If Hiring Slows How do You Boost Morale?

small business

Manpower issued its Manpower Employment Outlook Survey yesterday (March 13, 2007) concluding that employers plan to tone down hiring activity during the second quarter of 2007:

“A look at the last three quarters of survey data suggests that employers are shifting into neutral when it comes to hiring,” said Jeffrey A. Joerres, Chairman & CEO of Manpower Inc. “Companies expect to coast through the next three months without much growth in the way of staff. It is a subtle change that may not yet be perceived in the job market, however it is a break from the three plus years of nearly unchanged hiring plans.”

Of the 14,000 U.S. employers surveyed, 28% expect to increase payrolls during the second quarter of 2007, while 7% expect to trim staff levels. Fifty-nine percent expect no change in the hiring pace, and 6% are undecided about their hiring plans.

The seasonally adjusted survey results show that employers are more likely to maintain or reduce staffing activity rather than ramp-up hiring.

Forbes.com called and asked me to comment in their new Tip of the Day feature on how small business owners and managers can keep up morale if workloads start increasing or layoffs have to occur if a hiring slowdown occurs as the Manpower Survey suggests. I noted a secret weapon that small businesses have: the intimacy of the workplace.

By intimacy, I don’t mean romantic intimacy. Rather, I mean the intimacy that comes from working closely with people who are your neighbors, friends, even family members — very often the case in small businesses.

In a smaller workplace you tend to have closer relationships with the people who work there. You may socialize outside of the workplace. You get to know people better because there simply are fewer people to know in a small workplace than in a larger organization.

That means you are in a better position to listen closely and study the reactions of your employees, and begin to get a sense of what motivates the people who work for you. And that is the key to understanding what will make the employee feel positive and enthusiastic, versus negative and burdened, in times of hiring pull backs or job cuts. Know what motivates that particular individual.

The concept of different motivators for different people was actually written up in a Harvard Business School Working Knowledge article that I have bookmarked and referred to many times. The article notes that employees define how they see their jobs based on one of 8 factors and gives quite a few helpful examples. If you can identify which of those factors appeals most to the employee, you can figure out how to appeal to that individual.

Like most things in business, figuring out what motivates your employees is easier said than done, however. To some business owners and managers, insight into what motivates employees comes intuitively. Most of us are not so gifted though. We have to make a conscious effort to figure this out. We have to think about each person individually. We have to engage in discussion. We have to identify what matters most to him or her based on clues in what the employee talks about, what upsets the employee, what excites the employee, and so on.

But in the end, if you can figure out what drives an individual employee, you are in a better position to communicate positively with the person about issues facing the business. For instance, if the employee is motivated by responsibility and career advancement, then he or she might see a hiring pullback as an opportunity to step forward and take on a bigger role. On the other hand, employees driven primarily by a need for security are going to want reassurance that their jobs are not going away — that’s what they care about.

By the way, this technique even applies to interactions with business partners and independent contractors.

Finally, I want to state that by discussing this issue I am not suggesting the economy is headed for bad times or that layoffs are imminent — not at all. As the Manpower Survey notes, the change is subtle at this point.

Anita Campbell Anita Campbell is the Founder, CEO and Publisher of Small Business Trends and has been following trends in small businesses since 2003. She is the owner of BizSugar, a social media site for small businesses.