Want to fix poor staff morale? – Cut the crap, show them the cash

Computerworld recently released its 2009 ranking of the Best Places to Work in IT. As part of that feature, the IT news daily published the story, 7 Tips for Keeping IT Employees Upbeat.

Without even reading the article, I knew what it was going to espouse—the usual bluster about engaging employees in the company’s mission and values and the importance of patting staff on the back.

Gag me with a spoon.

I read the story despite my misgivings, hoping to find recommendations that would prove my assumption wrong, hoping I’d find advice that was in synch with IT workers’ material and psychological needs.

But the story’s recommendations were largely what I expected: unrealistic and out of touch. They were the kind of self-satisfying recommendations that managers like to hear, such as:

Reward employees and show appreciation. Rewarding employees is less about offering material things than about showing respect and appreciation. Small gestures, such as saying thank you, asking their opinions on ideas and complimenting their efforts, can help show that you are grateful for their hard work and loyalty.

I hate how managers under-value and under-emphasize monetary recognition as a way to incent workers and improve morale. It’s so ironic because managers and executives get bonuses for meeting their performance goals, no matter what the economy, so why wouldn’t the rest of us be motivated by cash?

What’s more, small gestures like saying thank you and complimenting employees should be a given—regardless of whether the economy is in a period of boom or bust. Managers who think saying thank you will make up for pay cuts and salary freezes are clueless, and their empty compliments come off as patronizing.

In cases like that, small gestures are just that: small.

Here’s another self-satisfying recommendation:

Talk about higher purpose. How do your organization’s products or services make your customers’ lives safer, happier, healthier or easier? Is your organization involved in philanthropy or community service initiatives? Remind your employees that they are making meaningful contributions not only to the organization, but also to the community.

This is the biggest crock. Everyone knows that a corporation’s primary goal is to make money, not cure cancer—even when a corporation’s business is pharmaceuticals. Employees are skeptical of the ‘your work is making the world a better place’ H.R. hoo-ha because it’s so far-fetched and because it shifts the focus of the morale discussion away from monetary remuneration.

The other recommendations for boosting morale in the article are nice in theory but unrealistic in practice. Take the advice about communicating openly with staff about the organization’s future, as an example.

It’s true, employees want the straight dope, but it’s not exactly in a company’s best interest to have managers speaking frankly with staff about the numerous business challenges the company is facing and the company’s uncertain future (which is why many managers don’t address it or wear rose colored lenses when they speak.) The risk is that employees will quit in droves, destabilizing the company even more.

Plus, in a lot of companies, like at GM and various newspapers, for example, the writing about the organization’s future is or has been on the wall, and employees don’t need to have it spelled out for them. Lastly, admitting how poorly a company is more of a morale killer than booster.

I hate to criticize Dave Willmer, who wrote the story. I respect and admire the various articles he’s written for Computerworld on finding a job in a recession.

I just don’t think there’s an easy fix for the morale problems facing companies and their employees today. (Again, this is what managers want to hear; they want the proverbial silver bullet in the form of a seven step program.)

High morale ultimately stems from good management and smart, sustainable business strategies that equally enrich the powerful people at the top and all the people who work for them.

The reason morale is so low today across the U.S. is because the strategic management decisions corporate and government leaders have made have failed the American people. People in positions of power have created the current economic mess—and profited all along the way—yet it’s working people who have to clean it up and who are paying a dear price for it in job losses and worthless retirement accounts.

That’s why morale is in the gutter. What are your seven steps for fixing that?

Source: CIO.com

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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