We can be sure that the current economic conditions, globally and locally, are contributing to low worker morale. Many employees are afraid they will lose their jobs. If not their jobs, then they are afraid of losing their pensions and health care and not being able to retire when they had intended. If they have already survived massive layoffs, then they are depressed about the loss of friendships and uncertainty about their future with the company. What can executives do to stem this tide of anxiety and fear? Kelley Holland in her NYTimes column writes that team-building activities, family days, volunteer work with local nonprofits, and other feel-good programs are being used to try to improve workers’ attitudes. She points out in her article that rah-rah group activities, while fun in the short-run, do not necessarily improve results over the long-run.

To really make a difference in employee engagement in these scary economic times, including keeping the talent that you want, more attention needs to be placed on organization culture and less on team-building events. First thing to do is communicate. Keep employees informed. Most employee anxiety comes from not knowing. Even if you don’t have answers, be honest and tell employees at all levels what you know and what you don’t know about the future of the company. Be trustworthy. When you say you are going to do something, do it; be consistent and fair with everyone. And encourage managers to support employee learning. Managers and direct reports should be having frequent conversations about training and development, opportunities in the company, and how employees can contribute to the success of the company. You will want all employees prepared for the turnaround.

These are the things that have always been important to do but are even more critical during the current economic downturn. Isolated team-building and feel-good events are not sufficient for engagement and high performance. Creating a culture in which employees are kept informed, managers are viewed as trustworthy and fair, and employees are collaborating with managers on their development and effectiveness will make all the difference over time.

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