I remember once complaining to my secretary about the run of challenging clients I was seeing. “What have you done?”, I teased. “Have you booked in all of the difficult clients for me this week?”
“No, I haven’t”, she teased back. “I think it has more to do with what sort of mood you are in at the beginning of the week!”
She was right, of course. Our personal well-being has a huge impact on how we perceive challenges at work. Morale at work also has a huge impact on our performance.
One British study found that personal unhappiness reduces productivity by 10%. But happiness at work increases performance by 12%. That’s a 22% difference in performance between colleagues who are miserable and those who are happy at work!
Fortunately, there are many, simple, but powerful strategies you can use to instantly boost morale in your workplace, even when times are tough. Here are five of them:
- Supportive leadership: Human beings are social animals and we draw great strength from the support of others. However, the support given by those in leadership roles is particularly important. Leaders need to be seen as approachable. Otherwise, people will be reluctant to speak with you directly about any concerns they have. So, make sure you get out of your office and check in with people. Ask people how they are going. Simply care for people who are doing it tough. Sometimes, there is some practical help or suggestions that can be given. With other challenges, you can at least give emotional support or connect them with people who are in a better position to do so.
If your team is dealing with some shared challenges, such as unwanted workplace changes, make sure you are open and transparent about what you know or have permission to repeat. Consider also regular updates to keep people informed and allow people to ask questions, come to terms with the challenges, and allow emotional or practical support to be given.
I often think that we can put up with all sorts of challenges at work, provided we have good support from our leadership and colleagues.
- Break the routine: Human beings are also creatures of habit. On the one hand, being on auto-pilot eases pressure on ourselves by not having to think too much. But on the other, doing the same thing, over and over, can also be tiring and emotionally draining.
Here we need to introduce some positive change. But keep in mind that people don’t always resist change. Most people don’t mind doing something different, provided it is enjoyable and something they want to do.
You can simply ask people if they are happy doing what they are doing or if they would like more variety. Organising good in-house training, or temporary role-swaps, also breaks the routine and helps people learn new skills.
It is no surprise to me that the great majority of workplaces that book me for in-house training have staff with very good morale. One of the reasons for this is that these workplaces break the routine and value the staff by providing good PD.
- Help people to feel valued more: There are all too many studies which indicate that almost half of us don’t feel sufficiently valued by our workplace. You will see one of these studies here.
One of the no-cost ways we help people to feel valued at work is to give them a voice in decisions that affect their work. Great leaders do so by consulting with team members when possible, making decisions together in teams, or delegating authority to individuals. Remember that greater say = increased cooperation + people feeling more valued.
We also help people to feel valued by showing genuine appreciation to people. We know this is important, but often we fail to do so, at least at sufficient levels.
For many of us, it is our busyness that gets in the way. We either don’t think about encouraging others or we think we don’t have the time. But, of course, saying a genuine thank you, celebrating wins together, or writing a note of appreciation doesn’t really take that much time or effort. But the absence of recognition of effort comes at a huge cost.
- Create benefits that people really care about: Here we need to first appreciate that people’s take-home pay is more than just the wages they are paid. For some, it could be the opportunity to avoid peak hour traffic and work from home a day each week or benefits such as movie tickets for exceptional effort or a ‘get-out-of-a-meeting-free’ card. For others, it could be your support in helping them to advance their career.
For the kind-hearted, it could be the importance of the work they do, such as, helping others in some way. For the more shallow, food-oriented, like me, it could be negotiating a discount for your staff from a nearby café. How do you find out what people really care about? You ask them. Or you get to know them better.
- Have more fun at work: Three of the interesting things I have noticed about the high-performing teams I work with is that they work very hard, they have very positive relationships, AND they laugh a lot.
The comedians among us don’t need to be told what to do, apart from tailoring their comedy for the audience. But some of us need reminders that it is OK to be playful, to laugh, and tease each other in good-natured ways. We know that the more people find time to do so, the better the morale and the more work gets done.
Why is this? Such positive interactions certainly help to counter any stress we are dealing with. These positive connections give us energy to do what needs to be done. The positive relationships that develop also contribute significantly to the low rate of unplanned leave and staff turnover.
Of course, there are the safe morning teas and jokes at our own expense. There is also the slightly more adventurous teasing we do of colleagues who are open to this, theme-based dress-up days, and fun competitions, such as ‘Guess who?’ in baby photos that are brought in. Some team members also choose to have fun outside of work, such as organising a dinner out or group booking to a musical or movie.
Done separately or in a workplace where morale is low, such attempts at fun can seem trite. But it is the combination of morale-boosting strategies, done over time, that produces the maximum benefit.
Remember that is not just those in leadership roles who can have a positive influence. Everyone has a part to play in both taking good care of themselves as well as contributing positively to the morale of their workplace.
So, how is morale at your work, at present? Which of the above are you doing well and in which can you improve?