Maintaining Project Team Morale During the Slow Recovery: The Leadership Challenge

Downsizing peaked about a year ago and the economy has been limping along since.  Yes we avoided a financial crisis, but the turnaround that many expected has not occurred.  Today, unemployment hovers near ten percent and jobs are difficult to find as companies are reluctant to add workers until the signs of a recovery are clear.

For many of those in the workforce who have been lucky enough to hold onto their jobs, morale has suffered.  While a few companies have done an excellent job of helping those left behind cope with the pressures in the workplace, the working environment at many companies has suffered.  With little choice, many workers have just hunkered down promising themselves that they would find another job when the employment picture brightened.

But things are not getting better and the promise of a strong recovery, common in most post-war recessions, is not materializing.  Most economics, including the Nobel prizewinner Paul Krugman, are confident that the current job situation is likely to last at least another two to three years.

This is certainly frustrating for those in the workforce who feel trapped in jobs they no longer enjoy.  And, as the recovery lingers, more and more are falling into this category.  

Management’s challenge is to intervene and do what it can to reverse this situation.
Here are ten suggestions.

1.    Management needs to determine if a large percentage of the workforce feels trapped. This can be discovered through the use of anonymous questionnaires.

2.    Any temptation to maintain a hard line on the workforce or on those who admit to being trapped can be counterproductive. Negative motivation can succeed in the short run but is seldom successful in the long run.

3.    The issue needs to be addressed honestly and openly with employees. They need to know that you understand their frustration and that you are willing to work with them as best you can within the context of a fragile economy and a challenging market environment. This can be uncomfortable within some organizational cultures, but employees will respect the honesty.

4.    The frequency of communication with the workforce must be increase. Communication reduces anxiety and can stabilize, if not improve, morale.  Don’t depend on top management or HR to do this. Project managers must do it.

5.    Encourage personal growth. On-line classes in project management, even company led seminars can be helpful in motivating staff.

6.    Work with the PM team to explore new approaches and methodologies. The prospect of change is always invigorating.

7.    Search for new project opportunities. Involve the entire team.

8.    Reward good performance.

9.    Ignore the temptation, especially during tough times, to make all the decisions. Share the management process. This can be the centerpiece in the process of developing a high-performance team.

10.    Resist the temptation to criticize the company, top-management, the project management office, or even the project sponsor. Yes, these are tough times but it makes no sense to dwell on them.

Depending on the culture of the organization, some of these suggestions may be difficult to implement, but ignoring the difficulties of those who feel trapped and have few options may be an inappropriate response that could jeopardize the long run prospects of the project.

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