The Beatings Will Stop Once Morale Improves!


In countless workforce surveys, employee morale and employee loyalty are at record lows. According to these surveys, a large majority of employees will, at the first opportunity, go out and find another job, gleefully leaving their current “@!$#*%* employers”.

With the long recession, many employers have resorted to salary cuts or freezes and cuts in benefits. Due to lay-offs, the remaining employees are doing the same amount of work with fewer people. As a result, many employees are now working harder than ever for less money than they made a few years ago.

One result is plummeting morale.

As the leader of your company or business unit, what can you do to improve morale if you are not yet able (or allowed) to satisfactorily raise salaries and wages?

  1. Be Visibly Cost – Conscious
  2. Stop the Beatings
  3. Use the Leadership Tools At Your Disposal


Be Visibly Cost-Conscious

Most likely, the salary cuts and freezes were justified as necessary cost savings measures in extraordinary times. They were described as measures that were very painful for everyone; but, measures that just had to be done for the good of the business.

But, let’s face reality. As leaders, most of you cannot understand and feel the pain of your average employee during these hard times. Most likely, you have some money saved up and are not living paycheck to paycheck. Most likely, you have a good sense of the business plan so you have some amount of job security and some sense of control over the future. Most likely, you have a good network and transferrable skills so you have some confidence that you can find a job if you were to get laid off.

You may not be able to empathize fully with your employees. But, you need to ensure that they see and understand that everyone from top to bottom is in it together. For you, your leadership team and your staff that means that all need to cut back and be visibly more cost-conscious. Your example is evidence of your leadership.

Some obvious areas to consider:

  1. Be modest in your travels
    1. Limit to essential travel
    2. No Four Seasons hotels
    3. Rent a standard car
    4. Modest dinners
  2. Avoid too many lunches and lunch meetings on the company; brown bag it every once in a while
  3. Tone down off-sites or big company meetings or avoid all together if appropriate
  4. Unless absolutely necessary, avoid hiring additional staff, especially corporate staff
  5. Unless necessary, avoid hiring consultants
    1. If consultants are hired, remind them to be modest in their expenses and behaviors

An anecdote of what to avoid:

In the early 1990’s, one of the businesses that I later led was struggling. Wages had been cut. Headcount and costs had been slashed across the board. A top corporate staff person was brought in to find ways to cut costs even more. He led a number of meetings during his visit contributing cost-saving suggestions and advice. In the last meeting, he had to leave early. He had to rush to the airport to catch his Concorde flight to Europe.


“He that gives good advice builds with one hand. He that gives good counsel and example builds with both. But he that gives good guidance and bad example builds with one hand and pulls down with the other.” Francis Bacon

Stop the Beatings

It is easy to blame wage freezes and benefit cuts as the sole cause of your unhappy employees. But, that is rarely the case. The other, significant root cause for plummeting morale is the company’s leadership during these difficult times. So, change how you lead the company.

First, stop being petty. If you have taken away privileges or cut the small things that just take away from employees without really saving significant money, stop it. Pay for the coffee service. Take an employee out for lunch on his or her birthday. Keep the tradition of Thanksgiving turkeys. Get someone to cut the grass or clean the office instead of having employees do it. Celebrate a big win with snacks and drinks.

Second, stop adding more work to everyone’s plate. Better yet, take some work off their plate. At least 20 – 30% of the work that your over-worked employees are doing is adding little to no value. Take it away from them. Free them up. Let them breath. Let them be able to focus and do the good job that they want to do. A former boss of mine, Jim Schack, used to say: “It is not what you add to a troubled situation. It is what you take away.” By taking work away, prioritizing, and increasing focus, you may also find that your company becomes even more efficient.

Finally, be nice. Yes, you are under stress to perform. But, do not take it out on your team. Treat your team with respect. It will work wonders. In his book, It’s Your Ship, US Navy Captain D. Michael Abrashoff relates a study of reasons why sailors in the US Navy were unhappy and did not re-enlist. The number one reason was “not being treated with respect or dignity.”

Use the Leadership Tools at Your Disposal

Quiz Time: Please place these 10 items in order from most to least important for the average employee:

  1. Good wages
  2. Interesting work
  3. Promotional growth in the organization
  4. Job Security
  5. Good working conditions
  6. Personal loyalty to employees
  7. Full appreciation of the work done
  8. Sympathetic help on personnel problems
  9. Tactful discipline
  10. Feeling of being in on things


No peeking at the answers. J

OK, are you done?

According to numerous surveys over the years, the order from most to least important for the average employee is as follows:

  1. Full appreciation of the work done
  2. Feeling of being in on things
  3. Sympathetic help on personnel problems
  4. Job Security
  5. Good wages
  6. Interesting work
  7. Promotional growth in the organization
  8. Personal loyalty to employees
  9. Good working conditions
  10. Tactful discipline

Of course, you can quibble and debate about the order and the merit of any survey. But, that is not the point.

This is the point. You cannot promise job security; you may not be able to offer your employees a satisfactory raise in wages; and you should not guarantee personal loyalty. Nevertheless, you still have a lot of leadership and management tools at your disposal to improve the satisfaction and productivity of the employees on your team.

Use these tools and improve your employees’ morale. Use these tools and make your team a winning team. Use these tools and be a better leader.

To get you started, I leave you with a quote from the psychologist William James:

“The deepest human need is the need to be appreciated.”


Next Time:  “Find Someone Doing Something Right Every Day”


About David Shedd

David has been a President - CEO - COO of an up to $350M group of manufacturing, distribution, specialty retail and services companies, having led 22 different businesses from turnarounds to start-ups to fast growth companies.
This entry was posted in Leadership, Team / People. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s