Boosting Employee Morale / Managing / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Much like the sweater vest-adorned parents who can’t understand why their teenager no longer talks to them, you find yourself at ...

Much like the sweater vest-adorned parents who can’t understand why their teenager no longer talks to them, you find yourself at a loss when your employees suddenly stop acting like the fresh-faced eager workers you thought you managed so well.  

“Where did it all go so wrong?” You ask yourself, wondering if your staff will ever recover from that oh-so-common workplace growing pain: low morale.  You may tell yourself it’s just a phase, but you can’t shake that nagging voice in your head saying, “Did I cause this?”

Well…it’s possible.  As a manager, you may not realize how much influence you have on your employees’ level of satisfaction.  “If a person doesn't like who they work for, it's going to be very difficult to achieve full potential and build a career,” says Pepsi Bottling Company CEO Eric Foss in an interview with USA Today.  Foss, now in his 25th year at the company, ought to know a thing or two about keeping employees motivated.  The average tenure of the company’s top executives spans nearly two decades, and its 1,800 field executives average 14 years. It can be assumed they don’t stick around solely for the free soda.

When companies like Pepsi recognize that their success is due largely to their employees, they make employee satisfaction a priority. Google, which consistently ranks among the top of Fortune’s annual “Best Places to Work,” states their employment philosophy on their Web site: “Give the proper tools to a group of people that want to make a difference, and they will.”

The key phrase here, however, is “want to make a difference.” If your employees feel overworked and underappreciated, they’re not going to want to make a difference. You may be able to offer your employees free gourmet meals, laundry service or on-site volleyball courts, like Google famously does, but material perks are just one way to express employee appreciation.  There are only so many “free donut Fridays” that will motivate a person to work to their potential in an otherwise insufferable environment.

So, what are your options?The five small gestures detailed below show your employees how much you value them and do wonders for morale: 

1) Do as you say: “The most destructive thing in an organization is hypocrisy by leaders,” says Amie Devero, president of management consultancy at The Devero Group. If employees' pay is dependent on performance and they don’t receive a bonus, the boss shouldn’t, either. The same goes for rules and procedures. As a manager you should hold yourself accountable just as you do your employees; otherwise, be prepared to lose your employees’ trust and, ultimately, your employees. 

2) Reflect on the good. In high-stress environments, it’s easy to overlook the good things and focus on the negative.  But simply taking a few minutes to help employees focus on their positive experiences alleviates some of this tension.  Keep your employees focused on possibilities rather than problems by asking them, “What are the most exciting potential opportunities you experienced this week?” Also, simply creating an open dialogue keeps you in tune with your employees and any problems they may be having with their jobs, the workload, their co-workers or the management. 

3) Celebrate the small things: Acknowledge your employees’ accomplishments by giving performance awards, mentioning their names at staff meetings, posting a note on the bulletin board or sending an interoffice e-mail. A simple "nice job" or “thank you” goes a long way in showing an individual that you appreciate the value in their work. Don’t wait for completion of the project, either. Acknowledge the effective steps a person or team is taking along the way.

4) Create goals: When individuals realize the effect that they and their work have on the entire organization, they gain confidence in their abilities, which in turn boosts their willingness to work. When assigning work, take strengths and development interests into account. Tell individuals why you selected them for an assignment, reinforcing the fact that their work matters. 

5) Avoid Michael Scott syndrome: The fictional boss from “The Office” is notorious for trying so hard to be his employees’ buddy that he forgets how to be their boss.  While employees need someone to relate to on a personal level, they also need someone to manage them on a professional level. “Beware trying to be your employees’ buddy,” advises Eric Herrenkohl, a Pennsylvania-based management consultant. “People want their boss to act like an adult and take responsibility.”  Otherwise, employees start to feel like no one is in charge and that there is nothing to work toward.

One caveat to following these steps: you have to be sincere.  Dion McInnis, associate vice president for university advancement at the University of Houston-Clear Lake, does something he calls the “morning walk-around.” Almost every morning, he walks to his team’s two areas to say hello or have a short chat with each employee, giving them a chance to discuss everything from accomplishments to concerns. “This time of connection and access reminds them that I genuinely care about who they are and what is happening in their worlds,” McInnis says. 

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