The conclusion

“Assumption, my dear Mitz, is the mother of all f#%k ups!”

A quote from The adventures of Priscilla, queen of the desert. And something we need to be aware of if you are looking for signs of deception. I have already mentioned the lack of a Pinocchio’s nose (I’m a real boy), and in a way this is just as important, it is what Paul Ekman calls, The Othello Error.

We are all guilty of making assumptions every day of our lives, about each other, situations and even places we visit. But making an assumption when you are looking for signs of deception could give you a very different idea of someone’s motives. We like to take short cuts, we want things immediately and on tap and it can be very easy to skip over things that we consider to have no relevance.

Paul Ekman is a scientist so in the study of emotion and deception he followed a scientific process. He set out with a theory, applied a method, came to a result and then tested that result for its tolerance in the face of alternative theories. He tested his hypothesis.

We must do the same whenever we are looking at he emotions of another, and deciding if there is deception. We must deal in facts, of what can we be sure? What emotion was displayed and what evidence is there to confirm that is the emotion we have seen? This needs to be tested against its alternatives. Cognitive load and anger can look the same and many people often mistake fear for surprise and vice versa.

Then we move onto why are we seeing what we are seeing? Is someone swallowing excessively because their mouth has gone dry in response to heightened anxiety or because the air is dry and the have been talking for a while? Maybe the just have a sore throat? And if it is anxiety, is it because they are fearful of being interviewed, disbelieved, caught lying or even has a question brought back an associated event from their past?

The key is there are always more possibilities that you have to consider, and just assuming that the most obvious answer is the correct one is always going to be flawed and terribly unscientific.

Test your theories to destruction, and always be ready to change your conclusion!

This was brought home to me this week when in a discussion with some who professed to know “a lot” about body language accused a colleague of lying to them because he kept rubbing his neck. I happen to know that the individual had been in a minor car accident a couple of days previously and had whiplash. An assumption had been made without one important fact. Not only had they assumed, but they didn’t question or test the hypothesis. They also made a further assumption that this manipulator was a reliable sign of deception. As we know from the science they are not. The are physical or psychological comforters, in this case physical, rubbing the strained neck muscles.

The key is always to think there may be any number of reasons for an action or emotion, what you need to do then is start to look for things that support, or challenge that reason.

What are customer testimonials really saying?

Every day we are surrounded by advertisements.  Billboards, buses, radio and of course the internet and television.  Even watching a video on youtube.com these days fires an advertisement at you.  How often have you seen those adverts that have a testimonial in them?

“I used ‘Product x” and within 2 weeks I was a millionaire with beautiful skin!”

We take them for granted, we may even occasionally pay attention, but what are they really saying.

We can listen to the words, but are they the real words of the customer, or are they scripts?  Are these really customers or are they actors?

We take a lot of things at face value, especially in advertising, and rarely pay attention to what is going on until we have made a decision that we are planning to buy.  But what if the advertisement is sending out the wrong message.

I have looked at a couple of ads this evening and had the briefest analysis of what is going on with the people providing the testimonial.  Some of them are really great ways of honing your skills at MFE detection.

Slips of disgust, anger, emblem slips, sadness.  All the signs are there in direct relation to the comments that are made.

I have posted one here for your view.

let me know what you think of the first couple and their statement.  Would you believe their testimony?  Does this give you a good impression of the company or a bad one.

I welcome your views, let me know what you see and think and I will post my views as a comment in a week.

 

It’s all in the code

An exiting week as I start my journey into the world of FACS (Facial Action Coding System).

A simple system for mapping what is happening on the face and some parts of the body with a series of alphanumeric identifiers.

It has been good to get back in touch with some old friends from my first days with Paul Ekman International and The Emotional Intelligence Academy, it has almost been like a reunion in a way and I think that has added to the whole excitement of the situation.

So what is FACS?

