Clear Communication Can Lift Employee Morale

By Robyn Heinz | January 12, 2009
When economic times call for difficult measures, the ethanol industry may not be exempt. Media coverage of plant closures and bankruptcies has only heightened how managers must deal with employee morale, or in some cases, a lack of it.

Today's economy is challenging but managers can find solace in knowing how to effectively communicate with various levels of staff about potential changes. If your plant is facing potential layoffs or financial change, there are steps you can take to help stave off low employee morale.

No matter the size of the plant, upper management is ultimately responsible for guiding an organization during tough times. Production employees will look to these leaders for specific language and direction when times are tough. Every employee may feel financial stress at the workplace but especially those watching their retirement account or dealing with the post-holiday stress of paying credit card bills.

When employees feel financial pressure outside their workplace in addition to their job, it creates a feeling of less control on their own personal well being. People wondering if they'll even have a job tomorrow will not be as productive at work as those who've been told as much information as possible about job security and about the company's management plan during an economic crisis.

While leadership can't tell every employee full details of the plant's financial situation, keep in mind that in the absence of real information, employees will create their own. Once this happens, the information is subject to each person's interpretation. Effective communication from the top down can help mitigate gossip and ease the fear of the unknown.

Being open and honest with employees shows you understand their concerns and are trying to give them as much information as possible.

One way to ensure employees are in the company loop is to specifically ask for their feedback. For example, consider staff ideas on ways to operate more efficiently, reduce waste, cut non-operating costs or reduce overtime. Empowering employees gives them an opportunity to truly offer input on what may happen with their job. In general, people fear the unknown and morale could be low because of what employees perceive they don't know or can't control.

In addition to open communication, employees may be able to take advantage of company benefits including an Employee Assistance Program, credit counseling service, personal financial planning and budgeting program or prepaid legal services. These benefits can provide employees with someone to talk to in confidence about their financial situation, stress and uncertainties.

Whether low oil and gas prices continue to affect ethanol blending contracts or the impacts of high-priced corn linger, the ethanol industry has hurdles to jump.

Robyn Heinz heads Kennedy & Coe LLC's human resources consulting services. Reach her at (316) 685-0222.