Monday, Nov. 2, 2009 | 2 a.m.
- Nevada’s jobless rate second in nation after Michigan (10-21-2009)
- Report: Nevada businesses lead country in bills past due (10-20-2009)
- Recession may be over for U.S., but not Las Vegas (10-16-2009)
The bad economic news in Las Vegas has become like winter rain in the Pacific Northwest — sometimes it comes in a torrent, other times a mist, but always there.
The latest: Unemployment nearing 14 percent; foreclosure filings up 5 percent during the third quarter; US Airways cancels nearly half its Las Vegas flights. Throw in a spate of murder-suicides, and it can all seem overwhelming.
The relentless barrage raises an important issue for managers: How to maintain morale in an environment of layoffs, fewer hours and smaller tips, especially as the holiday season nears and family and financial pressures worsen.
The Sun consulted a group of experts, as well as some of the city’s most prominent businesses, to learn how to keep workers happy and productive.
“It begins with telling them what you know,” says Peter Cappelli, director of the Center for Human Resources at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
“If you don’t tell them what you know, employees make up a story, and that story is always worse than reality,” Cappelli adds.
Keep workers in the dark, and destructive rumor-mongering begins in the lunchroom, Cappelli says.
Bruce Hillier, executive vice president of Nevada State Bank, says the company has decided that honesty about the challenges of the current economic climate is the best policy, with CEO Dallas E. Haun sending a letter to employees every three or four weeks with an update.
Danny Thompson, who heads the Nevada AFL-CIO and has seen his members take a beating the past few years, says he hopes companies can help his members prepare: “If people know there are problems, they can take necessary actions.”
Several companies say giving employees a chance to offer feedback can be cathartic. “Employees want immediate and constant communication,” says Jacque Petroulakis, a spokeswoman for Pulte Homes. The company has set up a Web site for that purpose.
At St. Rose Dominican Hospitals, administrators conduct open forums department by department, says Andy North, a spokesman. The hospital company also conducts a semiannual survey of employees.
Nevada State Bank has set up a blog, allowing employees to voice comments and concerns. There have been 450 blog posts since January, and executives respond to all the reasonable ones. The bank is also in the process of hosting employee town hall meetings, before which employees can submit anonymous questions and comments that executives respond to.
Tom Mikovits, director of marketing at South Point, says that gaming company has an uncomplicated solution to the morale issue: Do well. “We’ve been pretty busy. When the property is full, customers are happy and that energizes our staff,” Mikovits says.
This may be harder than it sounds in the current economic climate, but Cappelli says businesses need to lay out a vision for what success will look like.
“Give them a story about the upside. What’s the picture look like?” he says.
In a similar vein, the most productive employees need to be rewarded, even in tough times, experts say.
Pulte Homes offers employees two paid days off a year to do community service. The company also offers group service projects, most recently on behalf of Special Olympics.
“We want to recognize people’s passions outside the workplace,” Petroulakis says.
At St. Rose, when a manager sees an employee doing a good deed for a co-worker, the Samaritan gets a “Rose Token,” which he can cash in for a gift certificate to a local retailer such as Starbucks.
The hospitals also have the “Echo Fund” — essentially collection plates around the campuses. Employees experiencing hardships can apply for help from the fund or nominate a co-worker to receive Echo Fund money.
Pulte Homes tries to make work fun for the whole family, as with a pool party this summer that featured a disc jockey, raffles, games, barbecue, “the works,” as Petroulakis says.
St. Rose has barbecues, service award dinners and other special events.
A study in the British Leadership and Organization Development Journal declares that cussing is good for morale, though of course not around customers.
Swearing is good for group solidarity and stress relief, according to the study.
In the “make work fun” category, there’s always a dangerous flirtation with Michael Scott territory from TV’s “The Office” — his zany antics are more likely to be offensive than fun and often put the lie to the whole idea that work can be fun.
The Las Vegas company that has become famous for its zesty workplace is Zappos.com, where all the fun is said to help keep spirits up at a company obsessed with customer service.
A public relations company that represents Zappos said the online shoe retailer would love to participate, but had to postpone an interview last week.
Too busy with a Halloween party.