Salary freezes, employee layoffs and greater health-care costs count among the obvious reasons for low morale in many workplaces.
Combine those forces with the stress of figuring out how to pay the mortgage or college tuition, and many employees end up seriously disengaged from work.
A report by Aflac, the insurance underwriter known best for the duck featured in its advertising, said that 42 percent of employees at small businesses were coping with a financial crisis and that 38 percent had experienced significant issues that affect how well they do their work.
There's a very strong correlation between workers with financial hardships and a lack of work productivity, said Audrey Tillman, executive vice president for corporate services at Aflac's global headquarters in Columbus, Ga.
"Our report shows about 22 percent of productivity is lost when employees are experiencing something like that," Tillman said. "... It shows how unprepared the average worker is for a financial hardship."
Businesses that want to boost morale can provide some options to employees even if they can't give them a raise, she said.
"The first thing they can do is make sure what they are offering is a comprehensive package of benefits ... and that employees are educated on exactly what those offerings are."
Communication and education are important.
"We found in our study a significant number of people who didn't understand what their benefits were and how they could lessen their hardships," she said.
For instance, employers can offer voluntary supplemental insurance that workers pay for themselves. It's no surprise that suggestion comes from Aflac, one of the world's largest supplemental insurers.
Still, that kind of offering might be an attractive perk for businesses that want to retain employees or recruit new ones.
"In the post-economic downturn age, benefits packages are becoming more important," Tillman said.
She cited figures from the Aflac study showing that 63 percent of employees polled considered benefits to be a factor in whether they changed jobs, while 54 percent were more likely to accept a job based on attractive benefits rather than higher compensation.
After the study, Aflac felt so strongly about making sure its own workforce understood its benefits package that it "revamped and refreshed" its classes to explain benefits to employees. The company has about 3,900 employees, including about 3,200 at its headquarters.
(Contact Joyce Gannon at jgannon(at)post-gazette.com.)
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.scrippsnews.com.)