Low employee morale can edge its way into the office from time and time, but when your workplace loses its vibrancy, lacks energy, and seems to have a noticeably different “feel” over an extended period of time, these are symptoms of an employee morale problem.
When employee morale is low, most employees don’t enjoy coming to work as much as they used to. Job dissatisfaction is more common and employees feel less connected to one another. Employees often miss the old work atmosphere and "the way things used to be." They may be absent more frequently and may not feel as invested in their work. There tends to be more workplace conflict and competition (spoken or unspoken) and less collaboration and teamwork. Eventually, the problem spirals and productivity, performance, and retention also suffer.
There are many ways to boost employee morale in the short-term (such as staff appreciation events, team-building, social gatherings and outings, etc.), but most of those tactics by themselves are short-sighted solutions that don’t result in any real change to a fundamental morale problem. Instead, here are 6 simple but meaningful actions that leaders can take to boost and maintain employee morale over the long-term.
1. Change your demeanor.
The mood and demeanor of leader(s) are infectious and significantly affect a team's climate, let alone an entire organization. In fact, research shows that 50%-70% of how employees perceive their organization's climate is attributed to the behaviors and actions of their leader.
Employees tend to "read" the mood and behaviors of leaders and managers and model those same actions and behaviors at work. Employees can usually sense when something is wrong in the organization based on leaders’ behavior, which can contribute to an environment of uncertainty and anxiety. Leaders set the tone from the top of the organization.
Leaders need to try to have a consistent, predictable, enthusiastic, and positive demeanor. Negative changes in their behavior can really hurt morale over time, perhaps without them even realizing it. Conversely, positive changes in demeanor can improve it.
2. Appreciate employees' work.
Lack of appreciation frequently leads to lower morale, often resulting when segments of employees don't feel appreciated, if they feel that other employees are more valued than them, or when they believe that their hard work or contributions are overlooked or unnoticed. Giving employees a compliment, expressing gratitude, and simply doing something kind for someone at work are proven ways to make employees feel happier, create a positive climate, and keep morale high.
All organizations have blind-spots when it comes to appreciation and these should be minimized to ensure that the hard work and important accomplishments of less visible employees are noticed. Leaders should be on the lookout for opportunities to notice employees' hard work and pull them aside to say thank you and spontaneously recognize it. Pay attention to those employees that you haven't thanked or noticed in awhile, because they probably deserve and need to feel appreciated.
3. Be reasonable and fair.
When expectations on employees become too much, employees can gradually lose their spirit. As expectations rise to unmanageable limits, employees become too overloaded, begin to believe they cannot reach the goals set for them, or face unreasonable demands to work too much or sacrifice their personal needs. They can get caught up in fear and pressure, and lose heart in their day-to-day work.
Leading well requires setting the bar high, but being reasonable and fair about what to expect from people and understanding human limits. Unrealistic expectations, and also frequently changing goals and priorities, exhaust employees over time. Employees can feel like they are underperforming despite their best efforts, when in fact they probably are not.
4. Keep your promises.
Making promises you can't keep, not following through on what you say, or just not being honest and upfront with employees are sure-fire ways to create issues with employee morale. Employees appreciate honest, consistent, and predictable leaders who always deliver on what they say and communicate extremely openly and honestly.
Even more importantly, when leaders are not direct and honest with employees, employees won't be open and honest with them and will likely develop unproductive habits of talking to one another versus seeing their leaders directly with their questions and concerns.
If employees avoid speaking up, it may be a sign that they don’t feel like they can be honest and straightforward in the workplace. Employees should always feel that they can voice their concerns and be listened to without being punished nor judged.
5. Mix up the routine.
Mixing up the office routine can help improve morale. Newness, spontaneity, frequent change, and opportunities for informal coworker interactions are critically important in boosting morale, especially when employees fall into a stagnant routine of the same tasks, meetings, and everyday office affairs.
Consider developing a new team or staff initiative, changing meeting formats, celebrating success, changing the workspace, hosting a staff event or outing, planning a team-building activity, or just doing something different and unique as a team or staff on an ongoing basis, to break employees out of their routines. Additionally, try to re-kindle cultural aspects that have been lost over time by making changes to your workplace environment.
Similarly, keep employees engaged in a mix of new responsibilities and projects to avoid them from getting bored and disinterested. Employees can become frustrated when they feel like they aren’t reaching their full potential in the workplace. Wasting talent and skills can really hurt morale…not to mention your business.
6. Use your key players.
Every organization has some key players: those employees who work very well cross-functionally, are extremely likeable, build strong relationships across the organization, are inspiring and motivating, don't divide the organization, and perform at a high level. These are individuals who positively impact the workplace culture and who have behavioral patterns that other employees naturally follow. They too, like leaders, set the tone in the workplace, but from all levels in the organization. They essentially are your "cultural warriors" who are important in boosting morale from a "grassroots" perspective.
Make sure these employees are in strategic and visible places in the organization where they will interact with many different employees. Their style, attitudes, and interactions will rub off on other employees, help improve morale, and drive higher performance in the process.
Fixing low employee morale requires more than quick fixes. If the atmosphere is suffering in your workplace these days, these are some simple but effective strategies that you can use to help improve employee morale.
ERC offers a variety of training related to boosting employee morale including topics such as dealing with change, motivating employees, team-building, conflict management, positive attitudes, and personal empowerment.
ERC's Employee Engagement Survey service helps your organization identify areas where employee morale/engagement may need improvement.