Take Employee Alice. Alice likes work. She has a rocking can-do attitude and goes home at the end of the day feeling ever-so-slightly-smugly satisfied.
Her outlook is optimistic, some would say contagiously so, and oh boy, is she productive. Alice doesn’t have the perfect job (clue: there’s no such thing), but she feels like she does.
As such, she’s committed, always goes above and beyond, and is generally an all-round lovely-jubbly person to have to spend 8 hours a day with. Alice stays put too – she’s really quite happy to stay working here, thank you very much. Alice is a shining example of exceptional employee morale.
Yep, we all need more employees like Alice.
But Alice is no accident. You can have more employees with such deep pockets for work ethic and shining halos of workplace goodness, if you understand a little bit more about staff morale and what drives it, and learn how to boost it.
And that’s what this article is all about: getting into the secrets behind employee morale, including how to make something so intangible and subjective easier to pin down and measure, and importantly, sharing with you tips on how to boost employee morale.
Alice vs. Ted
On the other hand, meet Ted. Ted is a complainer and you sure do know it. Well, sometimes you do, because sometimes he’s off ill, again, with that mysterious set of symptoms that never really amounts to anything.
Ted ticks the boxes. He gets the job done, but he sticks to the very limits of his role and won’t put in one micro-ounce more effort. Ted is a fun vacuum. He’s sucked up the joy around him and he’s a tough nut to manage.
Chances are that Ted’s employee morale battery is running low of charge. He’s zapped of energy and you’re not getting his best.
What we need is our employees to be more like Alice and less like Ted. But it’s not just luck. Yes, employees aren’t robots and they all have their own unique personalities and lives, determining the baggage they bring into the workplace, but employers actually have some control here.
You can encourage your employees to be more like Alice and less like Ted, if you just know how.
Want to scoot to how to? Scroll down, but we highly recommend learning a bit more about why staff morale is so important first, and how you can measure it, so that you can put our tips in action and actually quantify that they are working and why.
Who really cares?
So, why does employee morale matter?
Positivity breeds positivity
Employee morale is a funny thing. It doesn’t apply solely to each individual. It has a collective element, with Alices breeding Alices and Teds breeding Teds.
We know, instinctively, that positive workplace cultures lead to more productivity. Where there is high morale there is high engagement, and where there is high engagement there are high levels of productivity. The data bears this out too. Indeed, Ted (a disengaged employee) could cost you between $3,400 and $10,000 a year in lost salary alone. Let alone not being as likely to come up with that innovative add-on that sees your clients keen to open their wallet.
So employee morale is like a snowball and it can grow and spread exponentially, for better or worse.
Holding onto valuable skills
Just perusing any of the latest job market data reveals that there’s one thing in really short supply: skills. There are some seriously ouchy skills shortages about that aren’t going to be going anywhere quickly.
And this is matched with a whole tonne of vacancies which means that if your skilled employee starts feeling a bit disgruntled then they can very easily choose to go elsewhere.
Bearing in mind you’ve probably invested money, and certainly a lot of time and effort, into developing those skills, you don’t really want to see them walk out the door.
Where there’s high employee morale, absence rates are lower. Particularly if you’ve got people on leave for stress, or lots of small absences, chances are you may have a morale problem. Indeed, where teams have poor morale, there’s typically 37% more absenteeism.
When teamwork matters, morale really matters
If your workplace relies on teamwork to make the dream work, then employee morale is something you really want to harness. When morale is high, teams perform better together. When it’s low, they fracture, become disjointed, and struggle to collaborate.
Your best advocates
It’s not just on Glassdoor that your employees can share if you’re a good employer. Every day and in every interaction, your employees are either fabulous ambassadors for your brand, or rather bedraggled had-better-days mascots. When employee morale is high, each and every employee suddenly becomes a natural member of your sales team, spreading the love for your business.
Putting in the hours, putting in the effort
Don’t want clock watchers? Boost their morale. As you’ll discover below, employee morale depends on some give and take. If your employee knows that they can go to the dentist to fix that painful molar, or watch their kid’s sports day, then you’ll find that when you’ve got a looming deadline, they are pretty happy to hang around and help.
High morale bolsters accuracy and creativity
There’s a fascinating study (using some guinea pig internists) which reveals that when morale is high, people are actually more accurate in their tasks. We process information better and we can work faster and more accurately. That’s right - Ted’s penchant for silly mistakes is a symptom of his low morale.
We also know that happiness actually fuels creativity. Yes, the poet needs the pain, but when it comes to the workplace out-of-the-box thinking creativity we’re after, feeling good helps.
At the end of the day, we spend a huge chunk of our life working. If we don’t feel good about it, it impacts on every facet of our life. It impacts on those around us too.
How to measure employee morale
We know you’re now chomping at the bit to improve employee morale in your workplace, and good on you, we’re soon to get onto all the tips to boost employee morale shortly. However, how are you going to know if it’s improving or not? You need to be able to measure it.
Employee morale is a bit airy-fairy in the measurement stakes, but fortunately lots of great minds have uncovered some good ways to determine how well you’re faring.
Gathering feedback is perhaps the best way of seeing what’s going on. Employee engagement surveys are just the ticket.
Formal feedback is one thing, but also make sure that there are tonnes of opportunities for informal feedback. A feelings check-in screen on the way out of the office, a chat over a cuppa, and anonymous notes boxes are great.
