Last Updated Jun 30, 2008 6:14 PM EDT
A lot, it turns out. The whole mood of the office changes: gossip rules and anxiety levels are noticeably higher, not to mention the ill effects on productivity and teamwork. But managers have more control over these factors than they think. Our Crash Course shows how to keep your team on track in a downturn -- and even use the lean times to fix big problems.
One place to start is simply avoiding "death by a thousand cuts." In other words, suppress the urge to slash company perks simply in the name of belt-tightening. A highly unscientific survey of my BNET colleagues suggests that every workplace has beloved perks a manager shouldn't touch - not just because they're pretty cheap, but also because taking them away could inflict even more damage on an already stressed staff. These might include:
- Subsidized Sodas. Here at CNET Networks, Coke, Mountain Dew, Dr. Pepper, and Calistoga all cost 25 cents in the vending machine. It's a small perk - much cheaper than many of the other good things CNET does for its employees - but since we depend on it daily, we're attached. We're pretty sure a riot would break out if it ever went away.
- Quality Caffeine. Some companies resort to such lame cost-cutting moves as ditching Starbucks or Peets for a lower-end brand of office coffee. Ultra-cheap moves like this make things seem much worse than they are. ("Wow, if they can't afford decent coffee, how much longer will the lights be on?")
- The Holiday Party. We know a magazine in New York that cancelled the annual shindig one year - and then didn't bring it back, even after the economy rebounded. If you keep scaling back forever and never scale forward, employees will start to imagine a future in which things like health care and vacations are optional - and they'll be hard pressed to find reasons to stay.
- Good Schwag. For some companies it's a cool messenger bag. For others it's a Casual Friday-appropriate polo shirt. Any logo-bearing items that employees wear proudly should be sacrosanct. If you take away their schwag, you take away that pride. And what kind of message does that send?