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How Houston startups and small businesses can help improve employee morale during a crisis

In these uncertain times, one would be forgiven for low morale in the work place. Thankfully, there are things you can do to help with that. Miguel Tovar/University of Houston

Look around you. We have a pandemic pumping paranoia into the public. We have the longest unemployment lines we've seen in 90 years. Tensions with China teetering on the brink of collapse. Sports are cancelled. Concerts are a memory. Parties are forbidden. We live in a time of suffocating anxiety. A time of uncertainty. It doesn't help that we have social media and TV relentlessly flooding us with waves of despair. Here, we'll explore how to boost employee morale.

One would be forgiven to lose a little faith. To become dispirited. It's not your fault. In fact, there has been an increase in cases of depression since March. We're all going through it.

So, now that the economy is slowly opening back up, it's no surprise that many people in the workplace will feel demoralized as they return to their offices. Luckily, there are many tried and true ways to lift the spirits of the workplace and improve employee morale.

Break the monotony

Few things crush the human spirit more than the thought of meaninglessness. A lack of motivation. It's easy to expect someone to self-motivate. It's less easy to get them to find enough reason beyond a paycheck to sit at a desk and stare at a screen for eight hours. We're human. We get tired. We get restless. People want to matter. We aren't designed to sit in a quiet room performing monotonous tasks every day until we are old enough to get those senior discounts at Luby's. Our ancestors hunted mammoths and traveled miles a day for crying out loud.

Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to help with this. Improving posture is one of them. "Sitting at your desk all day will eventually cause back pain. Encourage employees to use a stand-up desk for at least a little bit throughout the day. Get the blood circulating," advised Meghan Biro, founder of TalentCulture. "Listen to employees that complain about their office chairs, too. These things matter. If you want productivity, you have to provide the tools and establish the right environment for employees to produce," Biro continued.

Super happy fun land

It's also a good idea to create a small activity center in the office. A few quiet games, some puzzles, brain teasers or books. Give employees the option to take their mind off of work for just a few minutes, and they'll return the favor with increased productivity and the wind back in their sails.


"You expect energy from employees. Pep. So it's also smart to keep healthy snacks around the office when ever possible," Biro said. You don't have to stock the office with M&M's and pizza. Although you'd become the world's greatest boss immediately. But keeping trail mix, nuts, fruit cuts, pretzels and the like will go a long way in keeping your workers energized for the daily slog.

Another thing you can do improve productivity is to help relieve stress. "Within reason, listen to the mental health needs of your workers. It should be okay to take a five minute break now and then. To get a change of scenery. Some fresh air. To remind oneself that the sun still exists. Especially those that work long hours," Biro said.

So much room for activities

As mentioned before, we all have tacitly adopted the office as our second home. It almost hurts to read that sentence, but it's true. While you don't have to turn the workplace into Disney World, you should still make it a point to come up with fun ideas for the whole group.

"Maybe every Friday you treat the team to pizza or host a movie night once a month. Game days and days like Hawaiian shirt days are good ideas too," suggested Jacob Morgan, author of The Future of Work. "Allow workers to personalize their work space. Maybe a bimonthly team outing for bowling or a picnic would work too," he continued. These are all ways to infuse the workplace with enthusiasm and positivity all the while getting some team time in. You'll recharge while you get to know more about one another.

Care to care

In your best Dwight Schrute voice, read this sentence: "FACT, 75 percent of people who quit their jobs aren't actually quitting their jobs, they're quitting their bosses. Beats. Bears. Battlestar Galactica." Thank you, Dwight. It's true. The majority of people who leave their jobs voluntarily do so because they've had enough of their bosses.

That's why it's so important to do the little things to boost employee morale. "Remember birthdays, anniversaries, big milestones and acknowledge terrific performances. You do not want employees feeling like robots or machines that you turn on in the morning and shut off at night when the work is done," said Susan Heathfield, management and organizational development consultant. "Pointing out the mistakes of your employees is necessary to improve performance. But it's equally important to point out good jobs," she continued.

Gain some perspective

We've become so conditioned to the idea of the traditional work week, that we take for granted how grueling it can be. How taxing it is not just on the body, but the soul. Take a step back and look at the typical workplace. Divest yourself and look at it from the outside looking in. Observe how we're just inured to the eight-hour work day. The 40-hour work week. The hour lunches. Staring at a screen and moving our fingers about on a keyboard. Sitting in the same spot. The repetitive sound of a copy machine. The smell of coffee in the break room. The shuffling of papers in a quiet room. The occasional eruption of phone calls. The ticking hands of clocks.

Every. Day.

For some, years. For others, decades. Until retirement. This is the life for millions. In fact, the average person will work 90,000 hours in their lifetime. That's one third of a person's life.

So have a little perspective when it comes to the work your employees do. The sacrifices they make. You've likely been in their shoes. You know what it's like. It's hard to convince someone that this is how we were meant to live every day of our lives. So take it upon yourself to boost employee morale. Show how grateful you are to your employees. Grateful that they come in and do this every day to keep a company going. Show them they matter. Make the workplace come alive every now and then. Listen to their grievances. Provide them with the tools they need to keep going. And in turn, they'll keep the company going.

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This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea. Rene Cantu, the author of this piece, is the writer and editor at UH Division of Research.

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Tvardi Therapeutics Inc. has fresh funds to support its drug's advancement in clinical trials. Photo via Getty Images

A Houston-based clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company has raised millions in its latest round.

Tvardi Therapeutics Inc. closed its $74 million series B funding round led by new investors New York-based Slate Path Capital, Florida-based Palkon Capital, Denver-based ArrowMark Partners, and New York-based 683 Capital, with continued support and participation by existing investors, including Houston-based Sporos Bioventures.

"We are thrilled to move out of stealth mode and partner with this lineup of long-term institutional investors," says Imran Alibhai, CEO at Tvardi. "With this financing we are positioned to advance the clinical development of our small molecule inhibitors of STAT3 into mid-stage trials as well as grow our team."

Through Slate Path Capital's investment, Jamie McNab, partner at the firm, will join Tvardi's board of directors.

"Tvardi is the leader in the field of STAT3 biology and has compelling proof of concept clinical data," McNab says in the release. "I look forward to partnering with the management team to advance Tvardi's mission to develop a new class of breakthrough medicines for cancer, chronic inflammation, and fibrosis."

Tvardi's latest fundraise will go toward supporting the company's products in their mid-stage trials for cancer and fibrosis. According to the release, Tvardi's lead product, TTI-101, is being studied in a Phase 1 trial of patients with advanced solid tumors who have failed all lines of therapy. So far, the drug has been well-received and shown multiple durable radiographic objective responses in the cancer patients treated.

Dr. Keith Flaherty, who is a member of Tvardi's scientific advisory board and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, offered his support of the company.

"STAT3 is a compelling and validated target. Beyond its clinical activity, Tvardi's lead molecule, TTI-101, has demonstrated direct downregulation of STAT3 in patients," he says in the release. "As a physician, I am eager to see the potential of Tvardi's molecules in diseases of high unmet medical need where STAT3 is a key driver."

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