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Ask Sue
A Weekly Q&A Column About Professionalism, Etiquette and Problems in the Workplace
by Sue Morem

Raising Morale

Dear Sue: For thirteen years my husband and I ran a successful medical practice. I managed the office while he dedicated his time and energy to being a great doctor. Unfortunately, we recently divorced and while waiting to finalize the bitter divorce agreement, 3 years have lapsed. I've relocated and am looking forward to entering the job market, but I am encountering two problems:

  1. Most companies require references. My only reference is my husband, and depending on how he feels the day he receives a call about me, I could get a good reference or a bad one. In addition, if he finds out that I am working he could fight to decrease my alimony and child support payments! 
  2. Thirteen years of my life were spent working in one office.

I consider myself to be intelligent, hardworking and employable, but I am having a hard time getting good professional jobs! Do you have any suggestions?

- Divorced

Sue Says: In your situation, I think honesty will be the best policy. Have you considered telling what you have told me to prospective employers?

There is no need to badmouth your husband or belittle yourself because you've only had one job experience. Focus on what you do have and what you have accomplished within the past thirteen years.

There are other types of references you might consider providing. Perhaps there is a patient you knew well that would provide a reference for you. Consider a good friend or someone you've worked with in other ways, such as your children's school activities, through any volunteer work you've done or someone from your church or synagogue.

Although you worked at one place for thirteen years, you undoubtedly developed many skills during that period. Talk about those skills with potential employers and about your capabilities. You have a new career ahead of you and no one can impose limitations on you but yourself. Set your sights on what you want to do and don't stop until you get there! Good luck!

Dear Sue: The company I work for had a strong and profitable year last year, but for some reason no one was given a raise. Now moral is low. They still expect us to take on more and more responsibility. How can I raise moral among employees?

- Manager

Sue Says: You can start by talking with upper management to try to find the answers to the questions you have, and perhaps you will find the answers you are looking for.

In addition, you might consider addressing your concerns directly with your employees. They probably will appreciate the opportunity to express any concerns they may have and may even be able to tell you what they need.

Although an increase in pay is one way to improve moral, there are many other ways as well. In addition to receiving a paycheck, people need to know that what they are doing makes a difference. Use this as an opportunity to show your appreciation to your employees, whether it's through a note of thanks or simply acknowledge each person for the contributions they make. See if you can get permission to have a celebration of some type or provide everyone with an afternoon or a day off. Consider offering a "dinner for two" or other special prizes through a drawing each month. Any type of recognition or reward will be positive and build morale.

Use your creativity and find ways to make your workplace a positive place to be. Not only will your employees be happier, but I bet you will be too!

Dear Sue: I graduated from college 4 years ago and I have been working for the same company for 3 years. I've received several substantial merit raises and a promotion to manager, but due to budget cuts I am still performing duties of an entry-level staff member. I need more and I am looking for a new position. How do I explain this to a prospective employer?

- Worried

Sue Says: In exactly the same way you have explained it to me.

Sue Morem is a professional speaker, trainer and syndicated columnist. She is author of the newly released 101 Tips for Graduates and How to Gain the Professional Edge, Second Edition. You can contact her by email at or visit her web site at

Send Sue your questions by clicking here: Ask Sue
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