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.

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Create and communicate a vision for the future

IT leaders should focus their teams on the future, not on layoffs and other past cost-cutting measures, says management consultant Jon Gordon, author of The Shark and the Goldfish: Positive Ways to Thrive During Waves of Change.

One good way to do that is to craft a "unifying vision."

"Talk about where you're going," Gordon says. "Start with your North Star. Rally everyone to that vision: Here's our goal, and here's where we're going as a team and a company. And then invite everyone to partake in that. Meet individually with people to ask how they can contribute to that vision and how, as a manager, you can help them contribute to that vision."

Such actions empower individual workers, Gordon says. And that kind of empowerment translates into a feeling of purpose, which he says can jumpstart productivity.

Help workers prioritize

Employees wrestling with increased workloads due to layoffs and hiring freezes often have a hard time focusing. "Workers are flailing around. They just feel so inundated that they're bouncing from task to task," Rosen says. To counteract that condition, Rosen advises, managers should meet with employees individually to help them prioritize what needs to be done.

Before that can happen, managers themselves need to clarify their own priorities and demands on their resources. For example, if you're staffed only to take on projects A, B and C, but your boss wants projects D and E done, too, you need to think about ways to accomplish it all, Rosen says, by asking for temporary help, extending deadlines or instructing workers to focus on the elements of a given project that will deliver the biggest bang.

Promote fun

Remember the perks offered by tech start-ups and dot-com companies during the boom years a decade ago? Those employers knew that technology workers were attracted to companies that liked to have fun. That's still true today, Nelson says. "If I were advising an IT group on this, the first thing I'd say is, you've got to have fun," he says.

He points to strategies successfully used by his wife, a computer software manager who oversees 15 people at a company that underwent layoffs. She uses low-cost events, such as dressing up for Halloween and having a chili bake-off, to give workers on-the-job stress relief.

"IT people are sometimes the nerds in the group. And their sense of humor might be a little sophomoric. But you should run with it, because they'd rather do a fun prank than go out and golf, I guarantee that," Nelson says.

Office-based fun, even just during a short break, can provide a respite from stress, refreshing and re-energizing workers, which in turn makes them better able to tackle the multiple projects in front of them.

Dole out small incentives

Big bonuses -- or any bonuses -- might not be practical or even possible today, but IT executives and management consultants alike say that small incentives given in recognition for outstanding performance can provide incentive to workers across the board.

It could be a $50 gift card given to a worker who stayed late to fix a problem, or a catered lunch for a team that went all out to finish a project on deadline, says Rosen, who is past president of the IBM user group SHARE.

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