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August 01, 2005  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

How to Raise the Spirits of Your Staff

Low morale can take a high toll on a transportation department. Written and oral praise, coupled with a formal recognition program, makes for a happier crew.

by Teresa Basich, Editorial Assistant


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A drop in morale at your operation can have negative consequences, affecting your entire staff and the students you transport. Fixing the problems that led to that low morale can seem a daunting task if you don't have an idea of where to start.

In most instances, the first step to take — weeding out the causes — can be done by conducting a department-wide survey or holding a morale assessment meeting.

Have employees fill out anonymous surveys to get feedback on the state of morale in your department. Tailor the questions to get the most useful information — make each question topic-specific, but open-ended.

"Include questions about current and future operations, what [drivers] like and don't like about their routes or buses, as well as what they would like to see changed," says Jeff Walker, transportation coordinator for Agua Fria Union High School District in Avondale, Ariz.

If you prefer a more direct route, schedule a mandatory meeting and let people know you'll be focusing on morale. Provide refreshments such as coffee and cookies to help create a more comfortable and inviting atmosphere. Ask employees to voice their concerns and observations about morale in your office. Make sure to stay on task and ask constructive questions to avoid arguments. Ask for ideas to help fix problems. Take detailed notes to look over after the meeting.

Review the results of your surveys or meeting to see where your biggest problems lie. After you've organized the information, make it available to your employees to give them more opportunity to come up with solutions to the major problems. Also, consider some of the useful tips below to improve your work environment.

Give them their due
An extremely important part of maintaining high morale in your department is recognizing employees for the hard work they do.

A publication by the National Association for Pupil Transportation titled "Staff Recognition: 37 Ways to Improve Morale in Your Transportation Department," says many studies have proven that recognition for a job well done is a more important factor in job satisfaction than pay.

It also suggests a variety of cost-effective ways to recognize the accomplishments of your staff, including commendation letters and thank-you cards.

Other rewards, such as an employee- of-the-month program or a financial bonus, are more costly but worth the investment.

Transportation directors can easily reward hard workers by noting accomplishments in those employees' personnel files. While many supervisors document mistakes, very few note outstanding efforts. Write a detailed, positive letter to add to an employee's file, and present it to him or her to really make an impact.

Another low-cost, thoughtful way to recognize hard work is to send thank-you cards. A card can be short and simple, but it should thank the employee for a specific act you thought was worth applauding.

Make sure to avoid general statements, such as, "You've been doing a great job around here." Try to specify exactly what made you want to thank them in the first place. A statement such as, "I really appreciate you picking up those extra routes last Friday — it was a tremendous help to the department. Thank you!" is much more effective, showing your employee you've paid close attention to his or her extra effort.
{+PAGEBREAK+} Raise your voice, too
If you don't want to use cards, simply being vocal about your appreciation of hard work is also effective.

Walker lets his drivers know regularly that he appreciates their hard work. "One of the things I do is at the end of a rough week or a rough day, when we've had people calling or things just going wrong, I always put a big "Thank You" up [on the marker board in the lounge] for the drivers and a big smiley face," he says.

Another way to recognize employees and get your entire department involved is through an employee-of-the-month program. Have staff members regularly fill out forms detailing why they feel a certain person should be recognized. "Reward the employee based on what funds are available," Walker says. Some reward ideas include an assigned parking space, gift certificates or a half-day off with pay, he says. You can also create a certificate or award to frame and hang in the transportation office.

Also, give financial rewards if your budget allows for it; award drivers for outstanding driving records or perfect attendance with bonuses.
Connect and reconnect
Another reason for low morale is a lack of communication and connection between administrators and their employees. Managers can sometimes lose track of the responsibilities their employees must take on, making the employees resentful of the gap between them and their supervisors.

Managers must find ways to stay in touch with their staff and motivate them as well. Tactics to do this include conducting regular employee evaluations and arranging formal meetings between your staff and school administration.

Another way to show support is to hold meetings with school principals and your drivers. These meetings give drivers a chance to speak out about problem students or concerns and get the school administrators involved in developing solutions. Making it informal by providing refreshments and holding it in a comfortable room are ways to help everyone relax and be productive.

Some less-formal ways of bridging the communication gap include consistently supporting your drivers when they face challenges, remaining positive and talking to them about their family and sharing some of your own stories.

Taking time to talk to your employees about their lives and what they do outside of work can help boost morale by showing them you care about them as people and not just as employees. Share your own stories with them to connect on a non-work-related level. Along with that, you can even create a committee to send out cards and gifts, such as flowers or fruit baskets, for birthdays, deaths in the family or the birth of a child or grandchild.


Point to the positive
Make sure to speak positively about your responsibilities and mission, as well as your staff's activities, around the office. By doing this, you model courtesy and respect for your team and also avoid negatively affecting them. This also keeps you and your employees in good spirits and provides great motivation.

Also, constantly remind your staff that they're a vital part of the educational process. Without their help, many of the nation's future leaders would have a tough time getting an education.

Finally, use humor as much as possible to deal with stressful situations. Laughter not only reduces tension, it increases the blood flow to the brain, helping you to think more clearly. In a high-stress workplace, like a school bus operation, a clear mind and positive outlook will solve nearly any problem that comes your way.


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