Motivating Employees in a Challenging Economy

Some chains just don’t have the financial resources to give out much-deserved raises and bonuses, but there are other ways to show your staff you appreciate their hard work.

By John Lofstock, Editor.

To say the least, the past few years haven’t been the best for business. While we have weathered a brutal recession, it’s not only finances that have taken a hit. Morale is suffering, too. In the battle for survival, many organizations have developed perpetually stressful atmospheres in which employees are asked to do more with less—often with little thanks. In many cases, employers simply can’t afford not to cut hours and positions, and they definitely don’t have the funds for raises and bonuses.

Fortunately, said human resources expert Todd Patkin, you don’t need a single dime to make your people happy at work or to show them just how much you care about them and appreciate their efforts.

“People will never admit it, but money is not the thing they desire most from their work. Instead, showing appreciation, respect, and, yes, even love are the three most important ways to make your people feel great about their work,” said Patkin. “Happy, engaged employees are the single best way to impact your company’s bottom line.”

Patkin speaks from experience. For nearly two decades, he was instrumental in leading his family’s auto parts business, Autopart International, to new heights until it was finally bought by Advance Auto Parts in 2006. Patkin made it his No. 1 priority to always put his people and their happiness first.

“As a leader, I quickly found that if my team was content and their work environment was a positive one, they would be more engaged and motivated, and they would truly care about our organization’s future,” Patkin said. “Plus, it was even more rewarding for me to see that my employees were happy—and often even ecstatic—than it was for me that we were making money.”

Eliminating Stress
In an economic downturn it’s more important than ever before to show your employees appreciation. Furthermore, Patkin said, if your employees are perpetually stressed out, they’ll be less motivated and more disengaged. When they’re unhappy, they’ll do only what they must to avoid chastisement. Also, when the economy turns around, they’ll be more likely to look for a new job elsewhere.

“If there is one thing I would like to tell all leaders at all levels and in all industries, it’s that you have nothing to lose and everything to gain—including an improved bottom line—by making your organization as happy a place to work as possible,” Patkin said.

Patkin offered five tips for employers to keep morale high without spending a cent. They include:
1 Send encouraging notes. Writing and sending a thank you note is standard practice when you receive a gift. When you notice that an individual has done an excellent job or has achieved an important goal, send a specific handwritten note conveying your most sincere appreciation and admiration. This will take only one sheet of paper and five minutes out of your day, but it’ll make a lasting impression on your employee.

“When you’re a leader, you’re busy and often overwhelmed,” Patkin said. “It’s understandable that you might overlook saying the words ‘thank you,’ much less writing them. Remember, though, that positive reinforcement and sincere gratitude will increase the respect your team has for you and will improve their opinion of your entire organization. Also, it will encourage them to likewise say ‘thank you’ more often to their own subordinates within your company.”

2 Distribute inspiration. Society tends to think of work as a place of drudgery, obligation and boredom. People certainly don’t think of receiving inspiration and rejuvenation during their workday. Buoying your team’s spirits should be one of your daily goals. If you help them to see the world as a sunnier place and to improve their attitudes and ways of thinking about their entire lives, their professional and personal productivity will also increase.

“If you run across a quotation or story that inspires you, don’t keep it to yourself—pass it along to an employee.  If appropriate, also mention that the quote or anecdote reminded you of him and his great attitude,” Patkin said. “Alternatively, you might consider sending out a quote or lesson of the day. Yes, the idea might sound hokey at first, but I firmly believe that most people vastly underestimate the power of feeding their minds with inspirational and educational material.”

3 Tell success stories. Even if they brush off praise or downplay their achievements, everybody loves to be recognized and complimented. When someone in your organization has done something great, tell them that you noticed their outstanding work, and tell the rest of the team, too. Many employees feel that their leaders take them for granted and only point out their mistakes, so make it your daily mission to prove that perception wrong.

“When I was at Autopart International and I saw that one of my people did something noteworthy, I made sure that everyone else knew about it by sending the story about her accomplishment around in an email to the entire chain,” Patkin said. “I could literally see the glow on the highlighted employee’s face for weeks, and I also noticed many of the other team members now worked even harder too in order to earn a write-up themselves. Remember to always praise in public as loudly as possible and criticize only in private.”

4 Identify stars. Recognizing stars is taking the concept behind telling success stories to the next level. Yes, recognize achievements whenever you see them, but also make celebrating your stars a regular event. Some team members will roll their eyes at Employee of the Month programs, but you can rest assured no one is going to turn down this honor.

“Instead of singling out just one person, you might even consider recognizing multiple individuals every month,” Patkin said. “For example, I always wrote about several store managers in our ‘Managers of the Month’ newsletter. Later, I included assistant managers, store supervisors, store salespeople, and our drivers in this letter of champions as well. My profiles for each star would often be a full page in length, lauding both their professional achievements and wonderful personal qualities.”

The newsletters themselves were often thirty pages in length when finished, Patkin said.

5 Make it a family affair. Whenever possible, engage your employees’ families when praising them. Having a leader validate all the hours each team member spends at work will be remembered far longer than a bonus. Plus, when spouses and kids know what Mom or Dad does at work and are onboard with it, your employee’s performance will be buoyed by support from the ones he or she loves the most.

“For example, if an employee did something really tremendous, I would call his home, generally trying to get the answering machine and not a person,” Patkin shares. “Then I’d leave a voicemail praising his accomplishments and thanking the family for putting up with the long hours. Years later, many employees whose families received these phone calls told me that although they didn’t remember how much their bonus checks were for that year, that extra-special homecoming was still clearly etched in their memories.”

 

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