Tips for building team morale after tough times

When it comes to maintaining employee morale it’s been one thing after the other. There’s been the ongoing effect of the recession, crises like the Canterbury earthquake, restructuring and hiring freezes. No matter which way you cut it, it’s been a stressful few years for both employers and employees.

For many, increased workloads and job uncertainty have been part of the landscape, so it’s little wonder a lingering sense of unease and depressed morale has become common in many workplaces.

Low morale can take many forms - reduced productivity and efficiency, increased errors, missed deadlines, apathy and a higher rate of absenteeism.

Even if your business managed to ride out economic and national crises, it’s likely your team is still anxious about what the future might hold. If you suspect your team is experiencing low morale, try the following strategies to rebuild confidence and energy.

Open the channels of communication.

To counteract sliding morale, frequent, open communication is essential. It will reassure employees and prevent rumours from spreading. In addition to holding formal meetings to keep your workers updated on developments, be sure to let them know you are available on an informal basis if they have questions or concerns. Remove some of the physical and psychological barriers to a conversation by keeping your office door open and visiting employees in their workplaces.

Remember that open communication includes listening as well as talking. Let employees know you welcome feedback about existing procedures and ideas for improvement. Also pay attention when members of your team express doubt, frustration or worries. Active listening will enable you to address many problematic situations before they escalate.

Closely monitor workloads.

One common reason for low morale is that employees feel overwhelmed by the amount of work at hand. This leads to a debilitating cycle – the harder employees work, the more stressed they become and the less they accomplish. This creates further anxiety, stress and low morale.

To break the cycle you will need to find cost-effective ways to take some of the burden off staff members. Re-delegating responsibilities and reorganising processes or job structures can help. This can be challenging at a small company where employees typically “wear many hats” and juggle multiple roles. You could also consider hiring interim staff to help during peak times.

Reprioritise.

Simple reprioritisation can often go a long way in increasing efficiencies. The goal is to separate tasks and projects that truly contribute to the bottom line from those that don’t. Let your staff help: ask them to take a fresh look at their workloads and identify activities that could be shifted to the back burner for the time being. This exercise could increase your team’s efficiency and ensure everyone is working on the initiatives that are most important to the business.

At some point, additional resources may be the only way to truly reduce individual’s workloads. If your business cannot afford to hire full-time yet, consider bringing in interim help, such as temporary or project professionals to fill gaps or provide the specialised expertise needed for one-off projects. This approach provides you with the flexibility to staff up or down as needs dictate. The use of temporary professionals can also help you decide whether temporary roles should be made full-time at some point, and allows you to determine if these individuals might make good candidates for those positions.

Acknowledge, praise and reward.

One of the most powerful morale builders is a show of appreciation. Frequently and publicly recognise individual and group efforts and accomplishments. This doesn’t have to be elaborate – it could just be a personal note of congratulations to a team member who has over-delivered. It is also important to provide encouragement at other times – a sincere email along the lines of “you’re doing great work and I appreciate your efforts” has tremendous motivational power. Read more about employee recognition tips.

Additional rewards do not have to be expensive. Lift your team’s spirits by allowing them to take a longer lunch one day or leave early on a Friday afternoon. Small tokens, such as gift cards or employee discounts on company products, are also good morale boosters.

Build camaraderie and community.

The more people enjoy working together, the higher their morale. Foster team unity by creating an environment of collaboration and cooperation rather than competition. Another way to build cohesion and goodwill is to publicly recognise milestones like anniversaries within your business, as well as birthdays, weddings or other events in the lives of employees. Monthly staff lunches also give the team an opportunity to relax and socialise together.

When stress and heavy workloads start having a toll on your team’s morale, take immediate steps to alleviate the burden. While there is no morale “magic bullet” your team will appreciate the fact that you are responsive to their need for support.

Would you like to keep up to date with the latest hiring and management advice & trends? Subscribe to the Robert Half work life blog.