If you're tuned into your workplace, you can tell when employees exhibit the subtle and not-so-subtle symptoms of low morale: eye rolls, high turnover rates, fewer employee conversations, decreased collaboration, and diluted performances.
The best approach to tackling low morale is to embrace positive changes before it takes hold, offsetting boredom and frustration with meaningful benefits, individual acknowledgements, and opportunities to grow. Here are 20 proven ways to get the ball rolling:
1. Crowd-source company outing ideas.
How many times have you been to a company outing that missed the mark? Instead of putting your HR team in charge, ask for anonymous nominations for a company-wide outing -- then let your team vote for their favorites. Giving employees the opportunity to shape rewarding activities ensures that your effort serves everyone.
2. Eradicate email.
Email not only drags on employees' productivity, it wears on well-being by increasing stress and requiring high levels of reactivity. In fact, 92 percent of employees experience a spike in blood pressure and heart rate after reading an email in the office. Instead of utilizing email for all communication, integrate software like Trello, Asana, and Slack to lessen or completely negate its impact.
3. Let go of jerks.
Executive coach Rodger Dean Duncan describes jerks as those who "intimidate, condescend, or demean, swear, behave rudely, belittle people in front of others, give only negative feedback, lie, act sexist or racist, withhold critical information, blow up in meetings, refuse to accept blame or accountability, gossip, and spread rumors, use fear as a motivator, etc."
What's the easiest way to boost morale? Let go of the jerks -- weeding out this kind of behavior among upper management can have an even greater impact on employee morale than raises or promotions.
4. Ask for feedback.
A posture of openness gives employees permission to contribute to positive change. Google, for example, uses a survey called Googleist to elicit feedback from employees on a wide swath of issues. It then recruits volunteer groups to tackle issues and solve the company's biggest problems. At When I Work, we use a tool called TinyPulse. Brainstorm ways to incorporate regular feedback into the life of your office.
5. Develop strong and transparent promotion tracks.
Forty percent of millennials expect promotions every one to two years. To maintain employee morale among a new generation of employees, you need to emphasize the viability of your promotional tracks. Be clear about opportunities to grow, not just during recruitment but on a regular basis.
6. Encourage real lunch breaks.
Research suggests that only one in five people take lunch breaks and that white-collar workers are least likely to step away from their desks for a break. Management professor Kimberly Elsbach told NPR that “staying inside, in the same location, is really detrimental to creative thinking.” Get managers on board to take a coffee break, go for a walk or check out a new restaurant every day. Those people have the greatest leverage to model morale-boosting habits.
7. Increase vacation days.
Just as employees are hesitant to step away from their desks for lunch, they often shy away from vacation time despite its potential to boost morale. Some companies try to break the mold by offering unlimited vacation days, but that's not necessarily a solution either. As writer Lotte Bailyn argued, "Unlimited vacation time may sound wonderful in theory, but in reality, less is more. Too much choice is restrictive and confusing." Instead, increase vacation days and add a bonus for employees who truly take a time-out -- no work email, no phone calls, no laptop on the beach.
8. Recognize personal milestones and losses.
Individuals experience higher morale when employers appreciate them as people first and employees second. You can still recognize personal milestones and losses while respecting privacy -- even a simple note from you would do. Respond as you would to a friend, with kindness and consideration. Seeing as how 78 percent employees spend more time with co-workers than they do with family, a supportive community will go along way to fostering happiness.
9. Celebrate work anniversaries.
Work anniversaries are relationship milestones between an employee and a company. According to a survey from Globoforce, 82 percent of people would feel good if people noticed and recognized their work anniversary, but only 36 percent of people say a work anniversary made them feel valued. Have a conversation with your staff about the best way to honor work anniversaries. And while you're at it, make sure to celebrate your company's birthday. It's a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with your mission while generating good feelings.
10. Offer discounts and sponsored programs.
By offering to pick up the tab on some essentials, you nurture a positive relationship with employees. Consider paying for or subsidizing transportation, technology, gym memberships, or childcare. If your company enjoys partnerships with other organizations, consider asking them to offer a mutual discounts on services for your and their employees.
11. Bring Your Family to Work day.
Family is one of the most important aspects of people's lives. Opening your doors to children, spouses, parents, and siblings connects professional and personal worlds. No doubt, families will feel pride upon seeing the work of your employee in their natural habitat, garnering appreciation and a shared sense of connection.
12. Give substantial bonuses.
A 2013 Harvard Business School study found that giving clear, unconditional, and unexpected financial gifts to employees leads to higher productivity. As the researchers state, "Gifts are roughly as efficient as hiring more workers." Imagine the positive impact you would have giving a big bonus to a single mother supporting a family or a young professional paying off student loans? Unconditional gifts can revolutionize your employee morale.
13. Incorporate play.
Playing games leads people to compromise, meet others' needs, and work together as a team. Diffuse a competitive environment by incorporating humor and play. Add a Ping-Pong table to the break room, bring in a karaoke machine once a month, or even encourage a small group to undertake an art project for the office.
14. Create a lenient inclement weather policy.
When a blizzard, flood, or hurricane rolls into town, be especially cognizant of employee safety, and when necessary, let workers stay home. As an alternative to an awful and extended commute, chances are employees will be more productive during a snow day at home than they would in the office. Also note that a lenient inclement weather policy is particularly important to employees with young family, as childcare options are rarely available when schools close.
15. Limit office hours.
In fields such as finance, law, and medicine, young staffers are expected to put in heavy hours. Despite the appearance of productivity, this marathon-approach to work weighs on well-being and doesn't necessarily increase results. Empower employees with time-management training and peer support, as well as clear boundaries around office hours.
16. Offer sabbaticals.
Companies like Adobe, Deloitte and Kimpton Hotels have adopted sabbaticals as a way to increase quality of life and encourage retention among employees. Based on the time of service, an employee can take a break to pursue her passions, volunteer, or spend time with family. These kinds of extended breaks give individuals a viable option beyond quitting or transferring to a different company.
17. Free professional development and tuition reimbursement.
Eligible employees can work toward their degrees remotely while working at the coffee giant. Consider putting aside money for professional development programs and to reimburse employee tuition toward academic degrees. Not only will it boost employees' achievements and self-esteem, it will empower your company with a competitive workforce. Starbucks is leading this trend, having just expanded their employee tuition reimbursement plan in partnership with Arizona State University.
18. Reinvent team-building exercises.
The best team-building exercises will overturn organizational structures and allow individuals to explore their own strengths. Instead of playing "the trust game," encourage employees to lead voluntary workshops or exercises in an area they are knowledgeable about -- an avid outdoorsmen could plan a kayaking trip or a top-notch baker could teach people how to bake a new recipe. The options are endless!
19. Offer a paid day off for birthdays.
Cake is great, but instead, give your employees the ultimate birthday boost: an extra day off to spend whenever and however they like. Your generosity will come back in the form of employee appreciation.
20. Encourage outsourcing and delegation.
Employees often feel overwhelmed. Instead of expecting individuals to do it all, encourage outsourcing work to freelancers and outside experts as a way to plug in the holes. With specialized contractors implementing strategy, you free up your employees to think big and develop innovative initiatives.
Studies reveal that a key employee's exit can cost between 70 and 200 percent of the individual's compensation. With high costs accompanying low morale, it pays to invest in a positive community and individual satisfaction -- they can go a long way to improving your company and its numbers.