I recently looked at the definition of “morale.” It was: “The state of the spirits of a person or group as exhibited by confidence, cheerfulness, discipline, and willingness to perform assigned tasks.” The question of morale is wrapped up in discussions of productivity, employee engagement, employee motivation, employee satisfaction, and employee retention. The truth is that morale is a lot of different things to different people. It is dependent on economic times, the state of the business the company is in, and in the corporate culture. It is also dependent on actions of the employees themselves. Most of all, it is dependent on the actions of management.
Management has a great deal of control over what happens on a day-to-day basis, and the exercise of this control has a big impact on the morale of the employees under their direction. Here are seven action items for management that will help improve employee morale.
Action Item 1: Communicate
Have you ever heard the term “mushroom management”? Mushroom management means you keep your employees in the dark and you feed them crap. No one likes mushroom management. People want to know what is going on with the business and with their jobs. So if you want to improve morale, be open, be honest, and tell people what is going on. All the time!
Action Item 2: Listen, Really Listen
Peter F. Drucker said that “the most important thing in communication is to hear what isn't being said.” Buddhist monk and teacher Thich Nhat Hanh said that “the most precious gift we can offer anyone is our attention.” These two quotes both point out the importance of the second part of communication, and that is hearing what is being said. It is important to listen, actively listen, to subordinates, peers and advisors. The one group that usually gets shortchanged in that process is subordinates. It is important to resist responding too quickly or interrupting to make your point. Doing so shuts down the communication process and morale suffers if people feel they are not being listened to by the boss.
Action Item 3: Offer Training
Improving skill sets can accomplish a number of things that will go a long way to improving morale. First, they feel that they are becoming more valuable to the company. This feeling of value may translate feeling more secure in the job. After all, why would you eliminate them if you just trained them? It may also translate into a feeling of appreciation and loyalty.
Secondly, they may improve their productivity as a result of the training. Everyone likes more productivity. They may also be more efficient, another good goal.
Don’t, however, restrict yourself to job specific training. Pay for other types of training opportunities that may interest your employees. Do you have someone that is pursuing a degree that is not business related? No problem. By paying for that education, or some of it, they will be happier and you will have an employee staying around for a longer period of time. It takes a long time to finish a degree going to school on a part-time basis, so you may have that employee around for a good number of years. I can hear you saying, “But what if they leave me when they are done?” To which I respond “So what?” How long in today’s world do you really think you are going to keep people? The days of 20-year careers are over. If by helping someone achieve and educational goal you keep them around for a good four or five years, then you are a winner.
Action Item 4: Don’t Micromanage
I’m sure you hate having someone look over your shoulder. You would not be in a management position if you needed or wanted that kind of attention. People like autonomy and some ability to make decisions during the day. Offer it. Try to restructure jobs as much as possible to allow people to make decisions and to do it without having you stand there and correct each line or second-guess each move. I know some people don’t have the desire or “horsepower” to do that, but you hired them. If you want to correct the situation, hire better. Not only will you like it, but your other employees will like working with more capable fellow employees.
Action Item 5: Reward Unexpectedly
I have personal experience with the power of an unexpected reward. Someone I know closely received a totally unexpected reward. The money was nice, but the recognition of her work was as powerful, if not more so, than the money. But it doesn’t have to be money. Recognition or words of praise have power if they’re sincerely delivered. Walking around doling out “attaboys” without apparent purpose does not work, but genuinely recognizing someone’s good work, extra time, or sincerity of effort goes a long way.
Action Item 6: Get Rid of Favoritism
One thing that will kill morale or your reward program faster than anything is the perception that someone is receiving a promotion, or raise, bonus, or praise solely on the basis of favoritism. Bosses need to be evenhanded in both rewards and punishments. Without the perception and reality of evenhanded management, morale will never be where you want it to be. Even worse, unchecked favoritism is a basis for discrimination. Make your decisions wisely.
Action Item 7: Keep Your Promises
Feeling like you have been lied to can both anger you and make you feel “down in the dumps.” Recall the last time someone didn’t keep a promise to you. How did you feel? Betrayed? Let down? I am sure you weren’t happy. For that reason, be guarded in promises you make to people. Then, once one is made, work hard to make sure it is kept. If for some reason it cannot be, don’t lie about it. Engage in that open and honest communication from Item 1 and tell people why you were unable to keep the promise. If there is a reasonable explanation most people will understand; unless, of course, it becomes a pattern. At that point you are going to have more problems than morale to worry about.
You now have seven action items that will help improve morale in your business or department. Start applying these today and see results tomorrow.
Michael D. Haberman, SPHR is a human resources advisor and consultant with extensive experience in guiding small and midsize business through the challenges of twenty-first century HR. Located in the Atlanta, Georgia area, he writes a blog named HR Observations, which can be found at http://OmegaHRSolutions.com. He teaches human resources related subjects for several local universities and speaks to business groups on a variety of HR topics.
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