Morale is a crucial component of the modern workforce and, based on research from Gallup, is in seriously short supply. Without it, employees spiral into disinterest, or even outright conflict. Building team morale is easier said than done, but it's worth the effort.
In this guide, we'll delve into the realities of both company morale and personal engagement. Hopefully, you'll have a greater appreciation for how these can benefit your business — and feel inspired to enact morale-boosting strategies for your team.
What Is Workplace Morale & Why Is It Important?
According to the human resources (HR) platform Kazoo, morale is the "unsung hero" of workplace metrics. Unfortunately, while many business leaders understand that morale is important, they often struggle to define it — and as a result, they may not realize when it is seriously lacking.
The management educator Dr. Mike Clayton refers to workplace morale as a "close cousin of motivation," or more specifically, "motivation applied across a whole team." This can be the precursor to individual motivation, for, as Dr. Clayton explains, "people will always take their prevailing mood from the authentic attitudes of the people they look to — their leaders."
Quiz: Is Your Team Morale Low?
Struggling to determine the status of your team's morale? This quiz should help. You may be surprised by the wide range of signs that indicate when employees are disengaged on a personal and team level.
Answer these simple questions. Begin with a score of 10 and subtract 1 point for every "yes" answer. Then add up your score to learn if your organization is a morale master or needs urgent intervention (score key below):
- Does your team have a high turnover rate compared to the industry average?
- Do team members bring enthusiasm or exciting new ideas to meetings?
- Do you regularly find yourself intervening in major employee conflicts/debates that feel more destructive than productive?
- Have you observed employees spending an inordinate amount of time on social media or dealing with other digital distractions?
- Do employees consistently arrive late, unprepared, or not dressed properly for work?
- Do team members miss deadlines? Do you worry about projects being completed or patients being attended to on time?
- Is workplace theft a problem? For instance, have you noticed that office supplies go missing?
- Are you struggling to get employees to abide by safety or hygiene protocols, such as wearing protective equipment and washing hands?
- Do you lack a tailored program for helping employees meet their personal and team goals?
- Does the energy around your office or in meetings seem low? Would you commonly describe your employees as unenthusiastic?
If You Scored...
8-10: Morale Maven
Your team wants purpose and meaning from their work, and you’re providing that. They feel good at their jobs and respected for their knowledge and hard work. They look to you, their manager, as a coach who can take them to the next level. Their high morale should translate into impressive results, including sky-high productivity and game-changing innovation. Keep working with teammates to grow their interests and skills, and reward their motivated spirits.
4-7: Performance Plateau
Morale may not yet be a company pitfall, but your team doesn't feel quite as cohesive as it could be. Gallup’s survey found that the manager of the team accounts for 70 percent of the team’s engagement. So while employees may be getting by on a day-to-day basis, they don't yet feel truly fulfilled, and they will look to you to build this (even if you aren’t getting it from your own manager). See below for ideas on how to give your team a boost.
0-3: Risky Business
Gallup found that morale boosting was largely felt to be an “HR responsibility,” which was a major root of the problem -- team leaders feeling like there’s nothing they can do to reengage an employee. It’s likely that if you received this score, your employees feel overwhelmed, unappreciated, unsupported, or not trusted to make their own decisions. This can be changed. Identifying ongoing needs (basic, individual, team and growth) and obstacles, and taking immediate action can start an uptick in performance.
Room for improvement always exists, even among teams that currently seem to have high morale. To that end, we've outlined the essentials of morale below, including why it matters and how it can be boosted on a long-term basis.
Why Is Team Morale Important?
Morale and engagement underscore everything your employees accomplish, as well as their long-term commitment to your organization. Unfortunately, these qualities are seriously lacking in the American workforce. Alarming data from Gallup reveals that a mere 35 percent of U.S. employees feel engaged with their work. As a result, businesses are more apt to see these morale-related problems:
- Poor Productivity: A large body of research links workplace morale with productivity. For example, according to Gallup's research on engagement in the U.S. workforce, businesses in the top quartile of engagement boast an 18 percent improvement in productivity (measured in sales) compared to those in the lower quartile.
- Lack of Innovation: A report from Fortune cites boredom as one of the top reasons why people quit their jobs. Boredom is an innovation-killer, but it can be corrected by taking steps to improve team morale. Once team employees feel connected to and inspired by their coworkers and organization, they are better capable of unleashing the creativity that has been hidden all along.
- High Turnover: Retention is a chronic problem in low-morale workplaces; disillusioned employees cannot be expected to stick around for long when better opportunities are available. A report from SHRM indicates that top indicators of employee turnover include problematic "attitudes of organizational commitment and job satisfaction," as well as poor "workgroup cohesion."
- Workplace Conflict: When employees are frustrated with their jobs, they often lash out at one another. This, in turn, can further limit productivity and innovation, thereby compounding the already-identified issues with low morale. A report published in the Journal of Engineering Technologies and Innovative Research (JETIR) cited "friction among the workers" as a top sign of low morale among employees in the manufacturing industry.
- Safety Concerns: While many business leaders are aware of the devastating impact that poor morale can have on productivity and innovation, they often neglect to consider the very real effect that this has on workers' physical safety. In the aforementioned Gallup meta-analysis, businesses in the top quartile of employee engagement saw 64 percent fewer safety incidents than those in the bottom quartile.
