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Webinar: Lab Staff Morale 2

Lab managers are limited in what they can do to restore lab staff morale. Still, modest measures can go a long way. Just knowing lab managers care can be reassuring. So lab managers should do what they can to resolve issues such as equitable distribu

Lab managers are limited in what they can do to restore lab staff morale. Still, modest measures can go a long way. Just knowing lab managers care can be reassuring. So lab managers should do what they can to resolve issues such as equitable distribution of work loads and work – life balance. Instituting flexible working hours and, when appropriate, telecommuting can help improve staff morale.

The Adecco Group North America's latest American Workplace Insights Survey conducted by Harris Interactive last summer indicated almost half (48%) of workers say that they dissatisfied with the relationship they have with their boss. Lab managers can deal with this issue. By walking the halls and visiting the labs to talk with staff members about their projects, they can demonstrate their concern for staff members. Depending on the circumstances and timing, town hall meetings can be effective ways of both communicating policies to staff members and hearing their concerns. However, when it comes to hearing their concerns, one-on-one meetings with staff members can be more effective.

Some managers, particularly those promoted or transferred to positions made vacant as a result of staff downsizing, may have a tendency to stay in their offices learning the technical aspects of their new assignments. They often neglect talking to staff members and establishing good working relationships with them. Unfortunately, I have seen this often in large laboratories for which I consult. Staying in your office when you get a new management assignment shortly after a staff reduction or restructuring represents a lost opportunity. It can even increase the stress staff members are working under. They are often reassured by seeing their managers in the hallway or having them stop by for a short chat.

Ineffective measures

Some measures, even when well intentioned can backfire. Giving a staff member expensive tickets to an event such as a football game or a concert can seem ridiculous in a laboratory facing severe problems. Giving a staff member one of these awards when they aren't interested in football or the music being played at the concert can be counter-productive.

Taking an employee out to an expensive lunch at a fine restaurant while leaving other members of their team back at the lab can be divisive. Instead, spend the money on an event that involves more staff members. For example, bring in pizza or some other inexpensive lunch for a work team to celebrate a major achievement rather than taking the team leader out to lunch.

Policies such as giving staff members more impressive titles and new business cards are quite transparent and widely seen as manipulative by many staff members.

Never tell staff members, "You're lucky to still have a job."

Prepare for tomorrow

Shortly after a staff reduction or restructuring is an excellent time for lab managers to examine existing workforce practices and change them if necessary. Areas for study include how work is distributed, what technologies are being developed, and what programs should be terminated. Other questions include appropriate staffing levels both now and for the future when business conditions improve. Should more reliance be placed on contract employees, contract research organizations and joint R&D efforts with other firms? Another option is funding university research with the option to license technology.


John K. Borchardt

Dr. Borchardt is a consultant and technical writer. The author of the book “Career Management for Scientists and Engineers,” he writes often on career-related subjects.