This post was originally published in 2017 and updated in 2021
As companies struggle with both hiring and retention in a working world completely upended by COVID-19, they can’t afford to ignore morale. Sure, a company will naturally experience ups and downs, and changes in employee morale go with the territory. If left unchecked, though, negative morale can have a long-term, detrimental effect on your company.
The first step toward improving employee morale is to find out where it stands. Maintaining a pulse on your employees’ morale on an ongoing basis is extremely important to ensure a strong company culture. We use tools like 15Five to continuously monitor our employee morale, find areas of improvement, and add hard data to our employee engagement strategy.
Over the last seven years, we’ve used these ten methods to increase employee satisfaction and boost workplace morale.
Have a Great Mission Statement
The pandemic forced many of us to reassess our priorities and yes, even our careers. As newly remote positions add opportunity and competition to the job market, how do you continue to stand out? A compelling mission is your best weapon.
According to recruiting software Indeed, job seekers use a company’s mission statement when deciding whether they want to apply. Candidates are looking for a mission statement that aligns with their values and promises work that matters. At HealthJoy, our mission is to simplify the healthcare and benefits experience.
Gallup, a global research firm that’s studied how over 2.7 million workers, uses 12 questions to measure employee engagement and predict business success. Among them: “the mission or purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important.” For millennials, the consultancy found, a strong mission was the strongest driver of retention.
Almost every company has a purpose other than just making money and giving people a paycheck. Honing your mission statement and making it easy to find-for both hiring candidates and your current employees-can make it a key feature in boosting morale.
Give Praise and Show Gratitude
The phrase “you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar” rings true here. It’s important to give your employees negative feedback when it’s warranted, but praise and gratitude are just as important. They may be “just doing their job,” but that doesn’t mean your employees don’t want to hear that you’re grateful.
It’s even more important when they succeed. Showing gratitude is a boon to employee engagement. In one 2010 study, researchers found that a manager’s expression of gratitude increased the number of calls made by fundraisers. You might think that showing gratitude increases intrinsic motivation, but the researchers found that it actually motivates us to give to others. Gratitude increases “prosocial behavior,” or behaviors that help other people, by increasing our sense of social value.
Have Fun Together
It’s easy to get stuck in professional “work mode” when you have a ton to do, but having fun with coworkers is a great morale booster. It may not be a long-term fix for low morale, but after periods of heightened stress, it can be an important way to reset. It also allows you to see other team members in a different light. We’ve gone ax throwing, seen the Cubs play, played WhirlyBall, gone on off-sites on the lake, and much more.
During the pandemic, we organized virtual happy hours, planned distanced outdoor meetups, and empowered individual teams with a stipend to be used to connect. It’s still possible to laugh together from home! And, as more employees work remotely, it’s important to offer options for connection that aren’t dependent on location. Read our post “How to Engage Remote Employees Right Now” for more tips on helping ensure a remote employee is still a happy employee.
Step Up When Needed
If you want to boost low employee morale, it may be time to stick up for your employees. If you have an angry client on the phone, take the call instead of leaving it to the entry-level employee. Have a client that everyone hates? Fire them! It might seem drastic, but putting your people first is the best step toward business success. Again, the Gallup Q12 hones in on the importance of managerial support with the question “My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person.”
Gallup explains that only four in 10 employees strongly agree that their supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about them as a person. Doubling that ratio could lead to an 8% improvement in customer engagement scores, 46% reduction in safety incidents, and 41% reduction in absenteeism, according to the consultancy.
Let Them Vent
Sometimes, an employee only wants to be heard. Ask for feedback, and do it often. Don’t just expect people to volunteer feedback; be proactive. Free tools like SurveyMonkey make it easy to create surveys and gauge employee feedback. We also use 15Five to get regular, structured feedback from employees, and we structure 1:1 meetings such that employees have enough open space to express what is or isn’t working. HealthJoy’s rapid expansion doesn’t allow us to leave feedback to chance, and nearly every corner of our organization has improved during this growth phase because we’ve taken time proactively seeking out employee feedback.
