Managers need to prioritise staff morale

Workforce management

By Kate Southam

A financial and accounting recruitment expert has warned employers not to allow the global economic situation to distract them from what should be a key priority – staff morale.

Andrew Brushfield of Robert Half says a survey of clients in May revealed 41 per cent were being kept awake at night worrying about staff morale. At that time, skills shortages were also top of mind underscoring the need to pay attention to employee engagement.

Mr Brushfield says since that time, the global economic situation had distracted managers from morale issues posing a huge risk to businesses as the continuing skills shortage meant replacing employees who walked out the door would be hard.

Those same shortages were also putting extra pressure on already hard working employees making it even more important people management got the attention it deserved.

“We are in an interesting time in a sense there are things happening in Europe, growth has slowed in China making markets so sensitive at the moment,” Mr Brushfield told CareerOne.com.au.

“When you are in a skills short market, it makes it even more important for employers to retain their staff and one of the major factors determining whether an employee will stay or not is the morale.”

On the one hand Robert Half consultants have been hearing from their clients [employers] about challenges with containing and even cutting costs and on the other they are hearing from candidates about how such measures are impacting on their levels of engagement.

“The silly thing is this challenge is controllable but because there is often a cost associated with managing employee engagement organisations forget about it.

“In reality, boosting morale doesn’t have to cost much at all. One of the simplest ways to improve morale is through constant communication. When things are done well, make sure there is public recognition.”

Mr Brushfield acknowledges that challenging business conditions could see some organisations become more secretive and less open. He urged employers to go the opposite way.

Addressing CareerOne.com.au candidates, Mr Brushfield says there is a “real thirst” for ICT talent in the finance space right now.

“Hiring activity is a buoyant as it was a year ago and is nearly back to where it was pre-GFC. Part of the reason is the sheer speed of technological advancement driving a continual need to up grade or change systems.

“Within the demand for ICT talent are particular trends such as talent who can work with business intelligence tools whether to develop tools, customise tools or analyse data.”

Mr Brushfield says the ability for an organisation to process and understand data was what gives any organisation an advantage over competitors.

Accounting roles that were forward looking were also in demand.

“A traditional accountant looks backwards at what has happened to the numbers in the last month.”

“There is a real demand for financial accountants, management accountants and finance managers who can work with other parts of the business such as sales and pricing to create projections so the business can look forward. That is a real focus right now.

“In tougher times, it’s tempting for bosses to assume that employees are happy to just have a job and so wouldn’t consider moving. The most talented employees will always have options. Losing them can cause additional problems at a time when companies can least afford to let productivity and customer service slip.

Mr Brushfields’ top tips for driving employee engagement are:

Be transparent
Talking openly with staff during challenging times will make people feel included and as if they have some control over the situation. A two-way communication forum will also enable employees to put forward  helpful ideas for the business.

Don’t blame those at the top
If you’re a middle manager who has to deliver bad news, you may be inclined to tell employees that you would have done things differently. While this may take the heat off, it sends a message that the company’s management is out of sync and that can be disconcerting for staff.
      
Remind staff about benefits packages
Few employees know how much their firm spends on benefits like health and well-being packages. If finances are stretched, hearing about employee benefits can be reassuring.

Incentivise employees
Cutting budgets shouldn’t mean cuttings rewards. There are plenty of low and no-cost incentives that bosses can use to ensure staff still feel valued. An afternoon off, praise at a meeting or a personal thank you note are all inexpensive ways of showing appreciation.
      
Think about the bigger picture
Profit isn’t the only thing that motivates employees. Meeting regularly with employees to talk about their jobs, what motivates them and facilitating their personal development are good ways of showing them there is a long-term vision for them within the organisation.

CareerOne.com.au, October, 2011.


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