Last Issue's Dilemma:
What's the work-around for gloom and doom?
Naturally, we're all worrying about the economy and keeping our jobs. Our business is off, and the environment for my staff of 12 feels gloomy. I don't think we'll need to cut staff, and I've let them know that. But everyone still acts very nervous.
How can I cheer them up? How does a "We're OK" group luncheon sound? Or, should I do my cheering up on a one-on-one basis?
Thanks for your help.
-- Harold, Staff Manager
Summary of Advice Received
23 ways to cheer up the staff when things are gloomy
by Meryl K. Evans, Editor, Professional Services Journal
Undoubtedly, the better the morale is in an office, the more energetic and productive the team will be. The bad news has yet to stop coming in, so managers need to do some work to pump energy into the team. Many readers responded to this dilemma with valuable advice. We have included many of their suggestions, in no particular order. Get ready to be inspired. Here are 23 ways to cheer up your team.
1. Put together a recovery task force
Laurence J. Stybel, Ed.D., executive in residence at Sawyer School of Business says, "Get a recovery task force and give them the task of finding answers to the following:
What leading indicators should our company use to predict better times ahead?
Who will follow the indicators and report to us?
When the time is finally right, what steps do we take to seize the initiative?"
2. Focus on what is working
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Jim Donovan, author, speaker and success coach, says, "Sit everyone down as a group and start talking about what is working, what's going right, in the business. There's always something going well. This will begin attracting more of the same. This immediately creates a shift in energy from fear to hope and possibility.
"Give NO energy to what's wrong. Like attracts like, so pay no attention to it. This is where most companies make a huge mistake. Beating problems to death only demoralizes people."
3. Involve the staff in deciding how to raise morale
Susan B. Wilson, owner of Executive Strategies, reminds us to keep staff involved. "Divide them into four groups of three people. Give them five minutes to identify four ideas for raising morale or having fun together or cheering up -- whatever you want the focus to be.
"As a whole group, share the ideas and add additional ones that may emerge. From the resulting list, identify eight to 10 ideas that the team would most like to try to get started. Make decisions about implementing them; and watch the collective team spirit rise."
4. Play a game
Tim Walsh, inventor of Blurt!, suggests this: "Play a game with them! Nothing relieves stress like P-L-A-Y. It's not a four-letter word."
5. Talk to employees one-on-one
Zohar Adner, stress release coach and speaker, Stop Stressing Out, recommends a little one-on-one. "Talk to them individually to get confirmation on what they each think is happening or will happen to the company. This will also provide an opportunity to find out if there's one particular person stirring the negativity pot, or if something non-work related is affecting their mood at the office. Try to help with the non-work related issues privately.
"Then bring the group together and have the luncheon where you list, in a very caring tone, the concerns they've brought up. Ask if there's anything else, and then address each point. Include anecdotes for times you've dealt with similar issues, openly talk about the financial situation (if relevant), and set your direction for the future (including what role they'll each be playing in that direction.
"Then go bowling afterwards -- who doesn't love bowling?"
6. Celebrate wins
Skip Anderson, founder and president of Selling to Consumers, reminds us to "celebrate small wins, big wins, really any wins. Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures, and maybe a contract that would have been ho-hum two years ago is an excuse for a party today! Nothing elevates mood in an organization like success. Redefine success for the times we’re in."
7. Let there be more light!
Becky McCrary, speaker and trainer, says, "Bring in more light -- natural if you can, or higher watt bulbs. If that shows the dust on furniture, clean it. A dirty work environment will settle on your spirit, too."
8. Share the brutal facts
Doug Hensch, co-founder and COO, happier.com, believes in sincerity. "When talking to the group, it's important to be honest but convey a sense of realistic optimism. So, don't be afraid to share the brutal facts -- sales are down, our advertising budget has been slashed, etc. But, immediately follow up with concrete, realistic reasons why you feel a turnaround will occur in the future. Look at historical trends. Find other examples of companies that have not only pulled through recessions but actually came out stronger.
"And, most importantly, share the plan for what you're doing to make things better. Ask for feedback, and then get the group and individuals to begin acting on these suggestions. This will help eliminate the rumination and get people feeling better. There is a reason why we continually elect optimistic leaders -- we gravitate towards their optimism and hope."
9. Take breaks
Jonathan Kay, ambassador of buzz at GotVMail, says, "We have a room dedicated to Nintendo Wii, for taking breaks and bonding with employees. We are also in the process of putting a basketball court in the parking lot."
10. Communicate on a regular basis
Roberta Chinsky Matuson, president of Human Resource Solutions, recommends regular communication. "Employees today are looking for transparency. They want their leaders to frequently communicate with them regarding the financial outlook of their organization. Even if it's to say, 'Things are a bit uncertain.'
"Effective, on-going communication is the key to reducing anxiety in your organization, which in turn will reduce stress."
11. Set goals
Michael J. Berthelot, CEO, Cito Capital Corporation, says, "Don’t allow the uncertainty of the general situation to affect your desire and ability to set and strive to achieve realistic goals. The goals may be different or not quite the stretch goals of the past, but without goals, your team drifts without direction."
