Keep Morale High Even When a Plant is Down

By Donna Funk | October 05, 2012

A manager dealing with uncertain times might need a few pieces of advice to help boost employee morale. In the ethanol industry, high corn prices and low fuel demands have caused plants to struggle, some to even shut down, which means people still working in the industry could feel their future is uncertain.

Communication is number one on the priority list. If there is talk of a plant shut-down, set aside time to talk with employees to keep them current. This helps them feel a connection to the business. Communicate as much and as frequently as possible to avoid leaving employees to make assumptions or create their own story. Helping the staff feel that they are being considered in decisions about the future is much better than making them feel like a casualty of events.

More often than not, employees are aware of adversity in the industry, which means they are also talking about it. To avoid the negatives of a topic being discussed “on the grapevine,” outline a plan to communicate to the group and carry it out right away. Be straightforward and address the issue, stating where the industry is going and how it will directly impact the plant. When information is withheld, employees could think something else is happening behind the scenes. If some of the information is confidential, tell the staff it must be withheld, making sure they hear it from plant executives rather than the gossip mill.

Maintaining a positive employee morale overall is really important. In today’s world of iPhones and social media, negative information travels fast.  At Kennedy and Coe, we begin meetings by asking the people in the room to share a positive experience they’ve had, either personal or professional.  This allows our folks to enjoy a few fun and candid moments before continuing into the business agenda.

As a company, a team and an industry, ethanol producers must celebrate when there are positives. Also, consider who are the best people within the plant to deliver information. A team player who is willing to step in and share key points in a positive fashion is extremely valuable.

If you know a plant is closing for extended period of time, address the issue with employees. Think of creative ways to reward them for past performance so they are motivated to return when the plant reopens. Consider evaluating the cost of paying full or partial wages for some period during the shut down and explore options on benefit plans to keep them in place, including health insurance.

Check into work share programs in your state that help pay employee wages during reduced work schedules. Communication can help employees understand why some of the staff (management team) is being retained at 100 percent of their salary while others are being laid off. After all, you don’t want  anyone to feel like a second-class employee.

Don’t be afraid to draw upon outside resources to handle management, communications and human resource issues. Dealing with times of uncertainty is challenging and there are trained professionals available to help leverage the process and direct discussion. Remind employees numerous times of who they are and what they do for the industry. Stabilizing the positives can help with economic issues that are beyond our control.

Remember that people love to hear straightforward information and will continue to work hard if they feel they matter to the business. Everyday, you can find big and little ways to emphasize the team. Do this consistently and you will create momentum that is positive and effective for your employees and your bottom line.

Author: Donna Funk
Kennedy and Coe LLC
funk@kcoe.com
(800) 303-3241