Keep Motivation Up in a Down Economy

Feb. 1, 2011
During a period of recession, leadership skills are truly challenged. There are those who simply downsize to meet budgets, and outsource to reduce costs—without recognizing the long-term disadvantages and the inefficiencies involved.

The solutions derive from strong management, which motivates good people to do what it takes to win during tough times.

When cutbacks commence, good people quickly leave, reducing the motivation level and increasing the frustration of remaining employees who are further burdened by trying to take on additional workloads. Managers quickly become isolated and embattled, leaving frustrated workers trying to guess what may be happening. The frustration can quickly become unmanageable.

To improve general motivation levels and increase employee performance during tough times, it’s advisable to create mechanisms for the workforce to share their feelings. This can provide an outlet for them to release pent-up emotions so that they can carry on with the work without undue burdens. Anonymity is required, because people believe that they will be penalized by the managers they criticize.

The automation-company Weblogs on the Web site attract thousands of responses, specifically because they are anonymous. Many frustrated employees feel that they have no other way to vent their frustrations, in the hope that perhaps higher management will heed their criticisms. The problem is that anonymity generates some bogus complaints by disgruntled employees and by outsiders simply wanting to cause trouble. I moderate the blogs, eliminating offensive comments and personal attacks. But, it’s becoming burdensome. I encourage the automation majors to do more themselves to utilize the benefits of this type of employee feedback.

Morale busters

Many surveys have shown that most negative impact on employee morale is caused by lack of honest communications. This is followed closely by failure to recognize achievements and excessive workloads for extended periods. Similar surveys show that the best remedies for low morale during tough times are open communications, personal recognition, reward for exceptional performance and teambuilding events or meetings.

During tough times, the ratio of employees who consider themselves actively disengaged goes up drastically. These are the ones who blame management, consider themselves not involved, don’t see a promising future and don’t take pride in company achievements. They don’t intend to stay and simply drag others down.

The solution is active programs to engage every employee. Good people want to help with the problems. It’s a matter of spending one-on-one time with each person to learn how they feel about what is going on, keeping them engaged in solving the issues that surround the organization, and identifying the solutions that can utilize their personal skills and interests.

Companies tighten their belts during tough times, but it’s important to remember that money isn’t always what matters most to employees. Sure, their motivation suffers if they feel they are significantly underpaid and that their pay doesn’t reflect their contributions. But recognition matters beyond compensation, and most non-management employees perform well when their contributions are recognized.

It’s a very common misconception that some people just aren’t motivated. Everyone is motivated—but for different reasons. Assuming that the employee is worth keeping, the challenge is to discover what actually motivates that person and match that up with a job description and clear personal goals.

Periods of recession act as litmus tests for management of an organization, and the inefficient often succumb. But good companies learn—they discover that it’s the bad times that make them so much better during the good times. They develop a corporate culture, an ethos that encourages and stimulates personal engagement to generate superior results.

Jim Pinto is an industry analyst and commentator, writer, technology futurist and angel investor. You can e-mail him at: [email protected]. Or review his prognostications and predictions on his Web site:

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