5 Ways to Build Team Morale
Now that you understand why morale is important and whether it's a problem for your workplace, it's time to implement strategies that will improve it — for good. The goal is to develop ongoing sources of high morale, as opposed to one-off efforts that provide only a temporary boost. Look to these opportunities to keep morale high over time.
1. Measure morale regularly.
Before you implement any morale-building initiatives, determine the current baseline — and where improvements are needed. This will help you determine why morale is suffering, so you can implement targeted strategies that actually address the root of the problem. Monitoring also lets employees know that you take morale seriously. Your employees simply understanding that their well-being is a priority could lead to significant gains.
A variety of options are available for assessing morale. Many organizations opt for quarterly or monthly surveys that assess whether employees feel engaged with their jobs or in sync with their coworkers.
Once you've developed a strategy for assessing morale, continue to monitor the situation over time. Build morale-based surveys and meetings into a schedule to ensure that employees are able to offer feedback on a quarterly basis at least.
2. Help employees set personal and team goals.
Employees enjoy a greater sense of purpose when motivated by meaningful goals. Let them know that their ambitions matter, and their efforts to set and meet goals will benefit not only them, but also their coworkers and your business at large.
In addition to setting personal goals, encourage employees to work within teams or departments to develop group-based objectives. This will get them on the same page and help them understand the greater purpose behind their daily responsibilities. Carve out time from their busy schedules to create these goals, and later, to check in and assess their progress.
3. Build gamification into everyday tasks.
Have you ever noticed that ordinary chores are enjoyable when you add a bit of lighthearted competition? The same principle applies in the work world. Many companies have found that gamification motivates employees and improves their relationships with one another. This strategy is common not only in retail and fast food (chief examples being Target and McDonald's), but also among tech companies such as Cisco and SAP.
Sales gamification is even used in real estate. A case study from SalesScreen reveals that, upon enacting a strategy involving “friendly competition between agents” and even special prizes, earnings at the leading Norwegian real estate agency Proaktiv increased by nearly 34 percent.
For this strategy to work, employees need to fully buy into the overarching game. In fact, a study from the Wharton School Research Paper Series found that gamification can be actively harmful if employees feel that they are forced to take part in "mandatory fun." The economist Katy Milkman explains that gamification is most effective when it "helps people achieve the goals they want to reach anyway by making the process of goal achievement more exciting."
4. Highlight both individual and team successes.
As The Muse points out, a simple "Good job" can go a long way. More important, however, are in-depth compliments that convey gratitude for the hard work and dedication seen in individual employees and across entire teams. Implement a systematic approach to ensure that positive feedback is provided consistently. There's a reason why having an "employee of the month" is such a popular strategy across so many industries. Don't forget to compliment (or better yet, reward) larger teams when they make progress toward or achieve their goals.
5. Set an authentic example.
None of the efforts highlighted above will succeed if they're perceived as inauthentic. Employees aren't motivated by fake smiles or shallow compliments. Rather, they seek inspiration from genuine displays of passion. At the management level, this means finding your "why" and living out these ideals every day on the job.
Dr. Clayton explains, "Your attitudes . . .as a team leader are crucial in setting the mood and morale of your team," adding that authenticity is essential. "If you plaster on enthusiasm and excitement but you don't really feel it, people will know."
How to Build Team Morale in a Remote Work Environment
Morale boosters are arguably even more important in a remote work setup. Without daily in-person interactions, employees may feel disconnected unless you make full use of digital options for building cohesion. The following strategies will promote strong morale even when employees are unable to meet face to face.
1. Create digital check-ins.
When asked what they miss most about the physical workplace, many employees mention relationship building. The executive coach and motivational speaker Stephen Shedletzky recommends a strategy known as "the Huddle," in which employees enjoy "the opportunity to share what's on their heart and mind so they can be fully present and we can support one another throughout the week."
2. Conduct goal-setting sessions or consultations online.
This process could take place via video chat, over the phone, or even in a series of emails. Give employees an opportunity to express why they find specific goals compelling, and where they'd appreciate receiving more support as they make progress toward these objectives.
3. Establish a schedule.
Employees don't need to be micromanaged, but they do appreciate some semblance of structure. This was once an inherent aspect of onsite work, but it is often lacking when all tasks occur on a digital basis. A simple schedule — complete with daily and weekly routines — can fill this gap while helping employees feel connected. The aforementioned Huddle can be incorporated into this schedule, along with end-of-day check-ins or weekly meetings to assess progress on long-term goals. Provide access to group calendars so individual employees are aware of their coworkers' schedules.
4. Recognize excellence in a digital format.
Social media can be used to highlight both personal and team successes. Compliments should also be doled out in emails and via video chat. Encourage employees to recognize one another for their hard work.
Summing It All Up
Improving workplace morale is by no means easy, but it's far from impossible. It all begins with a genuine desire to help employees feel fulfilled and connected. Build long-term morale-boosting efforts into the fabric of the workplace, and you just might be surprised by how rapidly your employees' productivity and general satisfaction improve.