Celebrate the Wins
Want to achieve your lofty company goals? Celebrate the small victories. Realize that big goals aren’t going to happen overnight. If you fail to celebrate the more modest accomplishments, you’ll diminish the motivation you need to stay on the right path. Again, we rely on tools like 15/5 and Slack to “High Five” one another on a weekly basis. But we’ve also cultivated a company culture where leadership acknowledges, calls out, and celebrates wins throughout the organization on a weekly and monthly basis.
Our CEO highlights these accomplishments in a weekly brief; individual organizations do so in monthly “release notes.” This creates connections between departments and helps employees stay focused on our larger mission.
Allow People to Pursue Passion Projects
At many companies, your yearly goals are your only goals. Any work that strays from that goal can be viewed in a negative light, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Side projects can be a useful outlet for creative energy and allow employees to explore new tools and ideas. They may be projects that are done outside of the office or could look like allowing employees to explore a concept during work time. At HealthJoy, our employees have amazing interests that we celebrate. During our time of fully remote work last year, we started a voluntary lunch and learn series that encouraged employees to share interests outside of work. In short, we love giving employees a way to share their interests with coworkers, and doing so increases engagement and morale.
Volunteering builds teams and increases collaboration. Your employees likely want to give back to their communities: One-quarter of Americans already give their time to charitable causes; those between 35 and 44 are most likely to volunteer. Volunteering may also help employees connect to a larger mission and build relationships, collaboration, and teamwork skills with coworkers. And, of course, they’ll do it all while improving their neighborhoods. In terms of employee morale boosters, we’ve found that volunteering truly takes the cake.
Get Rid of a Jerk
Achieving high morale is nearly impossible with a toxic employee in the workplace. They decrease the productivity of others, demotivate other employees, and may even put your business at risk. Sometimes this behavior can be fixed by helping the individual understand the issues and taking steps to remedy the situation. If the problems continue, sometimes it’s better to cut your losses and get rid of them. It’s an overlooked aspect of helping your employees feel supported at work: getting rid of a bad apple will instantly improve employee morale.
After a year of extreme stress, fear, and anxiety, employees are facing burnout like never before. Employers are seeing this play out in low morale despite widespread reopenings around the U.S. — and many are responding by increasing vacation days, paid time off, and child or elder-care benefits.
If you see a decrease in morale or engagement, it may be worth examining your employees’ use of paid time off (PTO) or your own policies. Studies have shown that taking a vacation reduces stress, increases immune function, and increases productivity. People are also more creative after a holiday. Adding a generous vacation policy and encouraging people to use them is a great way to boost employee morale. At HealthJoy, we offer unlimited PTO, but we’ve also encouraged employees to take mental health days, reworked our request policy to ensure we’re accurately tracking employee time off, and as always, kept an eye on how this impacts morale.
Promote a Healthy Lifestyle
If you’ve shifted to remote work over the last year, promoting a healthy lifestyle can seem difficult. While seen positive effects from the addition of treadmill and bike desks to our Chicago office, those tools quickly became obsolete during the pandemic. So our HR team pivoted and has since run two successful, fully remote wellness challenges for employees. In addition to rewarding employees who engage in healthy behaviors, we’ve hosted online yoga and meditation classes during the workday and offered every employee a wellness stipend they can use for any form of self-care.
We found that this flexibility helped employees explore wellness in a way that best fits their lifestyle. Ultimately, it’s about providing options that help employees feel encouraged and supported. See our post “How to Plan a Wellness Initiative for Remote Employees” for more ideas.
Track the Pulse of Employee Morale
It takes constant work to maintain a dynamic company culture. Even small decisions can have unintended consequences for your employee morale. The only way to make sure you’re headed in the right direction is to track and continuously work on keeping positivity up. That’s more true now than ever!