How to re-energize your weary workforce

After weathering layoffs or pay cuts, your IT staffers may need some help getting motivated. Try these strategies for employee renewal.

In his many years in IT, Robert Rosen has had to lay off employees, implement hiring and pay freezes and oversee other budget-cutting measures that impact staff.

And, like other executives in similar positions, Rosen, the CIO at the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) in Bethesda, Md., knows the toll it can take on workers. Morale can sink, he says, and with it, productivity.

At first, most workers in companies that have weathered layoffs and pay cuts are relieved to have a job at all, says Bob Nelson, Ph.D., author of Keeping Up in a Down Economy: What the Best Companies Do To Get Results in Tough Times.

But then reality sets in. Employees realize they're doing more and working longer hours without the hope of a raise or sometimes even the opportunity to use earned vacation time. "Initially people will suck it up," says Nelson, who is also president of Nelson Motivation Inc. in San Diego, "but they do that only for so long."

When that happens, weariness can set in, and productivity can suffer. Quantum Workplace, an Omaha-based workplace analytics firm, found that the domestic workforce is already showing signs of fatigue. The firm reported in January 2009 that 66% of 210 U.S. firms surveyed reported a decrease in employee engagement in fall 2008 as compared to fall 2007.

"In its purest form, 'employee engagement' refers to the eagerness employees have for achieving company goals," explains Quantum Workplace president Greg Harris. The survey found that, in general, employees were exerting less discretionary effort, felt less loyalty to their firm, and were less likely to speak highly of their employer.

Specifically, employee perceptions of manager effectiveness, trust in senior leadership and employee recognition were all lower on average in late 2008. The depth and breadth of the decline -- affecting all company-size categories, industries, and position levels within organizations -- led Quantum Workplace to conclude that "external economic factors impacted engagement scores."

In other words, the recession is dragging employees down. Problem is, for many IT shops, now is a bad time to experience a slowdown in productivity. Demands on IT are accelerating as companies gear up for a recovery but don't yet have the resources to spend on overtime or new hires.

In short, as an IT manager, you need your employees to be firing on all cylinders, yet they and you are likely feeling both cash-strapped and overworked. What to do?

Rosen and other seasoned IT leaders and consultants have learned how to counteract such slumps with policies and practices that can boost productivity in weary workers without breaking the budget. Here are their top strategies.

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