Every organization goes through tough days where everything seems to go wrong, but ideally things get back on track quickly. There are also going to be some employees who are simply unhappy. The problem is when those feelings of unhappiness and dissatisfaction are far-reaching and don’t seem to go away. If this seems familiar, you may be dealing with a morale issue.
When morale goes down, so does productivity. Worse, employee complaints and turnover increase. When things go wrong, you will likely notice a lack of resilience. That may be the most costly impact of low employee morale.
Unfortunately, this can’t be fixed by a single act of employer goodwill. It certainly can’t be disciplined out of your workforce. Instead, you’ll need to understand the root causes first. Then you’ll want to apply remedies that will help to fix the problem permanently.
1. Engage in organic community building
Mention the words ‘team building’ to your people and you’ll get lots of eye rolling and strained smiles. People want to get along with their coworkers. They want to be friendly with one another and enjoy a cordial and upbeat work environment. What they don’t want is to spend time doing trust falls or engaging in other cringeworthy exercises.
It’s not that team building is bad. It’s just that your time may be better spent engaging in community building. This gets everyone invested in being a positive force in the workplace. Think about the things you would do to build community in your neighborhood. Then, do those things in the workplace. For example:
- Encourage people to leave their homes (cubicles) and engage with one another
- Create opportunities to participate in enjoyable low pressure activities
- Encourage communication over filing grievances
Keep in mind that while team and community building should be ongoing, this isn’t a salve deeply rooted organizational problems. Just like a neighborhood block party won’t fix the fact that a drunk abuser is terrorizing the neighborhood, placing an XBox in the break room won’t fix the damage done by a toxic supervisor. However, when used with other approaches, this can be a part of boosting employee morale.
2. Hire better leaders
Look at a team with a morale issue, and there’s likely to be issues at the top. When leaders are ill-suited for the job, don’t have the resources they need, or don’t receive the training they need, teams suffer. The solution is to either hire better leaders, or reconsider the ones you have. If your leaders are engaging in any of the following behaviours, don’t be surprised that morale is low:
- Micromanaging staff
- Not ensuring that employees have what they need
- Yelling, publicly criticizing, or engaging in other bullying behaviors
- Stealing credit for ideas
- Being indecisive
If you identify a leadership problem, your next challenge is determining how to deal with that leader. Some things are a matter of training and mentoring. For example, a leader who doesn’t feel empowered might be indecisive. On the other hand, bullying behaviors can be indicative of the manager’s personality. You will rarely be successful at training someone into a personality change.
3. Use extrinsic rewards
An unfortunate number of employers forget that part of their business model is compensating people in ways that motivates to work hard and be productive. Teaching people the value of hard work or working towards a common goal may seem noble, but it doesn’t have a place in business. Simply put, extrinsic motivation is key to keeping employees happy and motivated.
If employees don’t feel as if they are well-compensated in tangible ways, morale is going to be low. If you’re asking a lot of your staff, keep morale up by offering the following extrinsic rewards:
- Wages and raises that reflect their talents and contributions
- Bonuses and commissions
- Paid days off
- Gift Cards
- Gym memberships and other perks
- Tickets to events
- Decent benefits
Yes, compliments are nice. They will never be a reasonable substitute for meaningful compensation on any level. In fact, when employees feel as if they are doing things to increase your bottom line, your giving them intrinsic rewards can feel downright insulting. In a way, it’s the ‘thoughts and prayers’ of the working world.
4. Empower employees
There are two things more demoralizing than being yelled at by a customer. The first is knowing you can’t fix the problem because you are bound to follow policy even when it’s a bad idea. The second is having to tolerate it when the customer is utterly wrong, and behaving completely inappropriately.
Everyone deals with customer service issues. These problems occur when employees are not empowered. Never put an employee in a position of sticking to the official company line when it doesn’t benefit them, the customer, or your business. Certainly don’t put them in a position of being berated for following the rules.
Instead, train them well. Don’t just teach them how to do their jobs, but about providing customer service. Customer facing employees should understand your overall goals. Then, rather than being limited to working within a strict set of rules, they should be empowered to make decisions in the customers’ best interests. Empowered employees work harder, they make better decisions, and they care more.
5. Let employees know how their work benefits the company
That bit about paying compliments above… well it wasn’t 100% accurate. People actually do appreciate positive feedback, and giving it to them can improve morale. It just shouldn’t be a substitute for compensation as mentioned earlier. It should also be meaningful and specific.
What does that mean?
It means, ‘Thanks for working hard!’ is going to have less impact than, ‘Since everyone worked so hard to get that app released before the holidays, we saw a 15% increase in online sales between Thanksgiving and New Years!’
When people aren’t told how their contributions help other team members and the company as whole, that can be disheartening. They may feel unappreciated. Worse, they may simply feel as if they really don’t offer much of value.
6. Encourage and facilitate employee growth
Chances are, you have employees who want to advance their careers. If they don’t see a path for doing so in your organization, they may feel stuck and frustrated. Employers with high morale have programs in place that facilitate people in meeting their goals. This can include:
- Management training programs
- Tuition reimbursement
- Cross training
- Opportunities to attend seminars and events
When you provide opportunities for growth an advancement, that certainly helps morale. There are other things you can do as well.
First, you can get to know your team members, find out their goals, and the career path that interests them. Once you know, support that. Have ongoing conversations with them about their goals. Ask them how they are progressing. Don’t just do this for those who have goals that keep them with your organization. Let employees know they can expect your support no matter what they plan on doing in the future.
7. Fix the break room fridge
You know what I mean!
- A leaky refrigerator that doesn’t keep food cold
- A chronically broken coffee machine
- A frustrating software package that forces people to log in again every five minutes
- Ancient and uncomfortable desk chairs
- A printer that appears to have been taken from the prop room on the set of ‘Office Space’
No office environment is perfect, and it’s expected that things may need to be repaired from time to time. However, if you allow too many things to fall into disrepair, or ignore the importance of worker comfort, that can cause issues. Bad equipment, slow computers, and other issues can make working frustrating and difficult.
By following the guidelines here, you can significantly improve employee morale. The key is to ensure that employees are valued and well compensated. Then, ensure that leadership and company policies are supportive and empowering. Finally, give your people the tools they need to do their jobs well, and reach the goals they have set for themselves.