Pay Attention to Morale

One of my longtime friends is working in a small research firm in New York, and is chomping at the bit to get out. The upside is, he’s a genius, and could do a great job for anyone. The downside is, he might have to leave New York to do so. And this makes him sad.

Frankly, the combination of frustration at the company and concern about his future is making him very unhappy at work. And that is never a good thing.

When you have employees who dread coming to work, who spend their first half hour hitting 20 job search websites, who cannot wait to leave…well, they may not being giving you their best work. So it helps to pay attention to their attitudes and fix problems if it is possible for you to do so.

There are some things that are not really fixable. After 4 years my friend is still in the same position where he started, because the firm is only composed of a few people and there is simply no way to move up. If you have a small company, with no plans to expand, then that is just the way it is. Since your employees will not be able to get promoted, you need to find other ways for them to develop professionally. Maybe you can pay for additional training and education, perhaps you could give them time to do professional writing…the bottom line is, if you cannot promote them one way, then find another way for them to grow.

You might also have trouble giving raises. Startups, in particular, may not be able to offer more money each year. My friend is still making essentially the same as he was making 4 years ago, which in New York is not the best plan for personal financial security. If he leaves the company now, it really needs to be for a jump in pay; the other option is to leave New York entirely for a better working environment in a lower-cost city, and that is certainly on the table now. If profits are growing, be sure to share them with your employees. If profits are not growing, you need to figure out what needs to change. And if your business plan is proceeding on schedule and you simply are not at the big profit part of the plan yet, then find other ways to compensate them. My friend has raised the issue with his boss of offering better health coverage, for example, but the big guy isn’t listening.

The “not listening” part is a big factor in my friend’s unhappiness at work. His boss is very set in his ways, uninterested in changing anything, keeping policies as is. One suggestion my old colleague made was offering a telework option, and he demonstrated its feasibility over a few days, but it was a no-go. When your employees come to you with ideas for positive changes to the working environment, they may giving you a big hint that something is wrong. If they feel like they have no control over their work life, no say in how they do their jobs, and if they are missing out on other things like raises and promotions, you are likely to have some unhappy employees.

That’s something you want to watch for. You need to take the pulse of your workforce on a fairly regular basis. This does not have to mean sitting down for feedback sessions…it could be as simple as watching body language in the office, or seeing how quickly people run out at the end of the day. If people are coming to you with ideas, and you keep turning them down, you should start worrying when they stop coming to you. If you are interested in keeping your experienced employees, you need to find ways to keep them positively engaged in the firm. If they feel like they are stuck in a position with no developmental or financial future, they might not be too happy at work.

And, like my friend, they may spend their first half hour of work each day checking 20 different job search websites.

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