Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Celebrations Create a Greater Sense of Team

This is another post in a continuing series on improving morale (and the bottom line) in your company at little or no cost.

“It is lovely, when I forget all birthdays, 
including my own, to find that somebody remembers me.” 
-Ellen Glasgow

Photo by: dixieroadrash (Flickr)
Birthdays, work anniversaries, new babies, weddings, accomplishments of your employees children- Celebrate!  It brings fun to the office and reminds everyone that there are lives outside of the workplace, that there are some things more important than work.  Celebrating together also builds a sense of team and reminds individuals that they are not anonymous workers.

Get a card that you and their co-workers can sign and slip a $5.00 Starbucks (or other favorite place) gift card inside.  This is an easy, inexpensive way to personalize awareness of your employees.  When you remember and acknowledge a special occasion, you let them know that you care about them individually.

Celebrations don’t need to be elaborate parties with streamers, cake, and gifts.  But, whatever you do for one person, you set a precedent to do the same for everyone.  Throwing an elaborate party for one person and not another tells everyone that you are picking and choosing your favorites.  Keep it simple and thoughtful.  Get everyone to sing.  It’s corny and embarrassing, but it’s fun and it brings the office together.

You could have a monthly party, celebrating all birthdays.  Do a potluck.  Give an employee a paid day off on their birthday (if their birthday doesn’t fall on a workday, give them the option to take a Monday or Friday off).

While not a time to celebrate, deaths and illnesses, of your employees or their families should be remembered as well.  This shows that you support them in the good times and the bad.

A few years ago, my brother was killed in a traffic accident.  My boss and co-workers all chipped in and bought a flower basket and sympathy card.  That meant a lot.  What meant even more was when my boss, who didn’t know my brother, came to his viewing to show her support for me.  It was only an hour out of her day, but it earned my respect for life.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

A Tale of Two Grocery Stores and Their Morale

 I love shopping at Harmon's Grocery Stores in Utah.  With all the other choices I have, that is where I go.

There's ONE big thing that keeps me shopping there.

The customer service.

There's a Harmon's about mile from my house.  Right across the street is a Walmart.  I know going to Harmon's that I'm going to pay a little more for some of the same products I can get across the street at Walmart.  I gladly pay that extra 25 cents for a bottle of ketchup-  because it comes with great customer service!

Harmon's employees are always smiling.  The employees greet me (some know my name) and ask if they can help me.  At the Walmart across the street, I'm lucky to find an employee while I'm walking down an aisle, and God help me if I need assistance.  I'm alone in a desert wasteland of customer service.

Harmon's responds quickly to long lines at the checkout lanes, adding cashiers when needed.  They are always pleasant, even when they've been pulled away from other duties to help check customers out.  At the Walmart across the street, lines are long, especially in the late evenings where there might be 3 or 4 check stands open (in a store with over 20 lanes).  The cashiers may grumble a "hello," and often that's my whole interaction with a Walmart employee.

What's the difference between these stores?  Morale.

It's obvious that the Harmon's employees enjoy their jobs, like working with customers, and love working for their company.  Many have been with Harmon's for years.  That high level of morale translates into fantastic customer service.

At the Walmart, most of the employees mope around, drag themselves from task to task through the store, and don't seem like they want to be there.  That low level of morale translates into poor customer service and an atmosphere that drags me down as well.

All things considered, I'll shop at the place where morale is high.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Your Happiness Is Not My Problem

Happiness is an individual choice.  Morale is a choice that can be affected by an individual.

On a Tuesday, in early May 2013, I listened as Linda told me about what had happened the day before.

"The store manager began calling department managers and supervisors to his office, one by one.  No one likes being called to his office because it almost always means he's upset.  This was no exception.

"'I can't make you happy,' he told Linda.  'That's not my job.  My job is to run this store and sometimes the things I have to do make people unhappy.  Your happiness is your problem.  Not mine.  If you can't be happy here then you should find someplace where you can be happy.'

"That was the essence of the conversation.  My happiness was not his problem."

Linda, along with other managers and supervisors in the store, was confused and upset.  The morale in the store had been low for quite some time and instead of addressing the issue, the manager decided to let people know it wasn't his responsibility, as if that would fix it.

Linda was surprised when I told her the manager was right.

She'd come to me expecting a sympathetic ear.  Instead, I was agreeing with him.  As she began to respond, I stopped her.

"Happiness is a state of mind.  No one but you gets to decide why and when you're happy.  Not me, not your husband or children, not the store manager.

