Tips for retaining employees during a slow economy

Margins are thinning, budget targets are missed and customers are putting their orders on hold. This slower economy has everyone spooked. Maybe you are even laying off employees—those very employees you worked so hard to recruit. So how to do hang on to the rest of your employees when the threat of more cuts has everyone dusting off their resumes?

Here are a few (cheap or free) strategies that will lift spirits and retain employees even in a slow economy:

Pile on the recognition.

Create a "Wall of Fame" to post employee photos and accomplishments. Have a camera handy to capture the action. If a customer sends a letter of praise don’t hide it in a file, slap it up for everyone to see. A win for one can feel like a win for all.

Have a "Wizard of the Week" award like CompuWorks, a computer systems integration company in Pittsfield, Mass. It is given to the employee who goes beyond the call of duty. Employees nominate peers and the reigning Wizard chooses the winner. The award is a quirky statuette, a book and a $50 gift certificate. Team incentives are based on operational improvements, and accomplishments are applauded in staff meetings. (At Joan Lloyd & Associates, Inc. we have our "corporate tiara" but that’s another story…)

Send a note of thanks to an employee’s home where it is sure to be shared with family members. Including a gift certificate for a dinner for two is another nice touch.

Have a picnic in the park for your department. It’s a great change of scenery and a wonderful way to shake off the moody blues.

Time to flex

When we asked employees what they really want in a recent online poll at, they told us loud and clear: flexibility. In fact, many said they would rather have more free time than more money. Women and young people in particular want more control over their time.

Rather than lay people off, one company got input from their employees and came up with an alternative: everyone is working a four-day week. Rather than see their coworkers lose their jobs, everyone is pulling together and making a small sacrifice to keep everyone employed.

Some companies have implemented a Time Bank, where employees are given a number of hours each month to spend as they wish: sick time off, personal days or vacation. In one company, employees came to the rescue of a fellow worker who needed more time off to undergo cancer treatments. They donated some of their hours. Now that’s team spirit.

Involve employees in decision making.

Start a "Fun Committee" to plan creative, involving activities that will make work a place to work hard and play hard.

Create an Advisory Board to address pressing business issues. Make a portion of the Board a group of employees who are elected by their departments.

Teach employees about the company financials. Instead of "Show me the money," employees will start asking, "Show me what the money means." In each department, break down the financial report to numbers that make sense. Start tracking numbers in each department and show people how they can make a difference.


Yes, I know, you’re sick of hearing it. But if you know it makes sense, what are you doing about it? "Communicating" does not mean an "open door policy." That’s a passive cop out. Communicating means aggressively seeking out opportunities to let people know how the company is doing, asking for input and thanking people for their contributions. It also means sharing the bad news along with the good. Telling employees straight can mobilize the troops and build trust that comes from being talked to like an adult.

Have an Intranet chat with the chief. Open it up to anonymous employee questions and post the answers for dialogue and debate.

Host quarterly sales meetings for all employees, so they learn what’s happening with customers. Buy pizza so more people will show up. Engage the audience with easy to understand information and get them involved in the discussion and brainstorming how to increase sales.

Encourage managers to have team meetings with their staff each week. Create active forums where employees can voice opinions and work together on problems and you won’t have attendance problems or complaints about too many meetings.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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