FACS is a way of demonstrating what is happening on the face by using a series of codes called an AU or Action Unit.  The idea being that you can demonstrate exactly what is happening on a face, without actually needing to see the face itself.  The system was developed by Paul Ekman, Wallace Friesen and Joseph Hager.  An AU itself does not define an emotion has appeared, simply that the use of a muscle or combination of muscles has produced a discernible difference on the face.  This is important to remember!  Many people think that the FACS system is a way of coding emotions, not true, though there are recognised combinations for certain facial displays associated with emotions.  Confused yet?

Think of this more like a map of what is going on in display only. A map of the local countryside is a map only and does not give you the reason for the fields and the hills. Think of FACS in the same way.  As you get deeper you can start to look at the emotional signals that we recognise and start applying a code to them.  A genuine smile uses the AU 6 and 12, and if it is a subtle or gentle smile may be coded as 6c+12c.  The letter following the number indicates the intensity of the action shown.

The cominations are varied and different and have very specific criteria for their measurement.  Not only this but one may impact on the display of another.

If it sounds complicated it is, while being essentially very simple at the same time.  The key is the understanding of how the various muscle groups work together and against each other in the facial displays that we see everyday.

It is considered to take over 100 hours of coding before you would be considered to be proficient at  measuring and mapping the criteria, and many thousands of hours before you could be considered expert.

The advantages of the system of those of us that deal with emotions is it gives us a far greater and finer insight into what actions are behind the facial displays we see.  The advantage is being able to spot the very subtle displays of emotion can be significantly increased.  Think also about squashed, masked, and even display rules.

The system is sound and has been used for many years, in the measurement of psychology patients and in these days significantly more for counter terrorism, advertising and even developing accurate facial displays for computer game characters.

There are many uses that FACS can be diverted into and certainly with the technology advances that are happening these days plans are in place to develop computer systems and programs that use elements of FACS to identify responses to advertisements.  Could we soon be looking at technology that reads what is going on with our face, understands that we are interested by what we see and continues to aim those adverts at us.

I can say with confidence that is being looked at, though at the moment processing power is an issue and the human brain is still far superior at coding.   The best computers are still taking weeks to code a face that takes an experience coder a few minutes.

I will certainly be using the new skills I am learning and expect to hear more on the subject in future.

 

Fear leads to…

“Fear leads to anger, anger leads to suffering…”  The words of Master Yoda.  Does fear always lead to anger?  It is certainly a legitimate question.  Surely the source of the fear would have a big relevance?  Some people will predominantly respond to a fear situation with anger as it is seen as challenging what they see as a form of personal weakness.  They get angry at the thing that makes them scared, almost whistling at the dark.

Fear is  a natural response to a threat, whether that treat is real or imagined.  It is a response that comes from the most basic part of our brain, the limbic or reptile brain.  A lot of fears can be learned responses, and some are just triggers of self-preservation.

When dealing with fear a lot of people do get angry, though that anger is not always directed outwards.  Sometimes, that anger is internalised and aimed at the self  for being afraid of something, though this could easily become self-disgust or self contempt.  Just as easily fear can become relief, excitement, grief, anguish, or delight.  Once again we come to the cause of the fear.

Looking at a couple of scenarios:  we have a person working for a large company that is not doing well in an economic downturn, instantly you get a mood of apprehension for the future.  Being called to a one to one meeting with the management that apprehension can become fear.  It is a response to a perceived threat to personal well-being.  The situation can go one of two ways.  The person is told that they have lost their job, they have been made redundant.  The person may well react with anger, why have I been selected for redundancy, that could easily lead onto disgust over the way they have been treated and contempt for the ones making the decisions.

Perhaps the person has been told that they are going to be kept on when their colleagues have not.  That can lead to a form of guild called survivors mourning.

Look also at the deceiver.  Fear of discovery is one of the factors that makes a deception discoverable, followed by the emotion that is shown after the fear.  What about that smile and flash of happiness we know as duping delight?  The little flash of a smile when they think that their lie has been believed.   Fear can elevate further if that lie has been discovered, leading to that flash of righteous anger, “how dare you challenge me?”