"But, your manager is a bit confused.  He thinks the word 'happiness' is interchangeable with 'morale.' There are some similarities, but they aren't the same.  Morale isn't happiness.  It's more than that.  Morale is the collective enthusiasm, confidence and attitude of a group as a whole, in this case, the employees of your store.

"He's not responsible for your happiness, but part of his job as a manager IS the morale of the store.  It's not ALL on him, but as the leader he sets the tone.  A leader who doesn't understand how their attitude and actions affect the morale of the employees isn't a leader.  They're a boss.

"Bosses never get the best from everyone all the time.  They don't understand that morale is an important measurement of how the business is doing.  They may get the job done, they may individually succeed (which is frustrating to others), but they rarely excel.  Leaders excel because they have teams behind them that believe in where they're going and what they're doing."

"So what should I do?" Linda asked.

"Don't let him affect your happiness."

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

It's Really Not That Hard: Show Some Appreciation

This post is another in my series of how to improve morale (and the bottom line) in your company at little or no cost.

“Appreciation is a wonderful thing.  It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.”

When employees don’t feel appreciated by their bosses, they question what they’re doing and why they should care.  They become disengaged and low morale and higher turnover follow.  A Gallup study showed that 70% of employees in American workplaces say they don’t receive praise or recognition⁠1.  According the the U.S. Department of Labor, 64% of people who leave their jobs, do so because they don’t feel appreciated.  Hiring costs have been estimated to be as high as 150% of a person’s salary and that adversely affects the bottom line⁠2.

Employees can love what they do and not love working for you.  Feeling appreciated creates a connection with both the job and the employer, and this creates more engaged employees.  When employees are fully engaged with their job, they take it to the next level.  People thrive when they feel appreciated.  

Appreciation and praise are different for each person; some like it in public, while others like it to be private.  It’s up to the leader to figure out how individuals like to be appreciated.  But, regardless of when and where you praise them, you need to be specific and detailed.  Generalized appreciation quickly loses its meaning because employees feel like you don’t really pay attention to what they do. 

When you show your appreciation, strive for something new and unexpected.  The same old thing gets old.  Surprise them with a gift from time to time rather than at an expected time each year.  Express your appreciation after your employees have gone the extra mile to finish an important project, completed something in a time crunch, or come in under budget.

Be their example and foster a culture of appreciation within your business.  Getting employees to show their appreciation for each other goes a long way in getting them to work together as a team, maximize performance, and gets them committed to the success and growth of the team and business⁠3.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

No One Likes a Fake: Be Genuine

This post is part of a series on how to improve morale (and the bottom line) in your company at little or no cost.

“The public can only be really moved by what is genuine.” -George Henry Lewes

No one likes a fake.

A lack of genuineness creates suspicion about your motives as a boss.  If your employees feel your concern about, or your praise of them, is insincere there will be a constant question in their minds about your true motivations.  A lack of genuineness reminds me of the stereotypical used car salesman who acts like your best friend until you’ve signed on the dotted line.  They don’t care about you.  They care about the commission on the sale.  They’re concerned about themselves.

Genuine care and concern help foster community.  It’s within a community where people feel safe, where they serve, celebrate and mourn with each other⁠1.  When you create genuine relationships, people are more inclined to help you even when they don’t have to.  Being a genuine leader helps you help your team confront challenges, drive improvement, and position them for success.  People are naturally drawn to leaders who are genuine.

Genuineness and authenticity with employees is about being who you really are without putting on pretenses.

Being genuine should be applied to all the morale building techniques on this blog.  That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t apply the many morale techniques on this blog, such as smiling, or showing respect, even when it’s difficult or unnatural for you.  It may just take some practice to be genuine using those techniques.  Remember, being honest is a large part of being genuine.

Friday, May 3, 2013

I Was Laid Off, And I'm Grateful

by Drew Goodman

While losing a job can be difficult, it can also be a relief.

I haven't posted here for a few days.  I've been a little preoccupied, because a few days ago, after 10 years at my job, I was laid off along with several others.  Rather than being devastated by the loss, I actually felt a huge sense of relief.  A weight was lifted from my shoulders.

The reason the layoffs were happening, I was told, was that The Store needed to make some tough financial decisions due to declining sales.  The largest controllable expense in nearly any business is payroll.  I've managed retail stores for nearly 20 years, so I've made these kinds of decisions myself.  Over the last 4 or 5 years, many businesses have had to do the same.

