There's no doubt about it: the past year or so has been a lean time for most companies. And while there's hope that the worst (economically speaking) might be behind us, we aren't out of the woods yet. The dark days of the recession have spawned a troubling new issue, one that could cripple organizations even as we head into recovery. The looming problem? A widespread loss of employee engagement.
"Even if companies haven't literally lost their employees, many have lost them psychologically," warns Jon Gordon, speaker, consultant, and author of the new book The Shark and the Goldfish: Positive Ways to Thrive During Waves of Change "Too many Americans are beaten down, burned out, and completely de-motivated. And if leaders don't strive to change that - to create a positive culture that energizes people - there will be dire consequences."
Tired of working more hours for less pay under the threat of termination, many Americans have mentally checked out of their jobs. They are simply doing what they need to in order to hang on until something better comes along. In fact, a recent study by the Workforce Institute at Kronos shows that in organizations that have experienced layoffs, 40 percent of employees report that their productivity has suffered. Of that 40 percent, two-thirds think that morale has been negatively impacted and that they aren't as motivated as before.
It doesn't take a genius to figure out that this atmosphere is not conducive to an organization's success, now or in the future. But with limited funds and deadlines that still need to be met, what's a leader to do? For starters, says Gordon, you must focus on winning in the workplace if you want to win in the marketplace.
"For leaders, now is the time to improve your company's culture and get inside your employees' heads," he insists. "You need to personally make sure that your company is a place where people want to work. You can allow the current economy to crush your morale, confidence and spirit, or you can choose to proactively shape your organization into one that is positive, resilient, and prepared to take on challenges."
That's the lesson Gordon shares in his newest book, a delightfully illustrated fable that tells the story of Gordy the goldfish. Not used to fending for himself, the outlook for bowl-raised Gordy is grim after he accidentally ends up in the ocean. Luckily for him (and for readers from the schoolroom to the boardroom), Sammy the (nice!) shark takes Gordy under his fin and teaches him a valuable lesson: the difference between a full belly and an empty stomach depends solely upon your faith, beliefs, and actions.
"When fear and uncertainty become staples of daily work and life, they lead to a lack of trust, decreased productivity, poor focus, uninspired teamwork, and subpar performance," says Gordon. "As a leader, though, you do have the power to take positive actions that will inspire your team to not just survive, but to thrive. Make sure that, like Gordy the goldfish, your employees aren't just sitting at their desks waiting to be fed. Teach them how to find food for themselves, and their morale, focus, and commitment will increase exponentially!"
Gordon speaks from experience. He's the guy NFL Teams and Fortune 500 companies hire to enhance their cultures and to boost morale. Here, he shares nine strategies to help you boost morale and engagement in the current economy:
Focus on people, not numbers. True, there are a lot of numbers to worry about - investments, the bottom line, next quarter's profits (hopefully!) - and it's easy to become fixated on those figures. If your brain is spinning with strategies on how to stay out of the red, Gordon suggests that you take a step back and remember that your company isn't what shows up in the finance department's spreadsheets. It's the finance people themselves, and the HR department, and the salespeople and support staff. Ultimately, an organization's failure or success is determined by the moods, innovation, energy, thoughts and behaviors of the people who work there.