Fear can even lead to excitement.  A roller coaster works on this very principle.  People boarding that roller coaster right up until the first drop may be fearful. People will demonstrate a lot of the signs you expect to see in fear.  The flight or fight response.  Pallor caused by the blood running to the limbs and organs, increased heart rate and respiration, dilated pupils and even the sweats.  Very quickly this changes to excitement, enjoying the ride and burning off all that adrenaline in excitement.

Fear can lead to practically every other emotion.  Understanding the cause of that fear can give an understanding of what to expect next.

Variety is the spice of life.

Monotony – Bad : Variety – Good

In the daily grind, it is very important to try to stay away from the daily grind.  It doesn’t matter what we do for a job, we will always have those niggling little duties that are tedious but just have to be done.

There are 2 fast ways to cause stress in an employee.   The first is the most commonly understood and recognised, overworked and undervalued.  Asking someone to do more work than they are capable of coping with.  They end up bogged down with their to-do list getting long er and longer with no end in sight.  This is de-motivating and further reduces productivity.  You are looking at someone who is very likely to burn out in a short space of time.

The less recognised cause of stress is the lack of variety.  This is impacts on the creative personality the most.   In many ways this can be more detrimental than over working.  First of all the mind starts to wander, when that happens mistakes start to be made.  Self doubt and stress develop.

Make sure that your staff stay engaged, break up the monotony of the day-to-day with other tasks and challenges that they can get their teeth into.  If there is nothing in their working role that allows that to happen consider a rotational pattern to allow people variety, or allow challenges in other ways.

A challenged and engaged employee tends to be more successful, less prone to making mistakes, and more likely to engage with new ideas when they come along.  A failure to engage and support staff is a slippery slope to malcontent.  Once you have a disgruntled member of staff, it becomes more and more difficult to bring them back.

People have different levels of tolerance for stress and boredom, so there is not yardstick measure of what is right.  Each person should be treated as the individual they are.  Regular contact with the troops is the best way to notice those changes in mood.  This is where larger companies are sometimes sadly lacking.

Listening to the staff is only half the battle and many of the people in this situation may have already reached the point of “What is the point of complaining? Nothing ever changes!”  Sadly, this is very often the case.  Many companies call themselves “Investors in People” and have a nice plaque in their offices to prove it.  In most cases this means that they have training and development programmes in place.  That is not really investing in people, that is just making sure your staff have the skills to do the job.  Once again they miss out that important factor of Emotional Salary.  Remembering that their staff are people and individuals, and not just pieces of equipment.  Companies even avoid calling the staff their people, using instead the term FTE (Full Time Employee).  A personal dislike of mine.  That is distancing language, it is dehumanising the individual into a 35 hour a week piece of equipment.

Everyone has a different set of skills and traits that make them what they are, this should be taken into consideration when you are recruiting and when you are developing staff.  We are still very much in the mind of employing people for a role.  This is fine in its own way, as long as you are clear what the role is and its responsibilities, but how much more amazing would it be to find someone with skills and think “how can I use them?” Now that would be recruitment way ahead of the crowd.

Look at the people you have already, you may have lurking in your teams a new Sales person, a team manager or an analyst.   Don’t get bogged down on if they have experience, aptitude and skill sets can be developed; attitude needs to be nurtured.

No one employs unmotivated negative individuals, they are created by who they work for.

 

Just what are you capable of?

So many people have the nay-say attitude, they stand in your way telling you that things can’t be done, that’s not going to happen, you won’t succeed.

For many years I myself felt that I would not accomplish much, and the biggest nay-sayer was myself.  I spent my early working years on a YTS scheme.  For those of you not brought up during the Thatcher years in the UK, this was a way of replacing the Apprenticeship system to get people out of school and straight into work.  Paying a basic limited wage with the intention of learning skills for a job.  I didn’t want this to be my life, but I had bills to pay.