12. Get your people to prioritize
Dr. Kevin Freiberg and Dr. Jackie Freiberg, give this advice: "Revisit roles, shake up responsibilities, clarify expectations and define the bigger YES for individuals and for teams. Challenge everyone to identify two to three high-leverage, proactive projects, initiatives or value-add assignments that align with your goals. Urge them to be proactive in allocating their time. Remind people to avoid the tendency to get sucked into the 'urgent but unimportant' time trap."
13. Promote learning
Jane Goldner, Ph.D, founder and CEO of the Goldner Group, says, "Even if you stay in the same position for years, job requirements will keep changing, and you must also change just to keep up. Three ways to go about this:
Provide feedback on performance and coaching to employees on an ongoing basis.
Consider coaching, shadowing, temporary assignments and participation on problem-solving teams that keep employees focused on the job and are cost-effective means for development.
Delegate one of your responsibilities that have become routine to you but that would be new and challenging to your employee."
14. Have chair massages
Nora Brunner, Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals, recommends massage. "Chair massage not only makes employees feel valued, research has shown it reduces stress in the workplace. At about a dollar a minute, it's affordable, and massage therapists bring their own equipment to your worksite.
"To find a chair massage specialist anywhere in the country, visit www.massagetherapy.com and use the search function, specifying your zip code and 'chair massage.'"
15. Hold weekly team lunches
D. Nikki Wheeler, says, "Each week, I have a team lunch away from the office. I provide updates about the business and key initiatives, and then my team members go around the room and talk about what they are working on. We do what's called Three-Up and Three-Down, which covers the top three things you are working on for the week and the top three challenges you face. The purpose of this is to keep the team focused on goals and to identify where we can be helpful to one another in overcoming the challenges. Then, I close out every meeting by asking each person, 'What are you proud of? What's the one thing over the last week that makes you proud?'"
16. Give out bright colored t-shirts
Allen Klein, aka Mr. Jollytologist, believes in keeping the fun alive. "A 'We're OK' luncheon sounds great, but you can make it even more cheerful and remembered longer by having the luncheon at a fun place (think: children's birthday party). Give out 'We're OK' or some such bright-colored t-shirts, photograph attendees wearing those shirts and smiling, and post the photos around the office after the event."
17. Return to basics
Angie Douglas, marketing communications director, Clark County Credit Union, says, "One of the best things we've done for our staff is to get back to some of the basics -- the things that used to be commonplace around the office. For instance, we used to have a quarterly potluck. With the negative news about the economy and finances, pretty soon it had been over a year since we had put one together. A couple of weeks ago, we decided to bring it back, and it was a huge success and did wonders for morale."
18. Think J-curve
Edward A. Dreyfus, Ph.D., gives this pearl. "This is a great opportunity for folks to re-group, re-assess and prepare for leaping forward with their lives and careers. I believe that weekly brown-bag lunch meetings, where the general topic is living a balanced life based on values and where staff work on a personal, as well as business, mission statement, can be empowering. In economics, there is a phenomenon called the J-curve where companies re-group, re-trench, re-evaluate, re-invest, re-capitalize and change direction, causing a temporary drop in revenues (the first part of the J) and then surge ahead (the second part of the J) of where they started.
"Similarly, we can do that in our lives. Too often, we are pre-occupied with the bottom line promising ourselves that once we have the time we will re-assess. Now is that time. Just as our government is now focusing on the infrastructure, as individuals, we should be re-focusing on our personal infrastructure, looking inward, rather than simply trying to accrue more stuff and more bucks."
19. Do crafts
Kathy Peterson, says, "Read this before you think it's crazy. Go out and buy some craft supplies, and you will be surprised how empowering this can be for both you AND your staff. Plus, craft therapy bridges the gap in difficult conversations about depression, anxiousness, stress, financial fears, job loss, etc."
20. Invite a speaker
Gail Sussman Miller, chief obstacle buster, Inspired Choice, says, "Consider a lunch out or a brown bag meal with a guest speaker on how to manage their feelings and stay positive, or a presentation of some financial expert’s tips."
21. Involve employees instead of holding layoffs
Dr. Aubrey Daniels, author, also recommends involving staff. "Layoffs waste time and money. While layoffs may offer a short-term fix, in the end they fix little. What they do is decrease morale and reduce productivity. It's better to ask all employees to participate in the process of making the organization efficient and effective."
22. Make colorful paper airplanes
Pat McHenry Sullivan, recommends this: "My favorite exercise for this is to have a bunch of colored paper airplanes (one for each person). In a large room, each person writes down one idea on one plane; to lively music, they launch their idea. Then, they pick up a plane sent by someone else, look at the idea on it, and either bounce off that idea or add another one. After some more brainstorming, take everyone to lunch."
23. Avoid trite expressions
Leila Bulling Towne, executive coach and organizational development consultant, The Bulling Towne Group, LLC, reminds us that "saying things like, 'Come on, things can only get better!' and 'Well, at least you have a job, so you should be happy' will get you nowhere. Times are tough, and you do need to motivate people. However, using empty expressions to do so will not create lasting momentum. Don't sugarcoat what you say, and avoid fluff. People need you to motivate them in concrete ways."
Add to the list and keep your head up
As you can see, managers have many options to try. You know your people best -- at least, we hope so. Remain open and honest with employees, regularly communicate to them, hold one-on-one sessions and do different team activities as suggested here. Or come up with your own ways to motivate your staff. Rah rah!