  2. Company awards – If you don’t already have them, introduce company awards. These can be weekly, monthly, quarterly and annually, and doesn’t need to cost you a fortune. Just to be awarded salesperson of the month, and to receive a token bottle of wine, for example, will motivate people and help encourage performance.
  3. The little extras – You may no longer be able to offer big bonuses, but you can implement things such as letting employees leave work early on a Friday, or giving them their birthday off. At Pareto, they also give their top monthly performer a month of free lunches.
  4. Add some fun – They have used themed days for years, and they create a real buzz. When the schools went back, everyone dressed in school uniform. When England played Australia in the Ashes, they all came to work in cricketing whites. Get everyone involved and the office will come alive.
  5. Personal support – This is completely free, but can make a huge difference to individual motivation. Ensure each member of staff has a mentor that they can go to and learn from. At Pareto, everyone can speak to a director at any time for advice and support.

Fitchew’s suggestions can be customized to meet your company’s needs. You may opt to supplement a weekly newsletter with a weekly meeting where you recognize individual and team successes, while addressing any concerns that your employees may have regarding the company’s direction. Instead of a bottle of wine, take an employee or a team out to lunch. It’s amazing the information that you will gather during a relaxed luncheon conversation.

This approach was very successful for Tim Hoeksema at Midwest Airlines for years. He travelled the country meeting with gate agents, baggage handlers and other employees. These meetings over breakfast lunch and dinner built morale and were a valuable feedback tool.
Having theme days is an inexpensive way of rallying the troops. When I was at JH Collectibles, each Halloween we had a costume contest among the distribution center employees. The prize was lunch with the distribution director. I was amazed at the creativity of the employees. The contest really was a winner and was repeated each year. When the Packers were in the Super Bowl two years in a row, the entire distribution center was green and gold on the Friday before the game.
Finally, you can substitute MWA ìmanagement by walking aroundî for meeting with individual employees in your office. MWA permits you to speak with your employees, observe their work processes, and interact with your first level management. When I was a JH Collectibles, I was able to get unfiltered feedback from my employees on how we could improve productivity and process. They felt that someone was listening to them. My only suggestion is that when you say you will take care of a problem, you better do so. Otherwise you lose your credibility, and the frequency of feedback is reduced.
Now that your corporate ship is in safer waters and no longer threatened by the economic tsunami, it is time to find ways to say thank you to your crew. You may not elect to distribute an extra portion of rum, but you can begin to reinstate a portion of wages reduced during the recession. One member of my CEO group reinstated lost wages as soon as business began to improve. He also distributed small bonuses at the end of the year. These two actions solidified morale, strengthened the corporate culture and sent a positive message to his employees that their efforts during those trying times were recognized and appreciated.
These are just a few examples on how you can reward your employees, strengthen morale and create a psychologically healthy workplace. In today’s economic climate, realistic reassurance is itself a powerful reward. I would love to hear your success stories, so email me examples of how your company said “thank you” to your employees.

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