To some business owners, "office morale" seems like a term invented by employees who simply want to have more fun at work. However, it's a very important characteristic of any workplace and one that can be measured and improved. Low office morale can wreck total productivity, while high office morale can keep everyone not only productive but happy and fulfilled in their work.

Obviously, you want to keep office morale as high as possible for the benefit of your company, but it's often easier said than done. Fortunately, there are many strategies to boost the collective morale of your team--and not all of them require time or money to implement.

Symptoms of Low Morale

Low morale isn't always obvious. Learning to identify the signs is important for bosses, supervisors, and team leaders since most workers won't explicitly say that they're feeling discouraged or frustrated. Spotting the symptoms early, and addressing them proactively, can help you keep your team running smoothly with minimal setbacks or interruptions to your overall productivity:

  • Lack of cooperation. When office morale is low, employees are generally less likely to work well together, and may be less willing to accept complex or burdensome tasks from higher up the corporate ladder.
  • Few personal conversations. Friendly conversations aren't a necessary requirement for successful business operations, but a scarcity of personal communication could be a direct symptom of low morale.
  • Rare personal initiatives. If you notice that fewer of your employees are taking individual initiatives to better the company, it could be a major sign that morale has reached a new low.
  • Increased rates of turnover. For this sign, you'll have to look at broad trends. A higher number of people leaving your company could be a sign that morale is actively dropping.
  • Overall poor performance or attitude. This is one of the more obvious symptoms, but it can be overlooked when the changes in performance or attitude are gradual. Are your employees doing less than they used to? Is negativity more rampant than it once was?

1. Recognize Individual and Group Achievements

Morale tends to sink when people feel that their work is not being recognized or appreciated. When employers look to reward their employees for consistent hard work, they think of offering raises, promotions, or new benefits--but smaller recognitions can go a lot further and cost a lot less. When one of your teams accomplishes their goals, congratulate them and thank them for their contributions. When an individual performs exceptionally well, congratulate him or her personally and publicly. Your goal should be to create an environment where people realize their work is appreciated.

2. Make Time for Fun in the Office

"Work" and "fun" are not mutually exclusive terms. You can inject some regular fun into the workplace without immediately ruining your chances at having a productive day. Have some recreational activities in the break room, like a pool table or a dart board, and go out of your way to tell a new joke if you have one ready. Break up the day with a little bit of fun and work won't seem as much like work. A few minutes away from the desk can improve productivity for hours and provide consistent increases to morale worth far more than those few lost minutes of work.

3. Allow Time for Personal Projects

Even if their position is a manifestation of their personal passions, people can get discouraged if they're only working on "work" projects. For example, a software developer might feel stifled if he or she only works on assigned development tasks, rather than getting time to freely explore his or her own development passions. Grant your employees time to pursue their individual passions, and they'll maintain their vision and passion for much longer. You can select a specific day of the month for "personal project" work, an hour or two every week, or simply grant an extra few days of vacation time for employees to use for personal work.

4. Change Up the Routine

Morale can sink when the office starts to feel like a robotic institution. When an employee comes in at the same time, to the same place, and does the same things in the same order every day, you can't blame them for feeling bored or discouraged. Changing up the routine can have a dramatic effect on morale, even if the changes are temporary or subtle. Make alterations to the scenery around the office, or rotate your lunch break schedules, or take impromptu company breaks. Any break from the routine can be positive for collective morale.

5. Celebrate Personal Milestones

Your employees have lives outside of the office, and it's your job to appreciate that fact. Keep tabs on your employees and celebrate their personal milestones--doing so not only makes them feel like they're a part of your corporate family, it also involves your other employees as part of a bigger collective. Celebrate birthdays by gathering people for a celebratory break, send flowers when one of your workers has a child, and send a gift when one of your workers gets married. Little things make a big difference.

6. Promote Your Own

If you run a large company that makes new hires and new promotions on a regular basis, make sure you promote your own employees. Hiring outside personnel to fill an opening, even if the candidate has high qualifications, can seriously damage your office morale. Instead, make it a point to promote from within, even if it takes a bit of extra training. Doing so improves individual employee relationships with the company and demonstrates to the other workers that their efforts will eventually be recognized and rewarded.

7. Inspire Positivity Through Positivity

The best way to encourage positive attitudes throughout the company is to carry a positive attitude yourself. Positive mentalities, just like negative mentalities, are contagious and compounding. Say positive things, walk with a smile on your face, and personally greet people when they arrive to work. They'll be more likely to do the same things to their co-workers, and before you know it, you'll be nurturing a collective environment of positivity. Remain sincere, as over-the-top positivity can sometimes have the opposite effect, but stay consistent even on the tough days and you'll reap the benefits.

8. Open the Floor

The biggest morale booster you can offer is letting your employees know that their voices are heard and respected. Take time out of your day to ask your employees how they feel about their assignments, what they think of the new company direction, or if they have any standing concerns. You could also have a weekly team meeting, or a group huddle every morning, to encourage the open discussion of these concerns. Doing so can proactively nip any problems in the bud, and give employees the opportunity to feel like they are an integral and important piece of the company.

Your employees are the force responsible for executing your directives, and if you can keep them happy and motivated, you'll have a much easier time achieving your long-term goals. While extra monetary compensation and tangible perks aren't always an option within every budget, you always have time for a few positive comments or environmental changes that can improve your team's morale.