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How to Tackle an Employee Morale Problem

Summary: Are you facing a morale problem at your company? Here’s how to deal with it.

Question: I work for an Education and Training Facility subcontracted to an out-of-state company. Every day is a challenge to stay positive, and the feeling seems to be common. With only 86 employees, our facility is small compared to other centers. There is a lack of initiative, consistency, and follow-through. The only time our employees shape up is when their jobs are threatened. As the Human Resources Manager, I'd like to propose incentives, bonuses, monthly events, and parties. After dealing with 16 - 24 year olds every day, we all need to unwind. Keeping in mind that the out-of-state company doesn't like to spend too much money (some of us are still waiting for annual reviews and promised bonuses), could you provide some suggestions?
Learn how to improve morale at your company.
Answer: Hmmm - sounds like you have a serious employee morale problem on your hands. Unfortunately, while parties are nice, they will only temporarily mask the problem. The root of the problem seems to be a lack of productivity caused by unhappiness and management's attitude toward employees – that is what you need to attack.
Start with the promised reviews and bonuses. I'd bet that a big part of your employees' unhappiness and lack of productivity is due to the fact that they feel management doesn't respect them. If performance reviews and monies are owed, pay them. I can't stress enough that a poor relationship between management and staff will inevitably destroy your company.
Having said that, you can use the opportunity of owed performance reviews to your advantage. For employees who are truly unproductive or otherwise destructive to your company's mission, you can put them on notice that they need to shape up or face termination. For those employees that simply need some coaching, this is a great opportunity to set the stage for that as well.
As far as your out-of-state company being mindful of their spending, I assure you that this is common. It doesn't mean, however, that you cannot develop initiatives to address performance and morale issues. Stop and think about the goals of your staff. What is your mission? What are your goals? Tie bonuses and compensation increases to performance. If by increasing performance, your company's revenues and efficiency increase, thereby resulting in lower operating costs, your out-of-state management shouldn't mind paying bonuses to the workers who made it happen. After all, at the end of the day, the company will be even more profitable.
As a result of shaking up company processes, you'll likely lose some of your staff, but that is okay, as you are much better off with a smaller staff of highly incentivized employees than a large staff of underperformers. Once these basic building blocks are in place, you can then jazz things up with parties and social events. It doesn't cost much to throw a company picnic, and getting everyone out of the work setting into a comfortable relaxed social setting can only help your cause.
Stay positive!
See Leaving Employees to Self-Management for another approach that can boost morale.