Once every quarter or so, a handful of colleagues and I meet to hash out concerns about work. This isn't a vent session -- it's an informal mastermind that endeavors to address our work challenges head-on. While topics vary greatly, there's one that just doesn't seem to go away: tanking employee morale.
None of us are surprised. This year has been a struggle on many fronts, and we feel it in everything from profit-and-loss sheets to lack of confidence in our industry's future. There's even a palpable malaise in our Zoom meetings.
The question, of course, is: What do we do about it? We've discussed the usual best practices for these situations: limit negativity, encourage gratitude among employees, acknowledge pervasive anxiety. My colleagues consistently claim, however, that these either don't have much effect or they're so vague it's unclear how to implement them.
So what can we do? Employees' general mood at work -- and, consequently, their engagement -- hinges on a few factors that can be readily addressed:
1. Give your employees ownership over their work.
In a time when so much seems outside of our control, a feeling of empowerment -- especially involving a forward-moving project -- is a huge boost to one's feeling of accomplishment and worth.
You can create this easily by intentionally assigning tasks to specific employees (instead of teams or a team lead) and giving them autonomy to perform the work, report back, and share results with you and the team as a whole. This flattens the usual hierarchical workflow, but definitely gives in-the-trenches employees more investment in their work.
2. Be transparent about the state of your company's overall health without leaning on negatives.
Communicate regularly about concrete details related to your business's performance. Don't pretend there aren't negatives if there are, but also be sure to highlight new initiatives or forward movement that can frame the future in a positive light.
While some companies save this kind of communication for quarterly reports, I recommend doing this weekly or, at the very least, monthly. Also, be sure you send this information personally and make clear the work your employees have done to help further company goals. In other words, use positive "you" language and call out employees who have had big wins -- instead of listing out a bunch of stats.
3. Take time for your own mental health.
A manager who is not able to model positivity will never be able to boost morale. If you're struggling with anxiety or negativity, take time to find balance. I often do this by taking a break away from my desk (the setting change is key) and writing down some of the company's big accomplishments from the last quarter. Then, I come back to work when I'm feeling positive about our collective future.
4. Institute regular check-ins with employees.
We're pretty much all remote these days, and while "back-office chatter" is seemingly out the window, it doesn't mean you have to dive into every meeting with a business-first agenda. It's important to spend the first five to 10 minutes of one-on-one meetings asking about your employees' general well-being. What they have been up to? What fun are they having? Simply asking these questions shows how much you value your employees' overall happiness. Even better, they'll pay it forward in their own meetings.
5. Consider offering employees "well-being" PTO.
Depending on your company, this can be a half-day here or there, or set days on the calendar. Instead of just folding these into other PTO days, however, make sure you let your employees know why they're available and encourage them to take time off to reset.
6. Establish an employee-to-employee recognition program.
Instead of encouraging general gratitude, empower your employees to reward co-workers for good work by setting up a gift-giving system. Keep in mind that rewards don't have to be big -- think $5 gift cards and the like.
Allot four or so gifts per employee per quarter, then track giving and redemption; report on this in your weekly or monthly communication to reiterate the importance of companywide recognition.
7. Spend time reiterating a community-first mission.
Whatever your product or service, your company will not survive if employees feel ill at ease because of their personal beliefs or political leanings. Regularly revisit your company mission and make sure it directly addresses the need for mutual respect, kindness, and sensitivity.
Consider putting a shortened version of this in company email signatures or create swag with elements of the mission printed on it, and then hand it out to employees. Mostly, however, model the behavior you want to see; live a community-first mission.
Also keep in mind that, even with these efforts, it will be difficult to sustain high morale all of the time. There are too many factors affecting our general well-being for you to expect that, so don't. Just do the best you can -- leaning on the seven methods above -- and you'll see a positive trend over the months and years ahead.