[IMGCAP(1)]I read an article recently on AmEx OpenForum that I found profoundly disturbing. It seems that if you aren’t happy in your job, you are not alone. In fact, you are in the majority!

This sentence from the article sums up the results of a survey as well as the general situation: “It found that 70 percent of Americans are either 'actively disengaged' from their jobs or simply ‘disengaged’—meaning ‘not inspired by their work or their managers.’”

How sad! But why am I, a marketing specialist, talking about HR issues all of a sudden? It all boils down to taking care of your brand and the message you are putting out in the market. If your people are unhappy, they aren’t going to perform at their best. If they are not inspired, they will grow complacent. And if they don't respect—or worse yet, downright dislike—their managers, this is bound to show up in the quality of their work as well as their overall attitude about your firm.

I’m not overly surprised at this report, to be completely honest. During the economic downturn, I heard quite a few managers express opinions that I found disturbing:

• “She should be happy to have a job at all!”
• “I don't care if you have been making the same salary for three years. No one is getting a raise right now.”
• “Aw, poor baby. You can’t handle the workload? There is a line of people who would be happy to have your job, so buck up!”

I realize some of the complaints were simply whining, but many of them were legitimate. I saw quite a few companies “milk” the economic downturn for more than was necessary. For some, it was an opportunity to boost profits and increase the cash on hand, which isn’t a bad thing on its face. But when extra profitability comes at the expense of the people who bring in that revenue, it can create a situation that results in employees who feel used rather than appreciated.

Whether you realize it or not, your employees are out there representing your firm at every moment, on or off the clock. When someone asks how work is going over a beer on Friday evening, you want your people to say good things (because they're true). Are your employees, and even your partners, sowing poisonous seeds? Is the word on the street that your office is a bad place to work, and therefore a bad firm to hire?

Because we work with so many different firms around the country, we hear a lot of gossip. And I have to tell you, some of you would be shocked to hear what your staff says about you, and about your firm as a whole, behind your back. With the economy picking up and job opportunities starting to flourish again, it might be time to get a good picture of what is being said about your firm outside of your walls. No amount of careful messaging and good marketing can overcome the actions and words of disgruntled staff.

When you are looking at the big picture, make sure you take into account what’s going on inside your firm as well as outside. Talk to your staff. Make sure they feel appreciated and understand that you value their contributions. Reward them for a job well done.

If you don’t start, they will find somewhere that does. And if that’s not enough to motivate you, be aware that your clients will too.

Bonnie Buol Ruszczyk is president of bbr marketing, a firm that provides marketing strategy, training and tactical implementation for professional services firms. She can be contacted at www.bbrmarketing.com, or you can read their blog posts at www.bbrmarketing.com/blog or www.marketingideasforcpas.com.