Friday, December 05, 2008

10 Low-Cost Ways to Improve Employee Engagement in the Downturn

By Jarvis Cromwell for The Reputation Garage

High employee engagement is money in the bank.  As the graph opposite shows, companies considered the best to work for between 1998-2004 had a total stock market return of 176% versus 39% for the S&P 500.

But when it comes to engaging employees in this economic downturn, chances are you've got at least three problems. 1) Morale is at a low ebb (surveys have been tracking its decline across most large companies for a decade); 2) high levels of distrust in management limit your ability to rally the troops; and 3) even if you could figure out what to do, the current downturn leaves you with little or no money to address it.

Don’t sit around moping.  You’re a manager, so act. There are a number of things you can do that don’t have to break the bank to build trust and improve morale.  After all, you can't take the next hill (which is looking to be steep and well fortified) if you don't have the trust of your team.  The trick is to be consistent in your approach.  Here are ten tips from Forbes that would be a good start.

1) Give thanks

2) Pull them aside for a one-on-one

3) Value family time

4) Invest in their future

5) Surprise them

6) Engage them by handing out pet projects

7) Reward specific achievements

8) Get everyone involved and limit micro-management

9) Heavy up on encouraging a team approach

10) Focus more on fun and less relentlessly on cash

The learning for trustmeisters is that low levels of trust among employees hurts performance. Given the current environment, you'll need to work harder over the next year on this dimension of your job as a manager.  See the complete Forbes slide show of all ten tips HERE.


  1. Jarvis,

    I'm in full agreement with your 10 ideas.

    I see one fundamental attribute necessary to make most of those ten viable: management commitment to engagement.

    If the team of managers/supervisors focuses only on seeing that the jobs get done, it's likely that the jobs will get done...and that's all. In down times, that may not be enough.

    Organization leaders must ensure that managers view employee development as part of their role...and that development includes employee engagement.

    Managers may well need coaching and/or training to know how to fulfill that role in helping employees develop their skills and abilities...and their engagement.


  2. Excellent list, Jarvis. Strategic employee recognition programs fill these needs. We believe in creating cultures of appreciation in which employees are recognized for their efforts -- by their peers as well as their managers -- which reinforces for them their value to their teams and the company.

    This creates a positive work environment where employees see that best practices, strong ethics and exceptional performance are recognized and rewarded consistently, openly and fairly — an environment that encourages loyalty, commitment and honesty of effort. It is this kind of environment that drives greater morale and productivity when company leaders need it most.

    We recently published a white paper on how companies can actually save money on employee recognition while dramatically improving their programs and increasing the number of employees recognized -- both critical during a recession. The paper: "Maximize the Return on Recognition during a Recession" is available here:

    Best, Derek