6 clear strategies to improve low employee morale

Written by: the Officevibe Content Team | Illustrated by: Anne-Julie Dudemaine
Published on July 8, 2020 | Reading time: 8m

Employee morale is a mixture of feelings, emotions, attitudes and perceptions that employees hold towards their work and their professional environment.

Employees that have high morale will feel happier, more engaged, and will try their best to help their company achieve its goals. However when morale is low, managers may notice things like a decrease in collaboration between teams, more negative customer interactions, lower performance, and an overall negative impact to team culture.

If you’re noticing these early signs of low employee morale, it may mean that some intervention as a manager is needed. Let’s dig deeper into a few of the known causes of low employee morale and discuss strategies to help ensure that each of your employees has the opportunity to do great work.

Causes of low employee morale

Before you can solve any problems as a manager, you’ll need a better understanding of where the pain points are coming from. Here are a few common causes that you can quickly identify:

Lack of professional development 

A 2017 survey done by Gallup indicated that “inadequate or a lack of professional and career development” can be a main driver for employee disengagement.

More than anything, your employees are looking to grow in their role and feel challenged in new ways. A great way to establish high employee morale is to demonstrate that their growth is a priority, and to encourage them to continuously develop.

Try this: Hold space for regular career conversations with your employees and learn about their career goals. Ask them questions like:

  • What motivates you the most at work?
  • What is something you find challenging that you’d like to work on?
  • What are some skills or expertise you’d like to develop in the next quarter?

This way, when new opportunities come up, you’ll be able to delegate opportunities that match their interests. The simple fact of having these conversations rests employees assured that you are looking ahead and keeping their development in mind.

Free bonus: download our complete before, during, and after guide for the perfect 1-on-1!

Lack of clarity and expectations around goals 

When employees don’t fully know what’s expected from them, it can lead to unnecessary stress, a lack of employee satisfaction, and burnout.

When you set clear goals with your employees, they have something concrete to work towards and can easily make the connection between their work and the bigger picture.

There are many different goal setting models you can use, so pick the one that suits you and your team. We developed our own collaborative goal-setting framework for managers and employees, ensuring that each team member has a meaningful stake in their own development. Check it out here!

Try this: Hold regular 1-on-1s with your employees to set clear goals and check in to see how these goals are progressing. Ask them questions like:

  • What will success look like if this goal is achieved?
  • What are some milestones we can agree on as you work towards this goal?
  • What steps will you take to communicate with me if the goals get off track?

Difficulty adapting to change

Whether it’s a sudden shift to remote work, or a change in team structure, change is always hard. When change is accompanied by lack of communication, people will jump to their own conclusions and assume the worst.

As a manager, maintain visibility and be available to your team throughout any changes, and communicate clearly around why changes are happening. Let them know exactly how the changes will impact them, and be there to answer questions. This way, employees feel supported and can understand what’s really going on, as well as the positive side of the change.

Try this: In times of change, make sure to check in more frequently than usual with each of your employees. You can check in face-to-face or try a simple tool like Officevibe to keep track of how people are really feeling using weekly pulse surveys.

Response to the Covid-19 pandemic

Right now, your employees are working under unnatural and extreme circumstances. Many people feel like there are a lack of boundaries between their work and their life, and this can cause them to feel burnt out and disengaged.

Practice compassion and empathy with your team as much as possible during this time and keep your management style flexible and most importantly, human.

Try this: Encourage employees to take personal days as they need to rest and recharge. And be sure to lead by example and demonstrate the importance of work-life balance by signing off at a reasonable time.

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Effects of low employee morale

Let’s discuss two common effects of low employee morale:

Decreased productivity and engagement

When employees feel a low sense of morale, they will be less motivated to help the company succeed. Without a team of engaged employees, it will be difficult for you as a manager to get your team to work towards their objectives. 

Research shows that employees experiencing low morale at work may also demonstrate higher absenteeism. When one employee becomes less productive, the whole team suffers as they are left to pick up the slack.

