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When Employee Morale Starts To Fall

How you treat your employees can affect them more than the vexing market situation.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Q: I'm the owner of a small tech company and am having a problem with employee morale. My employees are hearing about other companies going bankrupt and stock prices plummeting, and it's affecting them. What can I do to keep morale up?

A: You're not alone. With the demise of the dotcoms and the downturn in many businesses associated with them, employee morale has become a pressing problem for many business owners. Many companies think the best way to solve morale problems is to offer employees more money. However, the fact is morale problems are seldom about money. This assumes, of course, that people are being compensated at or near the mean for people in their job class.

After almost thirty years of consulting with a wide variety of businesses, I'm confident that the main reason people leave an organization or become disillusioned on the job is related to the way they're treated every day. I have often stated that the best job you will ever have is one where you know how you performed each day and feel appreciated for your accomplishments that day. The company that knows the accomplishments of its employees and gives some form of appreciation for them will not only keep its employees but will outperform their competitors who don't.

Keep in mind that accomplishments don't need to be rewarded with lavish gifts or perks. What they do need to be rewarded with is a form of recognition that is perfectly suited to the individual in question. While one employee may relish tickets to a baseball game, another may dislike sports and prefer symphony tickets. Taking the time to know your employees likes and dislikes is one secret to providing the right positive reinforcement at the right time. It's a very effective way to show your employees you appreciate them.

At our company, we keep a "survey book" in our conference room. In the book, all our employees enter ideas about what would be reinforcing to them as a reward for a job well-done. For some, it may be fresh flowers. For others, it may be extra time off work. And for others it may be being taken out to lunch. This book is of great value to us when it comes time to reinforce employees and acknowledge them for contributing to the success of our company. Recognizing desirable behavior with reinforcement that truly meets an employee's individual needs is one of the most powerful morale boosters there is.

Remember that these forms of recognition should be accompanied by positive reinforcement that is consistently delivered on a daily basis. While money alone won't solve morale problems, delivering day-to-day positive reinforcement will. This daily reinforcement can take the form of verbal comments, handwritten notes or peer-to-peer interaction that lets fellow workers know they're valued members of the organization.

I would advise you to focus on what is going on in your company day-to-day. Don't worry about what other companies are doing. Make it your mission to "create successful employees." Make a list at the end of each day of the things you did to show your employees that you appreciate them and what you did that helped them be more successful. If you do, you will be rewarded in kind.


Are you really connecting with your employees? Find out in Final Score.

If you want to find out how to determine what your employees really think about you, read Mirror, Mirror.

Ben Franklin's 12 Rules of Management by Blaine McCormick

Fish! A Remarkable Way to Boost Morale and Improve Results by Stephen C. Lundin Ph.D., Harry Paul & John Christensen

Aubrey C. Daniels, Ph.D., founder and CEO of management consulting firm Aubrey Daniels & Associates (ADA), is an internationally recognized author, speaker and expert on management and human performance issues. For more about ADA's seminars and consulting services or to order Aubrey's book Bringing Out the Best in People: How To Apply The Astonishing Power of Positive Reinforcement, visit www.aubreydaniels.com, or contact Laura Lee Glass at (800) 223-6191 or lglass@aubreydaniels.com.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.