WorkZone: Don't let office morale sink with the temps

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In this winter of all winters, for which "discontent" doesn't begin to describe how we're feeling, stress levels at work tend to rise inversely to the sinking temperatures.

Another snow day? Once again, you're scrambling to find day care for the kids, but first you will have to spend 45 minutes shoveling that snow/ice mess in front of the house. Then you discover you've run out of de-icer and the hardware store doesn't open for two more hours.

And that's before your work day starts.

During these tough weather months, it's easy for employees to slide into a grumbling lethargy that won't go away until the first sighting of spring. But it doesn't have to be that way, says Piera Palazzolo, senior vice president of marketing for Dale Carnegie Training in New York.

Battling the elements "is a great opportunity to build a sense of camaraderie and teamwork in the office," said Mrs. Palazzolo. "If you can't get out of the office, have lunch with a co-worker or your immediate supervisor. It can do a lot to build relationships."

Bad weather can make for good opportunities to engage co-workers and build office relationships, she said. She cited her own company: When Thursday's winter storm blew into New York, the Dale Carnegie bosses bought pizza for everyone who made it into work at the Manhattan offices.

"We're forcing them to get together," she said with a laugh.

At the same time, she added, managers may have to adjust expectations when weather becomes a daily factor. "Your deadlines don't go away, so you have to do the same amount of work in fewer days. You have to be able, as a company, to revise timelines and offer people the proper supports."

A manager who reaches out, particularly on a day when others couldn't make it to the office, may reap rewards in employee engagement and productivity.

"Years ago, we would never ask someone a question about their personal life. In today's world, you want to know if someone has a sick parent or a child they need to attend to, because it shows you care."

While snow may slow an office down, "That's the time you want to reach out," Mrs. Palazzolo said. "You can't control the weather, but you can control how you approach it and the relationships you build in your work environment.

"Decide you're going to cooperate with the inevitable, and make the best of it."

Steve Twedt: or 412-263-1963.

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