Unfortunately, these layoff didn't need to have happened.  True, the economy hasn't been great, yet this wasn't solely an issue with the economy.  While I could point to a number of mistakes The Store made, I'll focus on an element which I believe was one of the bigger factors in the declining sales of The Store: poor morale.

I never saw morale at The Store reach soaring heights, but in the last 2 or 3 years it had reached new lows.  "In the toilet," or "six feet under" would be apt descriptions.  In fact, morale problems at The Store are why I started writing about low morale and its effects on sales, productivity, and profits.

When morale is low, employee engagement levels fall.  Employees do only what needs to be done to keep their jobs.  Sometimes less.  When morale is low, most employees are unwilling to go the extra mile.  They're just punching the clock.

And customers notice.  Several of my best customers made comments such as: "What's changed?  No one here seems happy anymore."  Customers can tell when morale is low, because low morale affects employee demeanor and customer service.  Naturally, when customer service falls, so do sales.  When sales fall, you make cuts, and most often that means letting employees go.

From my forthcoming book, "How to Destroy Your Business in 6 1/2 Easy Steps" here are a few chapter headings from the book, with some examples of what caused low morale in The Store.  It gives you an idea of why morale was low and how it may have affected sales.

Be A Jerk

There's an old saying, "Shit rolls downhill."  Morale starts with the person in charge because they set the tone for a business.  This was the case at The Store.  The director is a person whose ideas of management are 30 years out of date and his attitude followed.  Here are a couple of his actual statements and one from his employees:
"Everybody steals."  Employees, constantly felt as if they were viewed as a thieves, lowering their morale, and studies have shown that when morale is low, internal theft goes up.  That's a self-fulfilling prophecy. 
"I could do your job on my lunch hour." Insulting employees with your supposedly superior knowledge and abilities (especially when it's not true) is an instant morale killer.  Why would you do your best for a boss when treated like that?
And one favorite that we used to repeat about his lack of gratitude, "If he ever says 'Thank you,' or 'Good job,' write it down.  It may be years before you hear it again."  Not expressing gratitude to employees for doing a good job is a good way to make them feel as if they don't matter, and that reduces morale a few more notches.
Treating people poorly, like cogs in a machine, like they should simply be grateful to have a job, is a surefire way to reduce morale.

Trust No One

During one meeting, the director asked for a raise of hands to the question, "Do you trust me?"  Every hand went up in the affirmative.  He then handed out slips of paper.  When he left the room we were to write down whether we trusted him or not.  The slips were filled out, gathered and counted.  Nearly every slip said, "yes."  "See," he announced, "people trust me."  After the meeting I talked privately with others who'd been in the room.  Nearly everyone wanted to say "no" but had been afraid that if they wrote "no" he would try to figure out whose handwriting was on each slip of paper.

He didn't engender trust from his employees because we felt he didn't trust us.  His actions spoke louder than words.  The lack of trust in the store was rooted in the fact that we felt being honest and open would more often than not get us in trouble rather than truly address a challenge or opportunity.

Trust, in large part, is built through open and honest communication.  Hardly anyone in that room wanted to be honest, out of fear.  The same applied to most people in the store.  When open, honest communication breaks down, morale quickly follows.

I'm More Important Than You

One of the assistant store directors was famous for postponing, moving, or canceling meetings.  Five minutes before a meeting was to start, he'd change it to the next day without regard for how the rest of us had arranged lunches or other meetings.  One week, he moved a particular meeting 6 times.  Several times he just never showed up.  We began making bets on if and when meetings would happen.

Having to reschedule meetings happens, but it doesn't need to happen constantly.  Schedule a meeting when you know you can attend, or don't schedule it.  Most often, his explanation was that he had important work that needed to be done.  Which meant, our time was less important than his.

We all have work to do and it all contributes to the success of a business.  When you devalue your employees' time in comparison to yours you devalue your employees and that lowers morale.


These are just a few examples of the environment where I spent my last 10 years.  It was filled with stress, ever increasing amounts of work, and ever decreasing support.  The low morale was acknowledged by nearly everyone there except the director and his assistants, and we tried to encourage one another, but in the end, hardly anyone was happy walking through the door each morning.  Had some attitudes been different, changes been made, and morale raised years ago, sales may still have declined because of the poor economy, but not to the extent that it ended up causing several people to lose their jobs.

In the end, getting called to the director's office and being told my position was being eliminated was tough to sit through, but as I walked out the door, knowing I wouldn't ever have to go back, my morale was at the highest it's been in years.  At least I can be grateful for that.