By Joyce M. Rosenberg, AP Business Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — As Bart Cleveland talks to employees of his ad agency, he sees the strain.
"We're really keenly aware of what the economy is doing to people's morale," said Cleveland, a partner at McKee Wallwork Cleveland in Albuquerque, N.M. "They're stressed in a way that I've never seen people stressed."
Economic reports of the last week point to plenty of reasons for low morale at small companies. A survey by the National Federation of Independent Business of its members found that employment in small companies over the past three months fell on average by almost one worker per business. That's an improvement over the spring, but it still means businesses are struggling and that they're cutting employees rather than hiring new ones.
That inevitably is going to affect morale, but even at companies that are faring better, workers are uneasy. So small business owners need to help keep employees' spirits from sagging.
Cleveland does what many human resources consultants suggest, talking with staffers and letting them know how the business is doing.
"We're communicating much more frequently with our employees about things they may not have been concerned about" in the past, said Cleveland. He walks around the office to talk with employees each day.
Cleveland added these walks to his routine four or five months ago, well into the recession. He said it was "something I intended to do, but I'm a worker bee and I can get very focused on what I'm doing." But he recently recognized employees' need for more face time with the boss.
"When I realized it had to be more of a priority, I made it a priority," he said.
Rick Gibbs, a senior human resources specialist with Administaff, a Houston-based company that provides HR outsourcing, supports the idea of owners being up-front with staffers about the business.
"That's one of the things we think is most important and keeps employees engaged, even in a negative time," he said.