Happy employees are productive employees, or so the saying goes. But what happens when employees aren’t happy? Things still get done but not nearly as efficiently and in the long run it hurts not only the employee but the company as well. People should be held responsible for their own attitudes and actions, yet often perceptions of work can push attitudes either positively or negatively. Many times these conditions lead back to conditions created by management themselves. These decisions can make employees hopeless, unenthusiastic, and eventually crush morale. That’s why attitudes and effort from all level of employees are so important, they can impact the team and the eventually spread to other teams and departments.
As an employee, it’s important to recognize how you impact those around you. No matter what level employee, from low level manager to CEO, your efforts and attitude impact the entire team. This is known as the “Cascade Effect” as engagement at one level impacts the morale of those below them in an organization. However, one person’s attitude alone is not enough to motivate others and have them performing at their highest level. To truly improve employee morale, you have to change the things that cause the discontent and ruin workplace morale.
Some managers are less involved in the day to day of their employees. They give their teams a lot of leeway and autonomy to do their jobs. Other managers are overly involved in every aspect of the day to day of their teams. Many people consider a micro-manager the worst person you could possibly work for. In my opinion both approaches are inadequate. Management is not a one size fits all in practice. Sometimes you need to be heavily involved, other times staying out of the way is the best thing you can do.
One of the problems management runs into is that they focus on the employee rather than the task. When a worker is taking on a new task or responsibility, they look for guidance and help. When you are struggling at something and there’s no help to be found, it’s frustrating and discouraging. On the other hand, when they know what they’re doing, and meeting or exceeding expectations, the last thing anyone wants is someone looking over their shoulder. Each person on your team may require a different level of management. Evaluation of each person on your team, including personality, work style and where they stand in the hierarchy of the team. From there you can decide how hands on or off you should be. Also, one on ones should be done on a regular basis to check in and see where they may need more help and guidance. Most employees will appreciate the support where they need it and being left to do their jobs when they want to.
Another major source of issues is negative employees. Everyone knows at least one employee who is negative and a source of discontent. These employees can make the work place toxic work environment. When its someone in a leadership role who is the negative influence it can be even more detrimental to the team. Employees are more likely to quit their jobs, and those who stay in their jobs tend to get less work done and have lower productivity, trouble staying focused at work, and suffer more mental and physical health problems. And negative experiences at work tend to last longer in people’s minds then positive experiences. Negative employees can cause more turnover than you think: Research in the UK showed “25% of bullied victims and 20% of witnesses quit their jobs.” All too often companies are afraid to get rid of the negative influences. Many times, they’re some of the best performers and you then find yourself compromising on values to keep them. That can be a big mistake.
There’s research that shows how much you’re better off parting with even the most talented employees when they are a negative influence. In a working paper from Harvard Business School, Michael Housman and Dylan Minor were able to calculate the hidden cost of negativity. “In comparing the two costs, even if a firm could replace an average worker with one who performs in the top 1%; it would still be better off by replacing a toxic worker with an average worker by more than two-to-one.“ This shouldn’t be surprising. Given an employee’s toxic behavior negatively impacts the morale of everyone on the team, their production comes at the expense of others. When you add in the costs of replacing those that leave because of the negative influencer, costs quickly skyrocket before even considering all the lost time and energy from management trying to address the issue. So how do you fix it? Build a case to get rid of the negative influence on your team. Once they are gone the rest of your team will be so much happier it will all but make up for any lost productivity in no time. Use that to build momentum toward continuing to keep the negative influences out of your team. No one should have to dislike going to work, so we shouldn’t let any negativity kill your employee morale.
We all have parts of our jobs that we don’t enjoy doing. Most of the time these things only get done because somebody’s got to do it. When that’s all people get to do it leads to job dissatisfaction. When someone feels unchallenged and has nothing but boring, tedious tasks to do they are likely to get bored and disengage. That’s a waste of their time and potential and the resources you put into hiring and retaining talent. Rather than having someone stuck doing all the dull or tedious tasks, try to spread the out to the team. Not only can this avoid disengaging anyone, but people will work longer and harder on tasks that are done as a team. Stanford researchers Priyanka Carr and Greg Walton found that when you told people you were working together on a task, a few things would happen, “Participants in the psychologically together category worked 48% longer, solved more problems correctly, and had better recall for what they had seen. They also said that they felt less tired and depleted by the task. They also reported finding the puzzle more interesting when working together.” Any time there are boring tasks to be done, try to do them together and watch how much better things go than putting it all on one person.
One of the best ways to boost employee morale is to invest in their growth. Whether it’s learning a new skill or having a clear path to the promotion they want, even modest efforts by their manager can help implicitly. Take the time to learn what the growth and career goals are for people on your team (one on ones are a great time for that). Even giving them the smallest amount of support, or even a small amount of time to work on it can be a huge morale boost. A few ways to do that can be buying them a book or resource or offering tuition reimbursement for a class they need.
One of the biggest risks as a manager is your team resenting you. It can happen for many reasons, and if it does, it can mean trouble. When they resent you, they may start to be less responsive to you and otherwise make things difficult for everyone. A major cause of resentment is when a manager doesn’t listen. Most people will trust their manager until they have a reason not to trust them. It typically comes from either not demonstrating you’re listening or failing to keep your promises to them. One on ones are a great tool to keep your team happy and driven. They can be an outlet for problems, mentoring, advice, and career goal conversations. Or, they can be merely status updates, wasted therapy sessions, talking in circles, and a moment of dread for everyone involved.
If you’re talking about the right things in your one on ones, then the most important thing is to really listen. Low employee morale happens when you don’t listen. Don’t avoid tough issues or be afraid to ask a variety questions. Take the time really dig into issues until you fully understand them and once you do act to address them. When your team starts thinking you aren’t taking their concerns seriously they will stop coming to you with them. And a team that doesn’t think their concerns are addressed will soon be a disengaged team and then you’ve lost them. People want to feel listened to and appreciated and like their opinions matter.