Employee turnover 

If people feel low morale at work, they will be more inclined to jump ship for a new opportunity. Seeing your colleagues leave for another organization can be emotional and even trigger others to leave too. This can create a financial loss for the organization as hiring is both expensive and time consuming.

The trickle down effects of decreased productivity and employee turnover can be very detrimental on your overall team morale and organization.

Strategies to improve employee morale

While it won’t be easy, dedicated time, effort, and commitment will go a long way in helping your team as a manager. Here are six strategies to help you improve employee morale:

Employee morale evolution

Practice transparency

One of the worst things you can do when morale is low is pretend like everything is going well. Rather than sweeping your problems under the rug, tackle them head on! By doing so as a manager, you can gain the respect and buy-in from your team and work together towards a solution.

Try this: Hold a team meeting to address issues as they come up. You can send out a poll or survey at the beginning of the meeting to explore potential issues affecting your team and discuss the results together.

Give recognition

Lack of recognition may in fact be one of the culprits of poor morale, so it’s in your best interest to focus on the team’s bright spots, acknowledge individual feats (big or small!) and recognize employees who demonstrate strong leadership. Take the time to call out good work and share in your team’s wins. Remember, recognition should be granted not only for hard skills and results, but for soft skills as well.

Try this: If you notice your employees demonstrating strong collaboration on a project together, or an exemplary demonstration of leadership, be sure to congratulate them in a public channel and call out how their work has impacted the greater team goals. For more ideas, check out this guide on employee recognition.

Prioritize wellness 

Setting aggressive goals and pushing your team may be motivating in some cases (and necessary to achieve objectives) but pushing too hard and reacting too strongly can cause employees to feel inadequate and disengaged.

Take a balanced approach by encouraging mindfulness and employee wellbeing, especially in the midst of a crisis. As a manager, you have pressure from the top to reach objectives, so this might sound easier said than done. But, prioritizing wellness is a great reminder to your employees that you care about them, which in turn will result in them giving you their best.

Try this: Start off team meetings with a mindful minute of meditation, or encourage employees to turn their work notifications off when they end the day so they can be fully present at home.

Offer growth

We mentioned this above but we can’t stress it enough: to keep employees motivated, prioritize their growth and hold regular career conversations with them. Employees will feel most engaged when they have the opportunity to develop new skills and are challenged in their role.

Try this: While you may not always be able to provide a job promotion, you can always help employees take new courses to upskill themselves or give them stretch assignments at work. What’s important is taking time to understand how they want to develop so you can help pave a path.

Collect feedback

A great way to increase morale is to collect feedback from the team and show them that you’re listening. Even if you can’t implement every piece of feedback, you’ll be able to take the guesswork out of where your team is struggling.

Try this: You can set up an anonymous employee engagement platform like Officevibe or have informal team meetings. The more insights you can collect as a manager, the better targeted your efforts will be on what to fix.

Free bonus: download our complete before, during, and after guide for the perfect 1-on-1!

Nurture human connection 

Organizing team building activities and creating space for human connections can help improve the interpersonal dynamics of your team (which is crucial to their success!).

Try this: During this time where many of us are working remotely, consider scheduling some optional virtual coffee chats for your team or a virtual team hangouts to maintain your team connection. At the end of the day we’re all in the business of people, so remember to put that human connection first and foremost. It makes work more enjoyable, collaboration more effective, and jobs more meaningful all around.

Whether you’re a manager of a small team or the leader of an organization, remember that employee morale breaks down to how people are feeling. Knowing this should be your north star for dealing with low morale. The more you can connect with your people and understand their needs, the more strategically you can guide them towards success. 

Keeping a pulse on how people are feeling is important when trying to uncover the root cause of your low employee morale. This is where tools like Officevibe can give you the data you need to understand your team.

How is employee morale on your team? Feel free to share in the comments below!