From the age of sixteen I have steered my own path and made of myself what I could.  I am by no means an entrepreneur, but I can say that all my accomplishments have been my own.  Despite being told “you can’t do that!”

The only person that knows what you are capable of, is you!

It is very easy when we are low, when we seem to keep coming up against barriers in trying to accomplish things, to fall into a pattern enforced by people who have no concept of the damage that they can do.

If I had accepted what others believed, I would never have spent eight years as a successful Club DJ.  A career I loved with a passion.  It was hard work.  I worked late nights and usually had to follow those with long waits on station platforms waiting for a train back home.

When I became ill in 2005 and I had to make a decision to leave that life behind for something with more stability.  At the time I really had no choice over that decision, so I never grieved for that loss.  But what would have happened if I would have listened to the people saying that is not a real job?

It is very easy to fall into the trap of self-doubt.  Let us face facts, there are many people out there that are willing to put you down and get in your way if it will further their own agenda.  It can seem like every direction you turn starts to bring up a brick wall and your self-esteem starts to suffer. Don’t let it!

Next time you find yourself questioning your own abilities, or someone else does, remember, only you can know what you are truly capable of.  The challenge is going beyond that boundary to accomplish something more.  Then think of the satisfaction you will have of a job well done.  Let us be honest to ourselves, a little bit of shameful joy at proving the nay-sayers wrong is very satisfying.

Consider also before you discredit someone else’s ideas, consider the impact that might have, and look at a different way of delivering the message.

Remaining positive is key and the Stanislavski method has some elements that can help with this.  When you construct an emotion on your face and in your body posture you will actually start to feel elements of that emotion.  If you start to smile you will start to feel the happier emotion itself.  If you start looking angry you will feel the irritation and frustration you associate with anger.   Use this method to your advantage.  Next time you are feeling that low ebb, raise your head, jut out your chin, square your shoulders and challenge the world to a fight of wills you know you can win!

Infectious Emotions

As I have mentioned in a previous post, we are an empathic race.  We react to the emotions of people around us and mirror those emotions ourselves.  This is something that must be considered when you are in a working environment.  They say that familiarity breeds contempt, but more accurately contempt breeds contempt.

When building a team of people you have to consider a number of factors.  Firstly, you have to look at the skill sets that you are putting together to make sure there are no holes in the talent pool that you have.  But a lot of people when building a team don’t  seem to spend a lot of time looking at the emotional make up of the people they are putting together.  Ever since the early 90s a lot of stock has been put into psychometric testing.  Personally, I not only think these tests are flawed but can be manipulated and wildly inaccurate.  The same can be said in a way for assessment tests.

Scientists will often say that lab experiments have a built-in flaw.  But putting things into controlled settings you are removing an element of chance or chaos.  The unexpected.  I would say the same of the assessments that some staff are put through as part of the interview process.  You have been made aware that an assessment is part of the process.  You have had an opportunity to prepare, there is nothing really unexpected about it.

Psychometrics will tell you a little about someone’s character as long as they don’t know how to fool the tests, and assessments will give you an idea of someone’s reasoning abilities, but what about when things suddenly change?

Sudden onset of a stressful situation can change the dynamic and really turn the tables on the team.  Someone who tests well could become a complete liability.  Logical thinkers can not always take that leap of faith and think on the ball and come up with an inspirational solution.   Logical thinkers test well because there is a process to follow from start to finish.  Activists, or kinetic thinkers,  get bored by the hum-drum.  When situations are controlled and planned, they can get bored and can become easily distracted, looking for the next challenge.  These are the people who don’t tend to test well, but when you put them on the spot in a tense situation they shine.

What does this have to do with infection emotions?  If you get someone inclined to panic, you could end up in a situation.  Panic is a strong emotional response and falls under the Fear family of emotions.  In many cases it can overwhelm the calm.  Fear is demonstrated on our faces to warn people that something is happening they need to be aware of.  The signal needs to be passed on so that the whole community can be aware of the risk.

