Do you have more Debbie Downers than Pollyannas on your team lately? This could be due to low employee morale in the workplace.
When employee morale is low, employee engagement levels suffer, turnover rates soar, and productivity levels plummet, all of which are highly detrimental to your business.
Improving your employees’ morale is crucial to maintaining a productive workplace and a positive work environment. Here, we go through some common reasons for low morale, and seven easy ways to improve it.
Overview: What is employee morale?
Employee morale is made up of employee satisfaction and engagement. High levels of employee morale indicate that employees are generally satisfied with the workplace, their role, their benefits, and feel positive about their future at their company.
Lower employee morale indicates the opposite and is often demonstrated by:
- Dips in productivity
- Low employee retention levels
- Poor communication between employees and managers
- Increase in absenteeism and tardiness
- Decline in quality of work
- Argumentative or belligerent behaviors
Common contributors to low employee morale
Though low employee morale is fairly easy to recognize, it’s not always obvious why it happens. Here are a few common reasons why employee morale might be suffering:
Giving employees an unreasonable workload
Overloading employees is a surefire way to provoke burnout and resentment. While employees recognize that workloads can shift, especially during different times of the year, expecting employees to keep up with an unreasonable amount of work will almost certainly lower their morale -- especially if you continue to assign the same amount of work to them after they’ve already raised concerns.
Overlooking hard work
Failing to recognize hard work or an employee’s “wins” will eventually lead to a decrease in performance and a drop in employee morale. Not everyone needs the same kind of recognition (some might respond well to a Slack shoutout, while others might prefer a quiet yet meaningful thank-you during a team meeting) but, overall, employees need their work recognized to feel a sense of achievement.
I once worked for a company where, due to new management, our goals were revised four times over the course of one year. Not only was this incredibly upsetting as it meant we were constantly playing catch-up and trying to justify our “lack” of performance, but many of us burned out very, very quickly.
Our work chats, which were once full of shared pet pictures and anecdotes from the weekend, were now full of resentment, complaints, and “I’m going to quit!”s.
Lack of trust in employees
Micromanaged employees are prone to feeling a low sense of morale. No one likes to feel as if they’re not trusted to get on with their job, and if you really don’t trust your employees, why did you hire them in the first place? Trust is an essential ingredient for high employee morale, and for supporting employees to reach their full potential.
Employees need to be motivated at work in order to feel a sense of pride in what they do. If you’re not investing time and money into staff incentives such as free coffee and snacks, discounted services, and team events, expect employee morale to quickly wane.
7 ways to improve employee morale
Low employee morale should be addressed as quickly as possible. Even if just one employee is suffering from low morale, it can quickly permeate to other members of your team. Below we look at a few easy ways you can improve workplace morale.
1. Communicate often with employees
Employees can be slow to bring up grievances since they might feel uncomfortable sharing “negative” feedback with their managers.
Communication is a two-way street. Make a habit of regularly asking for feedback directly during one-on-ones, and be willing to hear out employees when they give constructive criticism. As a manager, it’s also your job to be honest and transparent with your team, keeping them in the loop about changes and the reasons behind them.
When employees feel heard and respected, your workplace morale will benefit.
2. Embrace employee recognition initiatives
Traditional annual performance reviews aren’t enough to show your employees how much you value them. Employee recognition needs to be a yearlong, ongoing practice, to show employees that they’re a valued and necessary part of the organization.
From company-wide shout-outs to individual feedback, recognition goes a long way in promoting positive morale, especially when you can give concrete examples of how an employee has done the business proud. The more employees feel that their contributions have made an impact, the better staff morale will be.
3. Gather employee feedback regularly
Though you should be soliciting regular feedback during one-on-ones and team meetings, it’s also important to regularly check the overall vibe of the office.
Employee satisfaction surveys are a great way of gauging employee morale levels and can provide you with constructive feedback that can inform improvements and adjustments.
Surveys don’t need to be time-consuming, either. HR software, such as Zenefits, provides templates to help you ask the right questions to improve company morale. Zenefits’ template includes rating scales as well as examples of questions and answers you can use.
4. Invest in training and development
Training and development are incredibly important to employees. In fact, 94% of employees would stay with a company longer if it invested in learning initiatives.
Employees who begin to feel overqualified for their role, believe they’ve stagnated at your company, or don’t feel as though the company invests in their development are likely to suffer from low morale.
Regularly check in with your employees to discover what courses or initiatives they’d like to take on as part of their growth, or offer them tuition reimbursement. Remember, training and development benefit both you and your employees.
5. Offer employee incentives
Employee incentives can raise work morale by offering employees more than just a salary. There are many employee incentive programs companies can offer their staff:
- End-of-year bonuses
- Extra vacation time or PTO
- Gift cards or vouchers
- Employee discounts
- Employee wellness programs
6. Promote a work/life balance
Have you noticed that certain employees regularly send emails after office hours, or leave the office hours after everyone else? Are they the same people who seem to be suffering from low morale? Though it’s very likely that you appreciate their commitment, if your employees are consistently working during evenings, they’re probably feeling overwhelmed and on the verge of burning out.
There are many ways you can promote a work/life balance for your team:
- Offer flexible/remote working
- Encourage lunch breaks away from desks
- Regularly remind employees of their vacation allowances
- Review employee workloads regularly
7. Hold team-building activities
A common cause of low morale can be a lack of team cohesion. Team-building initiatives play an important part in bringing teams together. However, very few employees appreciate the idea of “forced fun.”
Instead of setting up activities that you’ve dreamed up yourself, ask your employees what they’d enjoy doing, as they’re likely to have a much better idea of what activities would be beneficial for the team. You’d be surprised what employees will come up with, and they’re much more likely to attend and make an effort to engage with team-building activities that have been put in place by their own team.
Don’t ignore low employee morale
Everyone has off days, but if you’ve noticed that productivity and engagement levels are low on a more permanent basis, it’s time to take action now.
Using any of these seven methods will put your team on a path of improved morale -- not doing so can put you at risk of losing top talent and changing team dynamics permanently.
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