DETROIT — The great lesson from the Great Recession isn't necessarily about bottom line dollars and cents. • When 1,400 chief financial officers were asked about the greatest lesson they've learned during this deep economic downturn, the No. 1 response was the need to "place greater focus on maintaining employee morale."
It was the top answer chosen by 27 percent of those interviewed in the January survey for California-based Robert Half Management Resources. Other key lessons were: taking decisive measures more quickly to avoid multiple rounds of cost-cutting (22 percent) and keeping enough staff to maintain productivity (22 percent).
As these top bosses noted, sustaining employee morale is vital because once the economy revs up again, unhappy staffers may be ill-suited to take advantage of improving markets, or worse, leave the company for better jobs.
The survey results complement others that show employees want to feel like their work makes a difference, either to the company or to society. The notion that employees want to feel valued for their contributions also underlines the appeal of the new CBS series, Undercover Boss.
Joel Manby, the Michigan native and former auto company executive featured recently on Undercover Boss, starts his workdays by composing thank-you notes to employees he encountered the day before who impressed him with their efforts and ideas.
They are handwritten notes, not e-mails. "That really breaks through the clutter," says Manby.
It's a habit he picked up from one of his role models, Jack Herschend, who hired him as CEO for Herschend Family Entertainment, which operates theme parks and aquariums.
"He taught me to spend the first 20 minutes of your day writing thank-you notes," says Manby, who grew up in Battle Creek, Mich., and helped launch Saturn and run Saab for General Motors.
On the episode, he was incognito as a street washer, ticket taker and waiter. Manby encountered employees committed to doing good work, but struggling with personal hardships. Inspired by what he discovered, Manby's company has beefed up programs for scholarships, child care and emergency assistance.
Keeping up employee morale, says Manby, helps his company retain good employees who do great work.
Manby didn't need a survey to tell him that.