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Keeping Employees Engaged During an Economic Downturn

Retention is important in any business, but during difficult times, it can mean substantial savings to a company of any size. Employees that have already been trained, know the organization's values and mission and have working relationships with staff in place are more likely to keep a business afloat when seas are rough. Not only are they able to add additional tasks with very little – or sometimes no – retraining, but they also have a stake in the company's continued success.

However, overburdening staff with unrealistic demands is guaranteed to backfire. Employees are much more willing to go the extra mile when they feel that management recognizes and appreciates their sacrifices and understands their potential anxieties. The belief among experts is that when the positive climate is stronger, people work harder and are more motivated.

Marji McClure explains in her article Engagement as a Path to Retention "Experts agree that executives must charge themselves with creating a culture in which employees feel supported and nurtured – one that engages them and creates company loyalty, giving employees more than one reason to stay."

"After the six-month anniversary, drivers of employee engagement shift," says Kyle LaMalfa, best practices manager and loyalty expert for Allegiance Inc., a feedback management software provider. "During the second phase of employment, employees need to feel like they are achieving something meaningful in their work and that their manager has realistic expectations about what they can achieve."

During these tough economic times when financial perks are being cut from budgets, some employers are turning to recognition as a way in which to keep employees happy, says Eric Mosley, CEO of Globoforce, a provider of employee recognition solutions based in Massachusetts. "Recognition is a low-cost way of getting that return. You're filling a gap and boosting their feelings toward the company."

Mosley says that the company is seeing a surging interest in recognition programs. "Over the past three years, we've seen recognition grow as an important tool in HR, and in the past months, we've seen the rate increase even more," says Mosley. "In a recession, the first thing that gets hit is productivity." As people worry about the economy and the stability of their jobs, recognition programs can help alleviate some of that worry.

Recognition does not need to be costly – in fact – it can be free. A kind, appreciative word from a superior or a special "jeans and tee" day to boost morale cost an organization nothing. A simple greeting card with a personally written message of gratitude works wonders. Affordable instant awards that can be given at the spur of the moment show that management is aware of – and cares about – the work and extra effort individuals put into the company.

Keeping employees engaged via recognition makes sense for everyone involved. Since there's nothing to lose, why not try to utilize some of these techniques today?

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