EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Weathering the Storm

January 22, 2009

Build a happy place

Keeping up workplace morale helps retain workers through toughest times

As the stock market has so ably demonstrated, investors hate uncertainty.

Employees hate it, too.

In good times, an employee who is worried about his or her job reaches for the door. In bad times, only your strongest employees are likely to be eyeing the exit.

That's exactly what you don't want. And it's why paying a little attention to employee morale just might save your company from losing valuable human capital when you can least afford it.

Dr. Jane Parent, assistant professor of management at the Girard School of Business at Merrimack College in North Andover, has done research examining how employees respond to organizational change. Before beginning work on her doctorate, she worked for 13 years at large manufacturing companies in fields relating to financial analysis.

Parent offers this advice to employers for keeping morale up as companies change to respond to these economically uncertain times:

Communicate

"The biggest thing management can do is communicate what is going on with the business," Parent said. "The more management communicates the good and bad news, the better employees will do."

Parent related an example of business-changing communication from her time at National Semiconductor. At that time, she said, the company was losing money and a new chief executive officer had taken command.

"The first thing he taught us was what 'break even' means," she said. "Everybody from top to bottom knew how to calculate it and we were rewarded on it also."

Within two years, Parent said, the company had achieved break-even and went on to profitability.

Communication is most effective when it is face-to-face, she said.

"I think too many people use electronic communication," she added.

A set speech isn't what she recommends, either.

"Face-to-face is better in a two-way communication, so people can ask questions," Parent advised.

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