The economy is the strongest it has been in seven years. Compared to the great recession that started in 2008, these are great times to be in business. And yet, we are still encountering organizations facing significant morale issues. Why?
Morale can take a dive at any time for multiple reasons. In just the past month, we’ve consulted with leaders of organizations that have experienced a significant decline in morale for the following reasons:
- A change in leadership
- The company reported quarterly financial results and the numbers disappointed Wall Street
- To meet Wall Street’s end-of-year expectations for the company, senior leaders are considering cutting expenses with a round of company-wide layoffs
- Team members are not communicating well with each other or working effectively as a team
- Long-term employees who are no longer a fit for the team or organization have been fired or laid off
- The company is in an industry where their main product has lost either demand or value to their primary customers
- Lack of flexibility, autonomy or empowerment
- Heavy workload with little value placed on a work-life balance
- Leaders and team members have a negative vision of the future
We define morale as the mental and emotional condition of an individual or team. This emotional condition, whether good, neutral, or bad, has a significant impact on the team’s ability to successfully execute their mission. The research from our quantitative Employee Engagement Survey Benchmarks and our non-quantitative consulting with clients confirm that teams and organizations with high morale experience higher productivity, better results, lower turnover and absenteeism and a more engaged, happy workforce. Best of all, it’s much easier to attract, train and retain the best talent in the industry.
Some people like to explain away bad morale simply by stating that the emotional state of the team has gone from excitement to fear. That may explain really positive and really negative morale, but it does not explain the flat, neutral or middle-ground morale that many teams and organizations experience. These teams are just going through the daily motions of doing their jobs and accomplishing their mission. But, they’re not pushing your team or organization forward.
If you’re seeing the following behaviors, chances are your team could use a morale boost:
- Turnover of team members who significantly contribute to the team’s success
- Team members complain about each other or prefer to work in their own silo
- Conversation gravitates towards negative vision topics like: a new manager’s higher expectations, layoffs or losing key team members or customers
- Errors or client service issues resulting from a lack of cross-departmental communication and teamwork
- Increased gossip
- Lack of excitement or enthusiasm
- Lack of engagement – people contributing the absolute minimum effort in order to effectively do their jobs
- Complaints about pay
- Complaints about staffing levels
Are you, as a manager, experiencing any of the above warning signs that your team is experiencing low morale? Here are 8 tips to help you start the journey of leading your team or organization to higher ground.
Take responsibility: Creating culture, and the morale that permeates that culture, is the leader’s responsibility. As a manager, how would others on the team describe your personal morale or level of motivation? Are you excited about the future of your team, and are you excited about coming to work each day? Just one person can singlehandedly have an impact on a team’s morale. It’s almost a given, then, that as your morale goes, so goes the morale of your team. Some managers brighten up the whole team when they arrive; others only brighten morale when they leave. The great thing about attitude is that it’s the one thing we all get to choose. A leader’s attitude is contagious, so choose yours wisely and role model the positive morale you’d like to see on your team.
Create a positive team vision: Vision is a fancy word for a clear picture of the future. A great analogy for a vision is a jigsaw puzzle. When building a puzzle, we always know what the end result looks like by glancing at the box top. Team members need to know that, collectively, they are all moving the team forward towards a better tomorrow. It is your job as a leader to create and promote a positive vision of the team’s future.
There are three types of visions; Positive, neutral and negative. Every team and team member is guided by one of these three visions. Negative visions lower morale, and neutral visions are guaranteed to keep morale flat. Only positive visions have the power to raise morale to an even higher level. Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, demonstrated the power of a positive vision during an employee memorial service for Steve Jobs. In a time of great uncertainty and enormous expectations, he stood up and told all the gathered employees that “Our best days are ahead of us.” It was both an incredibly difficult and powerful message to deliver, considering the circumstances.
Address and resolve communication and teamwork issues: It’s very difficult to have high morale when a manager fails to hold team members accountable for effective communication and working well together as a team. If you don’t feel like you have the skills required to resolve difficult communication and teamwork issues, ask for help from human resources or enlist the services of an executive coach and seasoned consultant. Turning around a team caught in the web of low morale is well worth the investment.
Hold team members accountable: Morale suffers when team members are not doing what they need to do, and the manager doesn’t hold them accountable for changing their behaviors. Communicate clear roles and expectations for each team member. If a team member doesn’t follow through on their responsibilities, then the first step is to coach and counsel that team member. If the employee is still not willing to demonstrate accountability, work with human resources to go through the proper documentation, and share this employee with a competitor. When team members know that their manager is willing to lean into conflict and hold people accountable, they are more willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done, and morale rises as a result.
Meet often: Dysfunctional teams with low morale will do anything humanly possible to avoid meetings. Great leaders know the importance of meeting often to improve communication, resolve issues and add significant value to the team. People don’t hate meetings; they hate meetings that waste their time and add no value. It is the leader’s job to ensure that every meeting they call adds significant value for everyone in attendance.
Follow up: Great leaders will follow up to ensure the issues contributing to low team morale are being resolved. Collect feedback often and make necessary corrections to ensure you stay on course.
Develop your talent: Ensure everyone on your team has a growth and development plan. When team members feel they are growing and learning new things, they find it much easier to be motivated and excited about their future.
Increase top-down communication: When morale is down, it’s time for the leaders at the top to step up. Thank team members for communicating how they are feeling and for contributing their recommendations on how to improve the team. Update team members weekly on what actions have been taken to improve the condition of the team or organization. Without consistent and ongoing communication from members of the leadership team, employees will fill in the information gaps with rumors and gossip. Negative and misinformed rumors and gossip certainly don’t help boost lackluster morale.
Strong team morale is critical to the continued success and growth of your team and organization. Your team’s morale could be affected by any number of circumstances, at any point in time. Make sure that you, as the leader, are tuned in to the emotional state of your team or organization, and take prompt action to address any issues that may arise before they have the ability to hurt the morale and progress of your team and organization.
This article was originally published here.