Friday, January 29, 2010

"Employee Morale in Tough Economic Times"

Recently, my Assistant wrote a paper about employee morale in the City of Fontana. The paper talks about a number of non-salary strategies to improve morale during a time the City finds it necessary to continue to do more with less. I have attached the paper here for this week’s blog posting.

Employee Morale in Tough Economic Times

Improving employee morale is an ongoing challenge in any workplace, even during good economic times. Now with the current economic crisis, maintaining high employee morale is much more important when asking people to do more with less. Creativity is required when the budget is tight and increasing salaries is not an option. Surveys indicate that salaries are not the end all of an employee's well being; in a well run organization, job satisfaction is derived from more than compensation.

My employer, the City of Fontana, last year eliminated 50 positions through layoffs, eliminating vacancies and early retirements. This year, all employee groups have been asked to forgo the cost of living increase. Employees are being asked to do more with less and, under such difficult circumstances, it is challenging for some to keep an optimistic outlook. The City of Fontana strives to meet employee needs and the management staff has developed several programs to help boost employee confidence and create positive attitudes.

One such program is the "Step Up to Wellness" employee wellness plan. Poor eating habits, lack of exercise and mounting stress play a large role in an employee's morale. To help counter the affects of ill health, we have kicked off the “Step Up To Wellness” program. This includes educational lectures, recreational demonstrations, a walking program, cooking demonstrations, corporate discounts to fitness centers and departmental challenges.

The purpose of the program is to improve employees' well-being with information about the benefits of nutritious eating, exercise in a fun interactive environment, and tips for stress relief. Nutritional lectures and cooking demonstrations teach employees which foods are actually nutritionally beneficial. For example, one lecture talks about the affects of sugar on the body and how eating too much of it can foster a negative attitude. Another lecture is about the benefits of sleep and gives employees tips for restful sleep, which directly affects a person’s outlook on life.

Another part of the program focuses on exercise and how it fosters a positive attitude. The program also features weekly competitions (e.g., a torch run, checkers, basketball, bowling, volleyball, racquetball, tug-a-war, relay obstacle course, floor hockey, golf and potato sack races) between teams of employees to build camaraderie. The entire "Step Up to Wellness" program lets employees know that management cares about them and their health, happiness and well being and stresses the fun and support that comes from being part of a team.

Another benefit the city offers to employees is a flexible work schedule. Typically, organizations have unwavering work hours; however, in Fontana we understand the need for flexibility due to childcare and educational needs. Employees, with the exception of those who work the public counter or phones, can work a four day-ten hour schedule, a five day-eight hour schedule, or a nine day-eighty hour schedule. This gives employees the chance to choose the best schedule for their lifestyle.

The City Manager understands that a happy employee is a productive worker. We have many working mothers who enjoy the ability to take their children to school in the morning and then work later in the day. Some employees attend school in the evening and a flexible schedule allows them to arrive early and leave early. This flexibility is a huge morale booster and employees are grateful for the consideration given to their needs. Fontana also encourages open communication between employees and management and recognizes employee accomplishments. The City Manager has several philosophies that encourage employees with ideas to be a part of the future of Fontana. Open and honest communication is his #1 rule. The City Manager schedules several meetings a year to discuss budget issues, capital projects and community issues with employees in all departments. He asks the employees for ideas to improve the working environment.


He recognizes years of service with an employee breakfast at which he thanks the employees for their dedication to the residents of our community. Twice yearly, he gathers Department Heads to make and serve a breakfast and lunch to employees to express appreciation for their work efforts. Halloween features a fun competition between departments with an annual costume and skit contest. His motto of “Do your job, but have fun along the way” is a phrase of his that resonates through the organization.

Valuing employee’s health, allowing flexible schedules, open communication, and employee appreciation are just a few of the ways the City of Fontana strives to meet employees' needs and increase morale in the workplace. The City also offers education reimbursement, counseling services, retirement preparation, benefit fairs and many other programs for employees. These services and programs are available to all employees from account clerks to public works technicians to police officers.

As a result, Fontana has little employee turnover, and I attribute this to their job satisfaction. Management understands the amount of hours dedicated to a career and strives to create a family atmosphere and genuine team spirit. Many times I look around this city with quiet joy, knowing that my small part in making the community a better place to live, work, and play is appreciated. Even in these tough economic times with fewer staff people and no raises, employees feel respected and valued and continue to work hard because of that morale.

Amy Colbrunn
Assistant to the City Manager