The term “low employee morale” is like a tarp thrown over a pile of trash in the backyard to keep the neighbors from seeing what’s underneath. The blue tarp itself is ugly enough, but it’s not as ugly as the rusty car parts, scrap wood and old appliances underneath.
Let’s be brave, throw back that tarp and see what we’re really talking about when we use the term low employee morale – because it covers a wide variety of workplace junk. As a business culture consultant, I’ve found that when leaders call me in to diagnose a morale problem, it tends to include one or more of the following situations.
The company doesn’t have clear mission, vision, values and culture statements.
This is ground zero for every business. Without these statements, no other tactic will work. Employees must know what the organization stands for and how they fit into it; otherwise, they will only show up for a paycheck. People want to feel that they are contributing to something greater than themselves, and if an organization hasn’t made that something clear, then its employees will not be engaged.
Employees are not properly onboarded and provided clear job expectations.
It takes significant amount of time to communicate an organization’s culture, policies and processes. Handing new hires an employee handbook and showing them the restroom and water fountain is not onboarding. Managers must mentor new hires over a period of weeks and months to ensure that they become effective team members. This process includes regular one-on-one coaching to answer questions and address concerns.
Employees are not properly trained.
Whether employees lack soft skills, such as conflict resolution, or they need technical training, such as in artificial intelligence, if they are not up to speed, frustration and negativity will sour the workplace. Training should be long-term and ongoing, at every level of an organization, to ensure positive outcomes. One-shot training does not work.
Employees feel they have no input.
Communication must be two-way, and managers must consider the suggestions that line employees provide. They are the people on the ground, and they often see things that leaders cannot. Implementing employee suggestions is one of the best ways to improve employee morale.
Employees – including managers – are not held accountable.
People at every level of the organization must answer for their actions. When a new policy is adopted – preferably with employee input – the organization must hold all team members accountable for it. When the standard is not met, there should be agreed-upon and well-publicized consequences.
Employees are not rewarded.
The rule for managers is to provide corrective feedback in private and to praise employees in public. In some workplaces, employees never hear a positive word in years of employment, regardless of their value to the organization. Praise costs nothing, yet it is often valued more than formal programs such as employee anniversary dinners and certificates.
Employees are not provided opportunities for leadership and advancement.
Managers should spend 80% of their time coaching and mentoring their team members. Unfortunately, most managers spend the bulk of their time putting out fires, answering email and tending to minutia that prevent the company from reaching its goals.
Employees do not feel fairly compensated.
If employees’ salaries and benefits do not equal or exceed industry standards, morale will suffer. We are in an era when unemployment is at a 50-year low. Companies must compensate their employees well, or they will not keep them. We now have an employee-driven market, and they can always hire themselves a new employer if they feel unfairly treated.
The No. 1 reason employees experience poor morale is poor leadership.
We know it’s true, because surveys show that while 89% of employers think their employees leave for more money, only 12% actually do. Most – 75% – leave because of their bosses. Often, leaders do not know they have a skills deficit until an employee satisfaction survey or a high departmental attrition rate reveals the problem. When this is the case, leadership development and coaching can help.
When a company experiences morale problems, a toxic workplace develops. It expresses itself in a number of ways, including high turnover and low retention, slow-to-fill positions, high absenteeism, employee complaints of bullying or discrimination, missed deadlines, low employee engagement, errors or deficiencies in product and service deliveries, low customer satisfaction, a slump in sales, and ultimately, a reduction in profit.
If your company is experiencing a morale problem, it’s important to diagnose the reasons. To become a high-performance organization, companies must address people issues before they get out of hand, because when people leave, cash bleeds.
Conduct a culture inquiry process based on a thorough company audit of employee-related data, such as turnover, retention, performance reviews, and employee and customer satisfaction surveys, to determine what is working and what is not. Then, employee mapping will provide insight into employees and their major challenges and help you develop a holistic perspective of your culture.
From there, you can make a checklist of “leaks” or deficits and create employee teams to address them. The teams set SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, results-focused and time-bound) based on the data collected earlier. As the teams work on their goals and implement tactics, they measure outcomes based on earlier benchmarks.
Accountability, follow-up and communication are key to success, which is why many organizations find it difficult for internal staff to handle a culture shift alone. These organizations often choose to work with an outside consultant, who can set priorities and keep the process moving along at a reasonable pace without stalling. Regardless of whether you do it internally or with a consultant, if your organization is experiencing low employee morale, it’s time to lift the tarp and haul away the trash!