The past year has challenged employee morale more than any time in modern history. Work life as we knew it was completely upended and you’d be challenged to find any profession—even those that don’t require an office—that wasn’t affected in some way. But businesses are constantly going through different types of transformation, and I believe the most successful organizations do so by staying laser focused on one thing: their employees.
I joined TCP in 2019 during a time of transformation. After 30 years under the founder’s ownership, the company had been purchased by a private equity firm focused on growing this already successful business. And this wasn’t my first rodeo. I’ve led several companies through private equity ownership transformations and have come to expect employees to feel skeptical, nervous and sometimes downright hostile. People often expect private equity organizations to be cold, callous and fiercely driven by business objectives. However, I take exception to the attitude. I firmly believe—and strive to demonstrate—that you can be a private equity-owned business and still have a heart for people.
I have learned that as much as you may try to ease concerns and improve morale with heartfelt speeches, actions speak louder than words. What kind of actions, you ask?
- Start by showing a personal interest in everyone you interact with. It goes beyond asking what they’re working on and, instead, asking how they’re feeling. Encourage honesty and forthrightness to gauge attitudes within the organization.
- Listen, react & model positive behavior. Is morale low? Are employees feeling burnt out? Encourage people to take time off. Ensure remote employees set boundaries around work time and personal time by modeling that behavior yourself. Limit emails and calls outside of business hours. If employees see you responding to emails at 10pm, they think the same is expected of them.
- Small tokens of appreciation can have a big impact. Whether it’s a personal, heartfelt note, buying lunch for the team or simply making time for fun, gratitude doesn’t always require a grand gesture.
- Keep traditions alive. Change is inevitable, so make an effort to maintain or build a strong culture during challenging times. TCP hosts a company-wide Thanksgiving dinner each year, but between COVID-19 and many employees working remotely, that simply was not possible last year. To keep the tradition alive, we offered drive-through meals for our San Angelo-based employees and their families. It was important that our remote teams felt connected too, so we mailed them gift cards as a surprise token of appreciation.
2020 brought unexpected challenges to everyone that almost certainly impacted employee morale, and business leaders know that this can have far-reaching impacts on business. While we can’t always promise sunshine and roses, we can make sure our people feel valued and appreciated.
Check back soon for more perspectives from TCP CEO Eric Thurston in his "How I See It" blog.