A good team should have elements of both logical and kinetic thinkers and the responsibilities of each team member should match their skills.

We are very set in our ways when it comes to recruitment.  There are ways that things are done, because that is the way they have always been done.  Almost like sheep everyone does the same thing without looking at different ways of doing things.

I am a firm believer that attitude is far more important than any already pre-existing skills in a new recruit.  Passion and attitude is far more difficult to create.  Aptitude and skills can be trained and learned.

So if someone doesn’t hit your target score on your assessment for working out percentages and synonyms.  If they have passion, drive, enthusiasm and an over all belief in your company and what it stands for; give them a chance, a job and buy them a calculator and a dictionary.  If someone truly believes in the company they are working for, they will work to overcome the issues of skill themselves.

The way that our financial climate is at the moment I believe that some companies need to look at the way they recruit.  There is a huge pool of untapped talent out there that is getting overlooked because they failed to score well on a test.

 

The Joy of Melancholia

There is a tendency these days to state that any form of low mood is a form of depression and should be dealt with post-haste.  With elevated public awareness of mental illnesses and stress or as it is often termed these days Mental Health, we seem to be under the impression that feeling a bit down is a bad thing.

Our emotions are there to help us through our day-to-day life.  They all have a reason to exist and have a defined purpose in what they do.  Moods are a more prolonged but less intense form of emotional state.  They allow other emotions to occur at the same time but can colour the way you react to other emotional stimulus.  Why do we have such an issue about “negative” emotions (I already have issue with the term negative as there is a positive reason behind all emotions.)

Some people will deliberately go to the cinema or watch a DVD that will cause them to feel scared or sad.  The classic “weepy” film still has a huge following. People go to theme parks to ride roller coasters and watch a horror film or a thriller to be scared.  If these emotions are so negative, why do we sometimes indulge them?

If we had no emotional ups and downs everything would be on an emotional level.  We would be terribly bored!  We sometimes need those low points in our life as they put the high points into sharp relief.  If we didn’t have fear would we ever really feel safe?  If we did have sadness, would we ever really be happy?

There is something terribly satisfying about coming out of the other side of a negative mood.  There is a sense of victory at getting over it and moving on.

Fear has a reward of its own, adrenaline.  That rush that you get when the heart races and breathing increases.  Once the adrenaline breaks down other chemicals in the system give you an almost euphoric high.  We love the thrill of danger, within certain limits.  We still have a very strong sense of self-preservation, and danger is all very well if it is still perceived as having some degree of safety to it.  The fairground thrill ride is a thrill because it scares us, but has its safety checks and restraints.  For the same reason people bungee or abseil.  Your are unlikely to see many people riding a coaster with a poor safety record.

So what about sadness?  There is no doubt that people love a good weepy movie.  Indeed Hollywood has made a very lucrative business out of tugging our heart-strings.  But why are they so successful.  There are two reasons that immediately come to mind.

Firstly, a sad situation on a movie can throw our own life into sharp relief.  There is the though in the mind that someone else is always worse off than we are.  There is the new perspective offered by seeing that things are not so bad.  Most of the time people do tend to watch these films when they are particularly low in their life and often they are going through the same situation as the person on the screen, surely this would compound the issue?

The reason for this can be quite simple when you think about it.  As a race we are empathic creatures.  We feel the emotions of others quite keenly.  When we see an emotion on the face of another we tend to mirror that emotion, especially if we have a connection to that person.  We do this without even realising we are doing it.  It is our way of letting others know that we know we understand how they feel.  We tend to mirror but often to a lesser degree.  If someone is showing an expression of Anguish, we are unlikely to show the same.  That could be seen as mocking.  We would demonstrate sadness to show that we understand how they are feeling, but we know there is a limit on how we should feel in relation to someone else’s pain.

