By Gareth Chick, director, Spring Partnerships, www.spring-partnerships.com,

Two years into one of the worst recessions in history, and reports are showing employee morale in UK companies is at an all time low. A report last week from Hay Group[1], said that more than half (51 percent) of UK workers are frustrated or disengaged with their jobs, compared with 41 percent of employees in Europe.

Job cuts, tough trading, the lack of pay rises and bonuses, and the slow recovery have damaged employee morale and engagement.

The government has even announced[2] it will begin measuring people’s psychological and environmental wellbeing, to officially monitor levels of happiness. Given the above sentiment, perhaps managers and business leaders ought to follow its lead.

Many managers and HR professionals are at a loss as to how to motivate their workforces, many of whom are looking for some kind of reward for sticking with the company through tough times. Strong leadership and communication is critical now and the only way that companies will reverse poor morale and engagement. But leadership is being overlooked by too many organisations at a time when it is most needed.

Christmas time presents the perfect opportunity to give employees a boost before they leave the office for the festive season. Employers often underestimate how important the Christmas period is to people psychologically. This is the time when everyone leaves the office, and when they have a chance to take a break away from work, and take stock of their lives.

Don’t let key members of your team disappear without offering them some words of encouragement about their performance, and commitment to the company in 2010.

Get your message right, and they’ll go home feeling incredibly positive about their company; get it wrong, and they might spend the holiday contemplating a change of career in 2011.

A recent study[3] by UK the specialist IT recruitment site, The IT Job Board, found that post-recession, a staggering 85 percent of IT professionals plan to ‘jump ship’, and 80 percent indicated that they will be looking for a new job in 2011.

Below are some tips on what business leaders should do to send out a positive message to staff:

•Firstly, thank them for their time, energy and contribution to the company in 2010, and comment that this has not gone unnoticed..

•Paint a realistic picture of the current business situation, to show you’re being straight with them — don’t shy away from the truth. After all, your business has made it through the tough period, and it will continue this resilience, if needed.

•Talk about the strengths of the business, and the plans and opportunities for the future.

•Prove to them the grass isn’t greener; talk candidly about the competition.

•And finally, tell them why they really matter to the company (ideally on a one-to-one basis). Show them they are valued members of the team