The Work-Life Dialogue: Maintain Good Employee Morale in a Bad Recession

In the current recession, everyone knows that employees are feeling the stress. Some live in daily fear of job loss. And because sales are lagging, many workers won’t be receiving significant cash rewards this year. So, how can you maintain good morale in a bad recession?

We asked Wharton professor Stew Friedman, how employers at small and mid-size companies can help their employees keep good morale. Friedman is the founding director at Wharton’s Leadership Program a and the Work/Life Integration Project, and also author of Total Leadership: Be a better leader, have a richer life (Harvard Business, 2008). Friedman suggests initiating a work-life dialogue with small groups of employees: Begin by asking two key questions:

What matters most to you? “Ask a couple simple questions designed to elicit from people what is going on in their lives that is important to them,” says Friedman. “Ask people to write and then talk,” he recommends. Some people want to spend more time with their families; some may want to get themselves in better physical shape. Others, simply more flexibility in their schedules. Their visions should be practical, reasonable and benefit all four of life’s domains: personal life, work life, community life and spiritual life.

How can we make it happen? “Once you have a better understanding about what is really important to your employees, ask what small adjustments we could try over the next month or two that would enable you to better fit the different parts of your life together,” says Friedman. For example, one employee wants to get out of the workplace and take a long walk every day. For another it’s a power nap, or getting home early for his or her kids, or training for a marathon or writing a sonata. “Ask how would it benefit all four domains,” says Friedman. The employee may tell you a walk will make them healthier and calmer. This improves the quality of life at home and at work. Plus, the extra energy enables the person to be more involved in their community.

“Make a business case for how this experiment will be good both for them and for you,” Friedman advises. He says employees will be highly motivated to make it work because it is good for them and for you. Exercise, family time and other activities that improve the quality of an individual’s personal life will improve the quality of their work life as well – especially when the boss is driving the effort. “Be innovative,” Friedman encourages. “Experiment to get four-way wins in work/career, home/family, community/society and mind/body/spirit.”

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