Smile, you’re at work

A cynical workforce can devastate your business as surely as any economic downturn.

According to Gemma Houltby, editorial director of corporate publisher Summersault Communications, the problem often begins with a lack of communication between management and employees.

‘It’s a major contributor towards disenchanted staff,’ says Houltby. ‘It’s very important that staff feel there is a sense of community across the business and that they are included in proceedings, so they are interested and engaged in developments.’

Better communication will, if nothing else, keep the gossips quieter. ‘People will always be naturally interested in the company they work for, but there will always be a natural paranoia too, so you need to make sure that you communicate bad news as much as you do the good,’ continues Houltby.

Just how you deliver that message is as important as the message itself. Too often, explains Chris Barrington, founder of employee engagement specialist Blue Goose, management approach their staff as if they are people to be sold to.

He says: ‘If you feel you’re being marketed to by your managers, you’re likely to be less responsive, as that kind of spin can make you very suspicious.

‘Hearing news face to face is better than reading about it in a newsletter or email. People respond to the opportunity to challenge decisions and influence the outcome because it gives them an emotional attachment to the business.’

A go-silent approach, on the other hand, will speak volumes about how a management team values its employees, leading to hearsay and misinformation. ‘More companies are realising that by encouraging a sense of ownership in their company, motivation is more easily achieved,’ says Barrington.

Listening to staff and showing you care will cast you in a favourable light, but remuneration is always an issue too. Nick Randall, chief executive of Portrait Software, says: ‘You have to be as honest as you can. Even when money is tight, it’s still important to reward those employees who are working their fingers to the bone.’

When all is said and done, basic decency and common sense should be enough to keep the dark clouds from gathering. Says Randall: ‘I don’t think people are motivated solely by money; often they are more appreciative of being told “Thank you”. However, we still keep money in the budget for pay rises and staff entertainment, and we still have share options and rewards based on performance.’

Marc Barber

Marc Barber

Marc was editor of GrowthBusiness from 2006 to 2010. He specialised in writing about entrepreneurs, private equity and venture capital, mid-market M&A, small caps and high-growth businesses.

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