It's important to rebuild morale if it takes a knock.
Ted's organization has just gone through a round of layoffs, and his department has lost five team members. His team's morale has taken a big hit – rumors are flying around about further layoffs, conflict is frequent, and everyone's energy is visibly reduced.
Although people are still working diligently, Ted can sense that much of their activity is driven by fear: excitement and enthusiasm have just vanished.
There are many different factors that can affect team morale. When morale suffers, it's important that you take steps to rebuild it quickly. But what can you do, as a leader, to rebuild the morale of your team? And what exactly is morale?
We'll examine both of these questions – and more – in this article.
According to sociologist Alexander Leighton, "morale is the capacity of a group of people to pull together persistently and consistently in pursuit of a common purpose."
For your organization to thrive, it's essential to take the time to develop good morale.
Almost by definition, organizations with high morale experience higher productivity and staff engagement, they show lower employee turnover and absenteeism, and they have a happier workforce. What's more, they find it easier to attract and retain the best talent. While "raising morale" can seem to be a nebulous goal, many of these other effects are measurable, and directly affect the bottom line.
Last but not least, it feels great to work in an organization where morale is high!
There are many things that can cause team morale to dip. For example:
Too often, managers don't realize that morale is poor. Whether or not your team or organization is facing any of the scenarios above, watch out for the following clues that morale may be slipping:
Keep in mind that, if you're a leader or manager, your team's morale starts with you. It's up to you to be a good role model for your team. If your own morale is suffering, then it's vital that you work on rebuilding your own outlook and attitude first.
Start by identifying why your own morale is low, and then come up with ways to adjust your mental attitude.
Often, this starts with action. For instance, perhaps your morale is down because your boss is pressuring you to do a good job, and is threatening to fire you if you don't perform. You can make yourself feel more positive and in control of the situation by getting organized, and by achieving measurable goals that will put your boss at ease.
Work on rebuilding your self-confidence. Remember, your team is always watching you: if you're feeling positive and confident, they will too. Quick wins will also help build confidence – for you, and your team.
You might also want to take our quiz, Are You a Positive or Negative Thinker? This helps you understand and change how you think, so that you can interact with your team in a good way.
If your team's morale needs rebuilding, there are several strategies that you can use. However, just as you did with your own morale, you need to start by understanding the problem. This helps you choose strategies that best fit your situation, which may include:
Morale is higher in situations where team members feel close to their managers. You can create this type of environment by developing good relationships with your team, and by reconnecting whenever possible.
Practice Management by Walking Around so you can "touch base" with team members often. With regular contact and communication, you can reestablish trust and rapport with your team.
It also helps to develop your emotional intelligence: the better you can sense the emotions and needs of those around you, the better you will be as a leader.
Keep in mind that lack of appreciation is often cited as one of the root causes of low morale. So, do whatever you can to show your people that you appreciate them. Reward your team by saying "thank you" for a job well done, or by offering benefits such as extra days off, or flexible scheduling when key goals are met.
You'll also want to give everyone regular feedback on their work. (See our article on feedback – once a year just isn't enough!)
Another way of improving morale, especially after a round of layoffs, is by helping people develop their skills.
So make sure that you're offering your people opportunities for learning and development, as a way of helping them feel more secure and committed to the organization.
Cross-Training is another great way of building morale, and improving productivity, just as long as you explain why you're doing it. (Some may see it as a sign that layoffs are on the way!)
Our How Well Do You Develop Your People? self-test will highlight all of the ways in which you can train and develop your team.
Sometimes, morale can suffer because of the physical environment that your team has to work in.
Take a look at the offices, conference rooms, and break rooms that your team uses. Are these rooms safe and clean? Is the air quality good? Are the rooms bright and energizing? Do team members have the tools and resources they need to work effectively? Do what you can to improve the offices and other rooms your team uses every day. See our article on Creating a Healthy Workplace to learn how to create a work environment that will benefit your team, both physically and mentally.
You can also use Herzberg's Motivators and Hygiene Factors to address the factors that cause dissatisfaction in your team.
Poor communication can be another common root cause of low morale.
Rumors can spread quickly in the workplace, and these can destroy morale. This is why it's important to give people accurate, timely information, especially if sales are down, or if the company is restructuring or downsizing. (Just make sure that your communications are coordinated with those of other managers.)
Identify ways that you can keep your team in the loop. Perhaps you could send a weekly email with important updates, or devote a few minutes in your regular meetings to keeping people up to speed with what's going on. Communicate fully with your team, and explain how any changes or decisions will affect them.
Remember, the flow of information should go both ways. Encourage your team to come to you any time they have questions or concerns. Listen actively to what they have to say, and respond in a timely manner to problems or suggestions. If rumors do begin to fly around the office, address them immediately.
Morale can fall when your people are unclear about what they should be doing, or what your expectations are. This lack of direction is disheartening, and disorienting.
Make sure that your people are aware of your organization's mission and vision, and of how their work contributes towards these. Understanding these gives members of your team a clear and (hopefully) inspiring view of what the organization expects, and helps them think about how they can use their own talents and skills to fulfill the organization's mission.
Next, look at the tasks and responsibilities of each team member. Set SMART goals for everyone on your team using Management by Objectives and KPIs – having clear, achievable goals will help to motivate people, and will help them know what they should be doing.
Perhaps your team just lost an important contract or project. If this is the case, people's confidence may be shaken.
Learn how to build confidence in other people. One great way to do this is to give them more autonomy to make decisions. Delegate tasks and responsibilities, and push them to work towards challenging but achievable goals. And when someone on your team has a success, celebrate it!
If times are tough for your organization, you might have a problem keeping your best people, or enticing good new people to join your team. This is another reason why rebuilding morale is so important: if morale is reduced, your most talented team members are likely to be the first to walk. (After all, they'll find it easiest to get new jobs.)
Once you've rebuilt morale, it's important to keep people motivated so that your team can reach its objectives. If you're unsure how to do this, take our How Good are Your Motivation Skills? test – this will direct you to some great resources.
Also remember that morale can be affected even when times are good. Regularly look for signs of low-morale, and revisit the strategies above when necessary.
Team morale can suffer for many reasons, including downsizing, poor leadership, poor communication, or difficulty with co-workers. If you suspect that your team's morale is not what it should be, there are several strategies that you can use to rebuild it.
First, focus on your own morale. Then identify why team morale is low, and choose appropriate strategies for rebuilding it. These can include:
1. Reconnecting with your team.
2. Developing your team.
3. Improving the workplace.
4. Improving communication.
5. Setting measurable goals.
6. Rebuilding confidence.
7. Focusing on talent management.
8. Motivating your people effectively.
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Harrison, D. et al. (2001) 'When do Feedback, Incentive Control, and Autonomy Improve Morale? The Importance of Employee-Management Relationship Closeness' Journal of Managerial Issues, Winter 2001. (Available here.)
Iverson, R.D. and Zatzick, C.D. (2011) 'The Effects of Downsizing on Labor Productivity: The Value of Showing Consideration for Employees' Morale and Welfare in High-Performance Work Systems' Human Resource Management, Vol 50, Issue 1, January/February 2011. (Available here.)
Sirota, D., Mischkind, L.A and Meltzer, M.I. (2005) Enthusiastic Employee, Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall.