How to boost morale

Written by Allan Britnell

What’s the cost of unhappy employees? In a word, they’re priceless — because the price you pay in productivity losses and staff turnover is more than any company can afford. So when it comes to improving employee morale, you’re better off safe than sorry.

Luckily, money isn’t everything in the moral mix. While increased compensation can breed happier campers, there are countless other things you can do — beyond mugs and inspirational posters — to create a happy, positive and productive workplace.

Celebrate achievements in a public way

Early in its development, Coast Spas Manufacturing Inc., a fast-growing hot-tub manufacturer in Langley, B.C., had too-high turnover among its young employees. So CEO Don Elkington invented a recognition program he calls “Count On Me,” which celebrates every employee’s 90-day anniversary (and end of probation). In a ceremony presided over by Elkington, employees are given a hat and T-shirt, treated to lunch in the company cafeteria and get to add their signature to a 14-foot-high banner that hangs in the company’s production facility. Elkington says this practice, along with other internal reward programs, has significantly reduced turnover.

Give staff a voice

Effectively communicating with your employees and giving them a forum for feedback is one of the best ways to avoid being captain of a surly crew. “In any kind of relationship, both sides [must] feel they have a voice and that they’re being heard,” says Lynn McAuliffe, senior consultant at Brandhouse, a Toronto-based human-resources consultancy. “If not, one party will walk away from the relationship. They may just emotionally disconnect, which is where you get your dissatisfied employee, or they may physically leave.”

But beware: not everyone communicates in the same way. Some people are quite comfortable raising their hand and putting their opinion forward in ‘town hall’ group meetings, says McAuliffe, but others prefer one-on-one meetings to share their feelings. As a result, you need to have both forums available. McAuliffe even recommends having a suggestion box for those people who’d be most comfortable sharing their ideas-good or bad-anonymously.

Healthy body, healthy mind

To help her employees juggle a healthy lifestyle with the time-crunch of planning corporate functions, Cynthia Richards, president of Toronto-based Event Spectrum Inc., brought the gym to the office. For approximately $6,000, Event Spectrum converted the basement of its renovated duplex into a gym, complete with exercise bikes, free weights, a weight machine and showers. “We have a trainer that comes four mornings a week, and we recently added a massage table so we have a massage therapist that comes too,” says Richards. “Everybody loves the fact that it’s so handy. And it’s fun.”

Playing games

On first thought, installing a pub game in the office might sound counter-productive. “I wasn’t sure about it when we first got the foosball table,” says Paul Emond, president of Ottawa-based TechSupport.ca Corp. “But it turned out to be such a good team-building device. You can get four people involved and it’s a good way to get frustration out.” If an employee deals with a particularly intense call, they’re encouraged to grab some colleagues for a stress-relieving match. “Even I’m known to have a game every once in a while,” admits Emond.

Food and drink

Taking the pub-at-work concept to the extreme is Toronto-based Quarto Communications, publisher of Cottage Life and Explore magazines. Soon after launching the company in 1988, president Al Zikovitz installed a beer fridge.

More than just a popular perk — the fridge is infamous in Canada’s magazine publishing community and is often cited in job ads — it’s also a show of faith in the employees. “I’ve never seen anyone [drinking] at the wrong time,” says Zikovitz. “It’s never happened.” And he would know. Zikovitz can often be found in the kitchen area refilling the fridge himself.

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© 2004 Allan Britnell

Originally appeared on PROFITguide.com