Dump the slump: 14 ways to energize staff

A new poll shows that one in every six employees says the recession has actually made them less motivated on the job. And many others admit they’re distracted at work by layoff fears, 401(k) anxiety and personal financial pressures.

That’s not good news at a time when you need to squeeze every ounce of productivity from your employees.

Advice: Don’t take the “they’re lucky they have a job” stance. That won’t motivate employees to work harder and maximize profits.

Instead, use the following tips to motivate shell-shocked employees:

1. Inject a challenge. What’s the No. 1 motivator for employees to work their hardest? The answer is challenging work, according to a survey by the American Productivity & Quality Center.

2. Recognize successes along the way. Everyone likes to know when they’ve done something well. Make your employees feel important every day. Show enthusiasm for their work. (One study said more than half of U.S. employees feel their managers fail to make them feel important as individuals.)

3. Encourage risk taking. Given enough freedom to take prudent risks, employees at all levels will come up with good ideas.

4. Stop setting foggy goals. People want to know what you expect of them. Give directions in simple language. Explain precisely what’s involved and how it applies to the big picture. Also, let employees know you trust them and be honest in return.

5. Take an interest in employees’ careers and lives. Counsel employees on how they can advance their careers and add value to the organization. Become a mentor. Also, show genuine interest in who the employee is as a person.

6. Realize that money isn’t everything. Most studies show that employees choose factors like recognition for a good job, personal development and challenging work as more important than salary.

7. Don’t store up critiques like a squirrel. Inform employees when they perform well and when they don’t. Tell them immediately. Don’t save all your complaints for one session. Also, don’t criticize employees in front of others. That will discourage innovation and risk taking.

8. Keep communication lines open. Employees crave clear, ongoing, understandable and unambiguous communication. Give employees information before, not after, important events.

9. Be consistent. Workers can learn to live with any boss if they know what to expect. If you keep them guessing, you will keep them looking … for another job. Also, be impartial and don’t play favorites. Discrimination destroys morale and opens the door to lawsuits.

10. Know how to say “no.” There will be plenty of times you can’t be Mr./Ms. Nice Guy. Sometimes, you have to say no. Explain the reason, so it doesn’t seem arbitrary. Make sure employees know you gave their requests or suggestions a fair hearing.

11. Turn experienced employees into mentors. Long-term workers can serve as great mentors and trainers for new employees. Set up a mentor program. Ask them to help develop new training sessions or projects.

12. Add to the job. Consider increasing employees’ responsibilities (and challenges) if their jobs have become too routine.

13. Shake up teams. Sometimes pairing workers with new colleagues provides a spark that’s been missing. Even changing seating arrangements can light a fire.

14. Ask. Don’t try to be a mind reader. Approach employees to find out what they need to keep their jobs challenging and interesting.