So why do we watch sad films when we are feeling low?  Why do we watch a film about divorce and heartbreak when we are going through the same thing?  It is reverse empathy.  We want that feeling of community and that we are not alone.  Rather than impose that uncomfortable feeling on our friends we watch someone going through the same things so that we can empathise with them and on a subliminal level, they are empathising with us.

Romantic comedies have the same draw and for very similar reasons.  We see someone in emotional difficulty but we are given the opportunity to laugh at their situation, because that is the easiest way to laugh at our own.  We often use comedy to mask true feelings or to get a message across in a way that is more easily accepted.

There is no excuse for Meg Ryan though, and if you ever want to see a textbook example of stone-walling, watch her interview with Michael Parkinson.  

So why the joy of melancholia. I term melancholy as that time when you are just feeling out of sorts and slightly low.  You want to withdraw from the world for a little while and just be with yourself.  You feel disassociated from the world around you.  You can get snippy and peevish for no real reason.  I think this is perfectly healthy.  Indulge the melancholy.  Go and sit quietly for a while in your favourite seat, watch the rain pour down the windows and treat yourself to your favourite temptation.  Wrapped up in your favourite woollen jumper and the cat on your knee.  What can be better than that?

Even anger has its place.  Sometimes you need to be angry.  If you bottle all that anger up eventually you are going to end up in a flash-point situation where the slightest thing would be like a spark to a powder keg.  If you feel angry then feel angry.  At least then your anger is focussed in the right direction and unlikely to be vented on an undeserving target.

We should indulge our emotions and feelings, though we should avoid being a slave to them.  Analyse why you are feeling the way you are, then either rationalise it and move on, or accept it and indulge it.

Flirt, Flirt, Flirt

“She/He is just flirting with you to get what she/he wants!”  Sound familiar?  Are we all guilty of using sex as a weapon?

Well, yes, actually we are, and we are probably not even aware that we do it.

Sometimes a flirt is so full on that the phrase “Throwing themselves at him/her” could be used.  But there are more subtle flirts that may no be consciously noted.  The touch of the arm in conversation, the slight bite of the lip, the focussed gaze on the mouth.  They may not be noticed unless you are looking for them, but on a subliminal level you have probably already reacted to them.

Probably the most obvious flirts are things like the touch, or the grooming. Picking lint from someone’s shoulder.  One of the more common ones and not often noticed is the head dip.  The slight angling of the head to one side while listening and the subtle enlargement of the eyes.  The act of exposing the neck in ingrained in us as a passive gesture that we can find it very hard to control.  It demonstrates vulnerability, passivity and submission. This can be very subtle and is more common in women than it is with men.  There are some body-language guides that suggest this posture is a great way of building rapport as it is like lending an ear.  I disagree.  Remember that this head dip is a sign of vulnerability.  If someone is coming to you for advice and support they want strength and positive attitude.  This head dip could be interpreted as a weakness in this case.  Add to that cognitive load while listening and you come off looking confused and weak.

Flirts can be used successfully, as long as they are not overdone, but you need to ask yourself is it appropriate to manipulate another like this?

Sales people can make use of the flirt, they can cover and divert away from concerns.  When selling a product you are also selling yourself. These little flirts are making little insincere promises. The lean of the head, the lick of the lips, hair tucked behind the ear and the tilted head with a ghost of a smile.  Or for the men the posturing Alpha.  Hand on the hips and chest thrust forward,  head held high.  Hands in the pockets with the thumb showing or thumbs tucked in the belt line are all great alpha flirts.   Timing a flirt well if it is received can have a very positive effect.  However, if the flirt is not received well… you have just distanced yourself.

The use of the flirt may not be particularly ethical but as I have said we tend to do it without even realising it.  This can increase with “reflective empathy”

As a race we humans are a tribe.  Before we used words, posture and facial expression was our way of communicating and this is still ingrained into us these days.  We still mirror other people’s emotional signals as an indicator that we are aware of their current feelings.  Being interested in someone else’s flirt will naturally cause a flirt response or a rejection.

