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Keeping employee spirits up in a downturn

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Monday, December 01, 2008

It’s not often the relocation of a business to a smaller office space is credited for improving employee morale.

But when Rose City Mortgage Specialists in Portland did just that in October, it helped reduce the overhead costs of a company in the hard-hit real estate industry. “[Employees] feel like at least we are not going out of business,” says Renee Spears, president and CEO of the company.

Understandably, many workers are worried about the health of the economy, their 401k plans and job security. Maintaining a positive spirit in the workplace during a recession can be challenging.

Business and human resource leaders agree that transparency is one way to maintain employee morale in tough times. As daring as it might sound to share financial information on the well-being of your company, the more an employee knows the more empowered they feel.

“Employees need to know if we are making money or not making money,” says Ken Madden, a vice president at Madden Industrial Craftsmen, a private industrial and construction staffing firm in Beaverton.

The notion of a private company opening up its books to employees is relatively new, but one that is increasingly necessary and justifiable, says Madden.

There are always the standby employee-recognition programs and gift-card giveaways, though ongoing communication by top executives and seeking employee input on ways to deal with some budget issues are the most effective, says Tom Kelly, a senior vice president at the HR and management consulting firm Ameriben Solutions/IEC Group in Portland. The company’s chief financial officer recently sent an email to 220 employees explaining the firm’s financial status.

To reduce stress at the workplace, once a week Spears holds a yoga session with an instructor at the office for employees. To cut transportation costs and the stress of commuting, each employee is allowed to work from home one day a week.

Heading a small company, Spears knows when morale is waning with one of her 15 employees. When one of her loan officers was having a difficult day and feeling low, Spears gave the agent the day off and offered personal words of encouragement.

Madden also knows he can’t survive the downturn with bummed-out employees. So he gives out Portland Blazer tickets to employees, one of the hottest seats in town.                                       


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