Somewhere along the way someone convinced leaders that work had to be drudgery instead of fun. We've done a great job of designing companies that are highly productive and filled with employees who are miserable. Many organizations endure poor morale as if they believe they don't have any alternatives. Resourceful leaders and organizations understand that building long-term morale is vital to the success of their people and operations. Here are some ideas to help you design a workplace with great morale.
Leaders Create the Environment
Many leaders intellectually understand that happy employees do better work when people feel good but they don't know how to reliably improve morale and keep it going over time. They might try a company picnic or employee incentive program of some kind but those are only temporary fixes that yield limited results. Meanwhile, their employees are screaming for some kind of relief and even visitors notice that the company doesn't feel very welcoming. This dynamic occurs in countless workplaces because that's what we design through our policies and actions. We get poor morale because we create workplaces where leaders and employees behave in ways that lead to unhappiness.
Implement a Real People-Centered Philosophy
Many companies say they put their people first and then them, hamper their creativity, jam them in jobs they hate, treat them like children, work them to exhaustion, look at them solely as profit-creating objects or limit their ability to think and grow. A real people-centered philosophy requires a fundamental shift from the top down as to what employees really mean in the company. The goal is to move beyond words to actually instituting policies and procedures that demonstrate that we really care for our employees. These can include opportunities for education, flexible schedules, work at home, benefits, job autonomy or creating a workplace that values people's talents and encourages innovative thinking.
Leaders Set the Example
Leaders lead by example and set the tone for the organization. Anytime you see a company with poor morale you can be quite certain that leadership creates the situation through the actions they choose to take. If they behave in stressed-out ways then employees feel it. If the atmosphere is punitive employees pick up on it. Think about the difference between a leader who is calm and balanced and one that is always panicking. Which kind do you prefer? Leaders have a great deal of power in how the people in the organizations feel. If they treat their employees with kindness and respect at all times they create a much different workplace than if they're always belittling them. To build better morale in your company think about ways you can train your leaders to practice techniques that help them create a positive work environment such as active listening, two-way communication skills, delegating and team building.
Support Your Employees Instead of Bossing Them Around
Many leaders get caught up in the idea that they have to drive their employees like a team of horses. They push and push and push until they run off a cliff and then everyone loses. Many companies seem to run on the premise that employees are expendable and it shows in how they treat them. I'm not sure where leaders learn that the best way to motivate people is by imposing rigid order and dominance but ask yourself this question: Are you happy when someone is always in your face telling you what to do and to do more of it faster? A more positive approach is to move away from continuously bossing people around to being a resource that's available to help them if they need it. Be there for employees when they ask for help and share your knowledge only when they ask for it. Trust that they know how to do their jobs and drive them less. Offer them opportunities to grow, advance and become more educated.
Use Your Employees' Talents Instead of Putting Them in a Box
People feel great when they are using their talents and are genuinely interested in what they're doing. Identify what your employees love doing and encourage them do it in the context of their jobs. The ideal situation is to let employees design their own job based on their innate abilities and work they find meaningful. You will find that people will be much more motivated to perform at a higher level and will even come up with new ideas because they feel more worthwhile and valued. To find out what your employees love doing have ongoing conversations where they tell you what they find fulfilling.
Praise Genuinely, Constantly and Consistently
There is a huge void in many workplaces when it comes to leaders and co-workers telling each other that they're doing well. We're so praise averse that we think it will make people soft when it actually builds them up. Telling people they're doing a great job makes them feel great and greatly increases the likelihood that they will repeat the desirable behavior. Praising also helps you focus on successes rather than always correcting perceived mistakes or offering the dreaded constructive criticism.
Create Opportunities for Meaningful Interaction
Give people a chance to interact in positive ways and to get to know each other on a deeper level. Set up a regularly scheduled meeting time where people can talk with each other and share stories, ideas or personal perspectives. Give your employees opportunities to interact in ways that don't focus on job tasks. When people empathize with each other and understand each other's points of view it creates a workplace where people work well together and help each other succeed.
Nothing grows unless we water it and create a supportive environment. Long-term morale improves when we make sure we keep practicing positive behaviors and keep tending to the well-being of our leaders and employees. Plan on practicing your new approach until everyone learns how to do it automatically and it becomes the standard way of doing things. It will take some time but you will be happy with the results if you stick with it.
Boosting morale requires thoughtful and deliberate action over time. You have many options to improve how your employees feel and how your company functions and all you have to do is commit to taking action. Long-term morale can be greatly improved by practicing techniques that lead in a positive direction. Try the ideas we've talked about here and you'll find that your employees feel better about themselves, each other, your company and you.