With profits down and workloads up, management consultants are scrambling to tell corporate America how to heal the wounded morale of top talent without breaking the bank.
"Dress up in a bunny suit and fix them breakfast!" read one press release in my inbox.
"Offer to shave your head when they meet a stretch goal!" read another.
Not surprisingly, stories of botched morale events are being shared around the color copier like ghost stories around the campfire. I asked readers to send me their most laughable tales of mangled morale incentives. Here's what they had to say.
"Gina," an employee at a Seattle arts organization who didn't want her real name used, blames her new boss for a recent morale event that was royally bungled. When the boss, who Gina describes as "very different from the previous leader," "output oriented" and "no fun," sponsored a party for staff, the attendees were hardly inspired:
"The staff morale has been so low that the other directors begged her to let us do something -- maybe a rooftop barbeque with games. Finally she let us do it. It was to be a casual event, after work, feel free to wear jeans, there were games and prizes, etc. Everyone was to bring a dish. The boss showed up half an hour late, in a full suit, no dish to share and sat in the corner glaring at everyone. We encouraged her to make a speech to the staff. She stood up and basically said, 'Enjoy your party because it is the last one we will ever have. We are here to work not have fun.' We were floored at the bluntness."
Sometimes it's not the host who maims the morale event, but the guests. "Joseph," a human resources and technology consultant in Atlanta, had the misfortune of attending this professional gathering:
"I was on a consulting team last year where the project was going poorly. The team was badly organized with a lot of senior consultants with differing views on how to service the client. After eight weeks of traveling non-stop, the tension was noticeably affecting the deliverables for the project. The leader of the project decided at dinner one night that it would be a good team-building and cleansing exercise to have each person go around the table and identify what they didn't like about [each other] and where they thought they were weak. A few of the more frustrated consultants took that bait and the fur started flying. After about two hours of yelling from all sides of the table, everyone felt worse and whatever morale the team had was gone. The project was marginally delivered, and if asked, anyone on the team would say that the project was one of the worst experiences of their life."
A 2007 Florida State University study found that 40 percent of employees polled said they worked for a rotten boss. Their top gripe? Bosses who don't keep their promises, with 39 percent of workers polled making this complaint.
Gina, the arts organization worker, shared this tale of an ex-manager who made a lasting impression by not keeping her word: