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The stock market seems to be recovering somewhat but sales still lag and costs still loom large. Your division director has been in meetings lately discussing reorganization, which means that jobs are at stake.

You've already agreed to take no bonus or salary increase for this year and now there's a discussion of pay cuts across the board for you and for your employees.

And yet some know-it-all online columnist is telling you that it's still your job to engage and inspire your employees? What kind of ridiculous idea is that?

While I am a bona fide know-it-all (it's genetic), I would argue that engaging and inspiring your employees in times like these is not only still part of your responsibility as a leader -- it's even more important than ever. While resources are scarce and the ability to hire more employees is impossible for most organizations, it is essential to help your followers focus on success in the future.

The challenge, of course, is to determine what exactly will create greater morale and engagement when, to be honest, most of the environment stinks. While many would suggest starting with "what motivates you," I'm going to suggest that you take the time to consider, "what really motivates my followers?" The answer, by the way, is not money. Money is a form of motivation because it symbolizes success and provides stability. But in the end it is only the foundation for engagement, not a tool for engagement itself.

There are some things you can do right away if you want to further engage your employees without creating a high-budget initiative or sending everybody off on vacations to the Caribbean. And all of them come from the point-of-view of the follower:

Treat your people like people

When times are great it is sometimes easy to overlook the fact that your followers are as human as you are. Unfortunately, many leaders find the primary reason their employees are disengaged is that they feel they are not seen as people but instead are seen as machines or pieces of equipment on the manufacturing line. In his announcement on Southwest Airlines ( LUV) losses in the first quarter of 2009, CEO Gary Kelly didn't say, "employees are our greatest asset." He said, "Still, I am very proud of the efforts of our people." It is not engaging to think your boss sees you as an inanimate (and depreciating) object. It is inspiring to hear your boss say she is proud of you as a human being. Take the time to recognize your people as contributors to the success of the organization, your success and their own. This by itself is an inspiring move on the part of a leader.

Treat your customers with integrity

Yep, that's not a misprint. Employees are inspired when they feel they are contributing to a greater good. When working for leaders who try to malign or cheat their customers, followers will eventually become disenchanted and disengaged. Take the example of Aflac ( AFL), which was recognized recently for the third year in a row by the Ethisphere Insititute as one of the world's most ethical companies. Chairman and CEO Dan Amos acknowledged the honor by restating the company's focus on values and transparency. "At Aflac, we place a strong emphasis on treating our customers, colleagues, shareholders and the public with honesty and respect." Working for a company that is clear in its values and willing to do what's right for the customer is an inspiring and engaging place to be.

Take the time to communicate and care

I'm not suggesting that you sit down at each employee's desk and ask, "How does the situation at our company make you feel?" Besides being creepy, it wouldn't be authentic for most of us. What I am suggesting is that you allow your employees to be on the inside during the journey. Take them with you along the way. Many leaders feel it is their job to protect their employees from the nastiness of the marketplace and the challenges of the future. This never works because your followers are smart and have access to as much or more information than you do. Speak honestly with them and ask them to be a part of the solution. Then listen to what they have to say. Not only will you motivate them, you will find that they have good ideas.

Collaborate on engagement

It is important to remember that leaders can not actually motivate employees, or anybody else for that matter. Individuals motivate themselves. It is the role of the leader to create the environment and the context that allows people to feel engaged and motivated. In the end, it is a partnership between the leader who is listening, providing encouragement and removing barriers and the employee who is focused on making a contribution and leading a rewarding work-life. The most important thing to inspiring employees in downtimes is to engage them in a dialogue and let them be involved. If you pay attention to what is being said and done around you, your followers will let you know what you need to do.

Leadership Development Specialist, L. Todd Thomas ("Dr. Todd") PhD, M.S, M.A, is Founder of IMPACT Consulting and Development . Dr. Todd holds a PhD in Human Communication, Masters in Educational Psychology and a Masters in Interpersonal Communication. He was a professor at North Carolina State University and Indiana University before leaving for the corporate world. He led Organizational Learning at Rockwell Avionics and was the executive responsible for Organizational and Executive Development at Daimler Financial Services for 10 years. Dr. Todd has coached and consulted with over 3000 leaders from 40 different countries spanning 4 continents. He is a speaker, seminar leader and the author of "Leading in a Flat World: How Good Leaders Become Greatly Valued." Other titles include "Life Lessons for Leaders" and "Stop Wasting Your Time: Creating High-IMPACT Meetings" as well as the "Leadership Integrity Quotient(tm)" leadership assessment.