What's your Problem?

How do I keep expenses down but morale up?

by Jeremy Bullmore
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Q: Like many managers, I've been asked by the board to cut frivolous expenditure - no more taxis, expensive lunches or free fruit, and we've also cut down on flexible hours because, without temporary staff, we need bums on seats. Most of my team have been understanding about the cuts we've made but a couple have been very negative, and bad feeling is spreading. It's likely that further savings will have to be made in order to avoid taking more serious decisions - the last thing I want to do is to make a redundancy. How do I keep morale up?

A: As nuclear physicist Lord Ernest Rutherford said a hundred years ago: 'We haven't any money so we've got to think.' Teams that have become accustomed to beneficent management dishing out treats become sulky and resentful when lean times come around and the treats are curtailed. Much the best way to deal with this is to foster an atmosphere of improvisation, imagination and above all participation.

Take the office party. If the company can no longer afford a posh dinner in a hotel somewhere, don't just downsize to some function room in a pub. Pick half-a-dozen open-minded individuals - but include at least one of the stroppy ones - and take on the project as if you were staging an in-house musical. Once you've got it rolling, let others take it over: that's essential. The aim: to create a party at least as much fun as a bought-in party - but at a fraction of the cost.

They'll find some odd, unused location; split the responsibility for providing food; think up silly games. Everybody brings at least one bottle. It should be a gas. Apply the same principle throughout your realm, and you'll find all the best people respond wonderfully. And the moaners will fall silent.

Jeremy Bullmore is a former creative director and chairman of J Walter Thompson London. His book Another Bad Day at the Office? is published by Penguin at £6.99. Address your problem to Jeremy Bullmore at: editorial@managementtoday.com. Regrettably, no correspondence can be entered into.

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