How can this man and carrots help employers and employees through 2009?

HR Summit speaker, Chester Elton on whether the recession means an end to employee rewards and encouragement from managers

It doesn’t take a hard-nosed economist to know things have changed dramatically over the past twelve months. Just this time last year, confidence and employment levels were high, the economy was doing everything it should and ‘sub-prime’ mortgage loans were a small and purely American problem. Today, the whole world is seeing a very different story.

In Singapore, that has meant some very tough times. The current technical recession has caused retrenchments in a number of industries and more are likely as the year unfolds. Those of us still employed can dampen expectations of pay rises or any large-scale bonuses – the money just isn’t there anymore.
But what about other forms of recognition? Does the slowdown mean an end to smaller rewards and encouragement from managers?

Not if those managers are smart, says international speaker Chester Elton. Rather, the celebrated author of The Carrot Principle believes now is the time to step up encouragement of employees to ensure they remain engaged with their work and are able to play their part in the huge challenges facing every business today.

Importantly, increased recognition doesn’t have to involve an increased overdraft. As a special guest plenary speaker at the upcoming HR Summit, Elton will explain in detail how encouraging employees is something that all of us inherently know how to do. His presentation, entitled Everything You Need to Know about Recognition You Learned from Your Mum, will show how simple rewards and active encouragement could be the difference between success and failure for businesses in the downturn.

Just as your mother may have swapped television time for efforts around the house, so employers can reap the rewards of, well, rewards. “We grew up with our parents giving us encouragement,” Elton says. “But somehow we go to the business place and we just kind of forget these things.”

You don’t need to spend a lot of money to make an employee feel valued. “We find that a handwritten thank-you note, which costs next to nothing and takes just a couple of minutes, is something people really love to get. It’s far more effective than an e-mail, especially if it’s timely and specific. It should say, not just ‘way to go!’, but ‘you did a terrific job on that project’. We’ve seen people who are so pleased to get these that they keep them for years.”

Other ideas that can have a lasting impact are just as cheap and simple. Remembering children’s birthdays, for example, can really go a long way to cementing an employee’s goodwill and enthusiasm.
“There’s more of an emotional attachment,” Elton says. “If you do something nice for me, that’s great and I feel that as an employee. But if you do something for my family – then now you’re part of my family.”

Recognition is also a chance for managers to get creative. Elton says there is unlimited scope for what managers can do to reward their staff but most just look for a commitment of time and encouragement from the boss. “How about - you hit your target numbers, I’ll wash your car,” he suggests.

Positive comments and rewards should be “frequent, specific and timely”. It’s no good saving praise for the end of the week, the quarter or even the end-of-year review. By that time it could sound insincere or forced. Likewise, no one wants to accept praise for general tasks. It is more likely to have an impact when it relates to a specific task, project or customer.

These sorts of ideas are not just about fun and games in the office. Rather, they can have a real and positive impact on a business’ bottom line. “Happier employees mean happier customers,” says Elton. “And that means you get better business results.”

With the downturn now in full effect, that takes on even greater importance. But sadly, many leaders can see a recession as a time to cut back on recognition or ignore their employees. That sort of panic can create a downward spiral that ends up with the organisation in hot water.

“Great managers know that their teams have the energy, ideas and commitment to get the company out of troubled waters. After all they are the same people that made the organisation strong in the first place,” Elton says. “But when managers shut down – when they stop communicating and encouraging their people – it sends a message: brush up on your resume.”

Elton also has some advice for workers – who shouldn’t expect praise and rewards for little or no effort. The downturn means both sides of the equation, managers and their staff, will need to have their A-game in play. “It’s all about your attitude – you should be the one that’s upbeat and enthusiastic,” he tells employees. “If you can be that spark, it goes a long way to fire-proofing your job.”

Elton says modern work relationships are still based on carrots and sticks. But research shows a clear preference for the kinder approach. And for virtually no money, and just a small amount of time, both sides of the management divide can employ more carrots in their day-to-day working relationship. That’s what will see businesses through one of the toughest downturns in recent history.


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