Motivation and morale in difficult times: How to keep morale up during down times.

31 May, 2003 By: Michael Dakan

We are living through difficult times for many people, and the general anxiety level is high. There are concerns about the state of the economy and unemployment, about violence and terrorism alerts, and about armed conflict in the Middle East and the threat of additional warfare elsewhere in the world.

These conditions create a challenge to business managers who must keep work moving and production going in the face of internal and external distractions. The CAD manager is no exception. Motivation and morale are issues even in the best of times. They become even bigger problems when the economy slows down.


In the February 2003 issue of Cadalyst, we talked about getting involved in your company's formal performance review process. This is usually a major component of a company's employee motivation program. If it involves profit sharing, stock, or other forms of firm ownership, it can encourage people to feel like they have a stake in the company. This attitude helps them maintain positive motivation to get over the rough spots.

But when things slow down economically, profit sharing and bonuses usually take a hit. People can be very disappointed when an expected annual bonus is not forthcoming or is less than it was in the past. Employees may also perceive the firm's ownership a little differently if suddenly the firm isn't very profitable for a year or two. However, most employees usually have the maturity and experience to realize that most companies of all kinds go through difficult periods.

As a CAD manager, you may not be involved much in establishing your firm's overall employee motivation strategies, but you can still make an important contribution, especially toward team morale. In fact, daily experience and interactions may well be more important than longer-term "big-picture" factors in determining employee satisfaction and productivity in times of high stress and general

One of the simplest ways to maintain morale is to make sure that people feel valued and appreciated.

One of the simplest but most effective ways to maintain motivation and morale in difficult circumstances is to make sure that people feel valued and appreciated, and that their extra efforts are recognized and acknowledged in other ways.


Team building is important to any organization where people must work cooperatively with others in the company to accomplish projects and daily tasks. Though this term is often associated with organized activities such as company retreats and group exercises, it also encompasses more mundane daily efforts to help team members get to know one another and to develop a cooperative working spirit.

If your company is organized along departmental lines and you belong to a well-defined department with specific tasks and objectives, most team-building activity probably occurs at this level. Depending on the size of your department, you may think about ways to foster teamwork within the entire department, or you may need to break it down in some way into smaller units of people.

Companies that organize work teams around project needs benefit from closer cooperation among those team members, who may be a diverse group of people with varying skills and experience who will work as a team only for the relatively short duration of a single project. In this case, teams may benefit by coming together early and often in the life of a project to get know one another quickly and learn how to work together.

In any case, bringing small teams together as a group to discuss common problems, solutions, and preferred working methods, and to establish an esprit de corps, is a good thing. Occasional lunches out to a local restaurant, or catered within the office, can help create an informal atmosphere that mixes business and relaxation.

Other outings, such as visiting project sites and attending product demonstrations, expositions, and educational seminars, also bring teams together. After-hours activities such as participation in a company or departmental softball team or other group activity can be effective, rewarding, and fun. Any sort of activity that serves to identify individuals as members of a cooperative group effort-literally as a member of the team in a context that's not directly related to work activities-forms bonds that directly influence cooperative work efforts.


If your firm anticipates downsizing, or has already gone through a round or two of layoffs, you face additional issues. Few workplace problems cause people more concern and anxiety than the possible loss of employment, especially when alternative job opportunities seem limited or nonexistent. You may not be able to ease people's fears in this regard, but you must be as sensitive and supportive as possible.

People who remain employed after a round of layoffs may need special care and understanding. Not only are they anxious about the security of their own jobs, but they likely face additional job pressure as they take on more tasks to make up for the loss of other personnel. You still have deadlines to meet, so you may need to ask people to work harder and put in extra hours to get the work out.

You may expect employees who survive job cuts to automatically be grateful and willing to put in any extra effort that's needed, but it may not be that simple. People may have family or other outside obligations that limit the amount of extra time they can spend at work. You also need to be aware of "survivor's syndrome," a psychological condition where workers feel anxiety, guilt, and uncertainty about surviving a round of cuts while other competent people, some of whom might also be close friends, were laid off.

One of the things you can do to ease anxiety over job security is to make sure people are busy, so they don't suffer much idle time to

Tasks may stretch out to fill time as people try to appear busy.
spend worrying about a light workload and wondering if their job is next. This may seem easy to do in the face of vacant positions and understaffing, but you may find it hard to keep things moving smoothly when you have to adjust staff assignments and schedules as a result of downsizing. Tasks may also stretch out to fill idle time as people try to appear busy even as real productivity suffers.

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