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How can I sustain morale amid prolonged and serious cost-cutting?

by Jeremy Bullmore
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Q: How can I sustain morale amid prolonged and serious cost-cutting? I'm responsible for a department of 12, originally a team of 18. The past year has seen severe belt-tightening. There's been a pay freeze too and I'm worrying that goodwill among my team is running dry. This last month I've had to turn down two interesting projects that would have boosted morale because of the costs involved. Taking my staff out for Friday night drinks is hitting me hard too. Help!

A: Friday night drinks are fine when they celebrate success. When they're seen as a substitute for growth and progress, they can be a bit counter-productive. There's absolutely no substitute for a sense of achievement.

So the best I can suggest is you follow the example of Sir Ernest Rutherford, the father of nuclear physics. When he was galvanising the staff of his small and underfunded laboratory, he chose as his rallying cry: 'We haven't any money so we've got to think!'

Split your people into three teams of four. Set them the challenge of inventing a project that demands maximum inventiveness and minimum cash. Arrange for competitive presentations to be made after work. Think up silly prizes: cardboard medals, chocolate coins, crackers with jokes in. Buy a few bottles of screwcap wine.

There's a very strong chance that genuinely valuable thoughts will come out of it and the effect on morale should be tangible.

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