When employee morale goes up, productivity goes up, so measure this.
Employee attrition and turnover rates
Measure how long employees stay with you. You want a low turnover rate to reflect high morale.
Also look at your absence rates. Look at both the total absence rate and the incidence rate.
How to boost employee morale
You know why it’s important and you know how to measure it, so now, how can you boost it? Here are our top tips for boosting employee morale.
We’re humans. Even the most introverted soul needs human connection sometimes. Don’t underestimate the importance of the connections between managers and subordinates, or between colleagues.
Those connections power-up morale and keep it ticking. That incidental chat by the water cooler isn’t just two employees wasting time – it is building connections that can lead to better efficiency and productivity.
Excellent connections between bosses and employees also have the added benefit of making individuals feel heard. This is like a superfood for morale. Not only do you then know about a niggling problem whilst it’s still niggling, rather than a festering sore, you will actually get to know your employees.
When you know what makes them tick, you’re primed to get the best out of them.
Mentor and coach
Managers shouldn’t just manage. To be effective leaders, they need to mentor and coach those working for them. This is because when you coach someone in a role then they become more motivated within it, and yes, a lot of it comes down to the connection and motivation again. They won’t just be ticking off the tasks to get home, but they will be inherently figuring out how to get more from that task.
Create a healthy and vibrant workplace culture
Workplace culture that just ‘happens’ tend to be the politics-laden jobs-worth stuff you’re trying to avoid. But the culture isn’t out of your control. You can shape it through acts, behaviour and leadership. For example, treating the workforce to outings, such as Detective Days, not only bolsters teamwork but it boosts employee morale by showing that connections are valued and fun is recognised.
Make sure you’ve built, and are continuing to build, a diverse workforce where inclusivity goes well beyond tokenism. It really pays off. Seriously, research shows that inclusive diverse workplaces have improved employee engagement.
Protect their work-life balance
If you want hard work then the trick is not to whip them like they are carthorses. They may trudge through the mud for you, but they won’t do anything special or extra along the way. It comes down to give and take, as well as autonomy. People need to feel in control of their own lives, and not like a robot, if you want them to be innovative, creative hard workers.
Be careful not to clock watch, but reward outcomes well.
Recognise achievement and ditch blame
The blame culture that still pervades many working environments is pointless. It doesn’t get anyone anywhere fast. It stifles productivity as people are fearful of speaking up and admitting mistakes before they snowball into gigantic beasts.
Create a culture that allows people to move on swiftly from mistakes through constructive feedback not shameful criticism and instead drive more good stuff by recognising and rewarding achievement. If employees know that their successes will be celebrated and appreciated then they’ll be more inclined to do more for you.
There are different ways of going about the recognition and reward thing. Yes, cold hard cash is great, but reward can also come in different forms. For example, treating a team to an activity together at the end of a project can spur them on to do well next time.
Help people keep healthy
There’s been a lot more chat opening up in the world of work about mental and physical health, especially on the back of the pandemic. It’s about time. It’s in the interests of the employer to make it easier for employees to keep healthy.
Not only does this bring the obvious bonus of ensuring a populated workforce with low absence rates, it shows your employees you care and that’s mighty powerful stuff when it comes to employee morale.
You can boost employee morale by making sure that keeping healthy is actively supported by you. From allowing time to go for a walk or to the gym at lunchtime (or even running some classes) to ensuring they have enough natural daylight in their workspace and healthy food options, you should take your role seriously.
Think about skills carefully
Part of talent management is gradually elevating the skills base you have. However, throwing someone into the deep end, without the requisite skills, is a guaranteed way of making them feel like they are always drowning. They’re morale will be on the bottom of the pool, even if they aren’t.
For morale purposes, it’s important that you play to people’s strengths. Allow people to work within their competency, with the occasional room for growth. You’ll get the best out of them and they’ll be driven to extend their skills on your behalf too.
Invest in them
Professional development isn’t just a tick box exercise but brings about many benefits, one of which is a boost to employee morale. Staff morale takes an upward swing when employees are trained together.
Whether it’s team building activities which are fun and engaging, like our Detective Days, or sat down in a classroom learning sessions, if you show employees that you’ve put your hand in your pocket for them, then they will reward you with greater goodwill.
Listen to them
Whether it’s a growing buzz of negativity in the cafeteria or your turnover and absence metrics telling you something is going wrong, LISTEN. If there are ripples of grouchiness, there’s a reason and whether or not you agree with that reason is actually neither here nor there.
Be open to feedback. Listen to the grumbles. Ask for opinions. If employees feel their voice isn’t heard they will vote with their feet and drag others down with them. Be receptive and transparent and you’ll find it works wonders for morale.
If you want brilliant employee morale then it’s time to ditch the them and us concept where information is hoarded by the upper echelons of the organisation and the lowly plebs are expected to devote themselves to your goals blindly.
Be as transparent as you can and communicate clearly and effectively with your workforce. It shows respect and it shows that you’re all on the same side working towards the same goals.
Excellent employee morale is actively shaped. And it’s not just about the individual. You need to think of employee morale collectively. It’s a collective responsibility whereby everyone needs to pull together to effect positive change for everyone else.
What’s great is that positivity and goodwill grows quickly in a fertile environment and it directly benefits the employer to make that happen.