How to improve employee morale in a bad economy

Amanda Bullock / November 22,2022

According to a recent Time magazine study, approximately 80% of people feel disrespected at work. In today’s economy, it is increasingly difficult to find a job, but it is also very important to maintain employee happiness in order to maximize the efficiency of the company in preparation for long-term success. A few years ago, I attended a private leadership training seminar in Louisville, Kentucky, taught by Adrian Gostick, author of “A Carrot a Day.” Gostick, who teaches the importance of maintaining employee morale through rewards and recognition, is one of the best public speakers I’ve ever seen. He runs the websites and along with his business partner Chester Elton. The two travel the world speaking publicly and offering advice on implementing higher employee recognition standards in the corporate world. During the session, he shared some of his tips for keeping employees happy in organizations of almost any size. Smart Money magazine recently reported that “die-hard optimists” are more successful in the business world, but anyone who has worked in that world knows how hard it can be to stay positive at times.

Negativity is contagious and once it sinks into the corporate environment, it can spread like wildfire. So how do we combat it? With appreciation, she says. A lively and witty presenter with an infectious sense of optimism, Gostick recommended praising the efforts of employees trying to improve their own performance and rewarding them when those efforts deliver measured results. Recognition is a very important factor in boosting employee morale. If he thinks his employees could use a fresh breath of positivity, he might try personal or token recognition, or positive reinforcement of good behaviors. PERSONAL RECOGNITION Personal recognition is exactly what it sounds like: recognition for a job well done. It can be in the form of a “good job” or a pat on the back. Sometimes it could go a step further and emerge as a thank you card passed from a grateful boss to an employee who just went above and beyond. These types of acknowledgments are almost always welcome and can put a smile on someone’s face for the rest of the day. SYMBOLIC RECOGNITION Of course, to be effective, you must avoid exaggeration. Too much of a good thing can become redundant or seem insincere. If you constantly pray to your employees, your words may become meaningless. Employees may come to expect praise and view it as a lesser “reward” or, worse yet, feel hurt when you forget to praise them for doing what they consider to be a good job. Be sure to praise often, but not TOO MUCH.

Praise when necessary and when recognition is deserved, when building rapport, or when a particular employee needs a morale boost. And try different types of praise. Personal recognition is very effective, but symbolic recognition can also be very useful. Token recognition means going a step further and rewarding an employee with more than just words, a smile, a handshake or a friendly pat on the back. Symbolic recognition is usually tangible and involves gifts or prizes. I’ve seen companies offer everything from plates to an employee’s favorite meal, or even something as simple as a stress ball or bracelets. If you really want to make the employee feel special (and if it’s within your company’s budget), an outstanding worker can be awarded a personalized trophy to display proudly on their desk. Now that we’ve discussed some ways to recognize the best, let’s examine how to be effective in our recognition. For recognition to be successful, Adrian Gostick says that you must follow the following three rules: – frequent – specific – timely In his book “A Carrot a Day” (which I highly recommend to anyone in a leadership or management position) Gostick recommends do something to boost morale once a day. The theory here is that if you continually work to improve employee morale and keep your best employees happy, they will keep working hard and keep your business running smoothly. However, if the best are neglected, they may lose interest in working for your company.

This should not be underestimated, as the best workers generally realize their own worth and know that, even in a tough economy, they have a better than average chance of finding another job. Another reason recognition is important, Gostick says, is because “customers base their opinions of a company on its frontline employees.” Think about it. Frontline employees are often the first to see customers, often dealing with them face-to-face in person. Unfortunately, they are also often the lowest paid. Because studies have shown that people associate more money with happiness, this also means that frontline employees are often at risk of becoming dissatisfied with their jobs and even quitting to pursue other options. If your frontline employees aren’t happy, are they going to provide top-quality customer service? Probably not. “Customers will drive further and pay more for better services or cheaper prices,” says Gostick. The key to employee retention is to make your employees happy. Certainly some idealism comes into play, but the theory itself is good and raising employee morale can never be bad for business. In fact, Gostick claims in his book that employees who are regularly praised and/or rewarded “are better focused on company goals. They spot new opportunities faster. They have a longer working life.” The book even offers ideas for managers looking for new ways to praise, recognize, and reward employees. No wonder, then, that it quickly became a bestseller on the Wall Street Journal and Business Week lists. Some of the top tips:

  • Remember to thank the people who have influenced you. This is too often overlooked. Don’t just boost frontline employee morale; promote it at all levels of your company.
  • Take out the star that you carry inside your coworkers. Reward publicly when appropriate and observe the change it brings about in attitudes and performance.
  • Hold a formal recognition event. Hold a ceremony at least once a year to publicly praise the best and make them stars. This also gives employees something to work for all year long.
  • Keep track of what your employees like or dislike. This doesn’t just refer to your feelings about the work environment. It can also help you think of creative ways to reward them. Take your reward ideas to a more personal level by asking them what motivates them. You could even do an anonymous (or not) written survey of all employees to get ideas for prizes. If possible, tailor your rewards to each specific person you’re honoring. They will appreciate the personal touch, knowing that you listened to their needs and wants. This is a great way to build rapport by letting them know you care!

Rewards don’t just have to come from upper management, so don’t exhaust yourself trying to come up with new ideas! Create a formal employee rewards and recognition program that allows employees to nominate and possibly even reward each other when they appreciate something a co-worker has done or notice a job well done. This builds morale, team rapport, and takes some weight off your shoulders so you can focus on other important management tasks. Just make sure you’re not relying on your employees to provide 100% recognition. Most of it should still start with you! Don’t underestimate the power of recognition. It is extremely important in the business world. Without it, you could actually lose employees. The best employees are the ones most likely to leave because they have the same skills that other employers are looking for, and they KNOW it! If you don’t show your best employees how valuable they are, they may leave you looking for another opportunity, should it arise. However, if an employee is truly happy with their surroundings, or feels respected and appreciated in the workplace, they may settle for less pay or a longer commute just for those feelings of value. To further illustrate this point, Gostick shared a story about his recent travel experience in China. During his trip, he met a young Chinese woman who spoke a little English.

Deciding to strike up a conversation with her, he asked, “Have you ever been to America?” The girl replied that not only had she never visited the United States, but she had never even left her hometown. Understandably astounded, Gostick decided to dig further by asking, “Why have you never left this town? Don’t you want to see the rest of the world?” “If I’m happy here,” the girl replied without hesitation, “why would I want to leave?” It seems that companies could learn a lot from this story.