The danger comes when the flirt progresses too far.  Over do it and suddenly what you are offering is not really on the table.   You then have the situation of developing rejection that could completely undermine any progress you have made.

I try to avoid flirts if at all possible.  They are too easy to misconstrue.  I am a firm believer that if you are going to sell something, do it on its own merits, not by offering yourself up into the bargain.

Personal space is very important to people, especially here in the UK.  Invading someone’s personal space can be very intrusive and leave people feeling very uncomfortable especially when it is not invited.  Think of how you feel stood in a lift when suddenly a lot of people get in.  All people you are unfamiliar with pressed in close to you.

Touching is generally taboo unless it is invited; certainly in the UK where a handshake is about the limit of acceptable with someone you have never met before.

Flirts can be fun and exciting, but I would heartily recommend that you keep them out of the business world.  Unless of course you are a prostitute.

Emotional Salary

One of the biggest issues that I have come across quite regularly is the how companies, especially larger companies, have a lack of understanding in the emotional need of their staff.

When people start to look for a new job what are the things they look for?  Does the job match their own skill set?  What is the salary like, what benefits are included such as pension, healthcare and holiday entitlement.  But how many people investigate what sort of emotional salary and considerations a company pays.

Emotional salary can cover a number of things.  What support structure is in place to manage stress, sickness and absence?  Is that structure supportive or punitive? How accommodating are the company to the fact of day to day home life issues that occur.  How to they support the work life balance.  Do they allow staff to be themselves and display elements of individuality, or are they expected to conform to an established norm?

The morale of staff should always be one of the highest considerations for any company.  Happy staff are productive staff!  We all know this, especially in financially difficult times, when tough decisions have to be made.  The only way to make these changes successfully is to engage the staff and get them on board to help with the changes that have to happen.

People are naturally resistant to change, but the more unhappy someone is the more resistant they become.  A huge change for a business needs all the staff behind it for it to work.  Remember that the staff are the business.

Disgruntled staff become consistently resistant to change.  They raise their issues and get brushed off by unfeeling management.  There was a quote, and forgive me I don’t know the origin of it, that states “people don’t leave jobs, they leave managers”; never a truer word said.   Staff need to understand the reason why things are happening to them and being told “because this is how we are now doing it”, suddenly morale drops further.

This is the downward spiral.  Once faith in management has been lost, it becomes almost impossible to get it back.

The first thing that you can guarantee on is that when the job market improves there will be a mass exodus leaving your severely understaffed.  You will have to restart recruitment, training and with no experience staff that will take time and money.  Would it not be better to spend some money and time in the difficult times to keep your staff happy and build that loyalty; or is it better to spend significantly more money replacing the staff that have lost faith.

Keep your staff happy, invest in the way they feel, invest in their happiness and freedom of expression and you will end up with a more productive, faithful workforce.  Spend the time and money to make them happy and they will repay you by working harder and smarter.

Remember though that this should be a consistent approach, just throwing money at a problem will not make it go away.  People talk, and being labelled as an employer that doesn’t care may damage your chances of further recruitment of quality staff.   There are very small things that can be done to make the place a happier place to be.  Allow casual wear, make your office comfortable with places to go that are away from the workstations.  Consider your staff with morale boosting events.  Buying doughnuts may be a nice sweet treat, but does that cater for everyone?  How about fruit instead.  Have it on hand all the time they provide energy, essential vitamins and are a nice treat.

Some companies cater out their team building to outside agencies.  There is nothing wrong with this in itself, but who knows your staff better than you?  Who knows your team dynamic and where development is needed?

Outside agencies can give you ideas, support and the tools to do it, but team building should be something a company should be doing for itself.  Getting someone else to do it for you just builds another barrier between the managers and the staff.

Take responsibility for the emotional wellbeing of staff and they will take care of the overall well being of your company.