High employee morale refers to a collective feeling of satisfaction in the workplace. This often comes from a sense of stability, appreciation, and purpose. High workforce morale produces several benefits, including higher productivity and company loyalty and lower turnover rates.
But right now, stress from the pandemic and other circumstances is noticeably affecting morale in the workplace. A recent SHRM survey reports that 65 percent of HR professionals found maintaining employee morale to be challenging during the height of the pandemic. Gallup’s continued research on employee engagement demonstrates that politicized events also impact engagement and morale in the workplace, with engagement rates dipping from 38 to 31 percent following George Floyd’s death.
Although morale may be waning, you can take action to stem the tide. Below are some ways to bolster drooping employee morale at your organization during the pandemic.
And if you're interested in improving employee morale, check out this webinar which explores employee morale in greater depth.
Provide for Safety First
The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered high levels of stress in your workforce. In a matter of weeks, the perception of health and job security was stripped away, leaving your team feeling vulnerable and at risk. Before you can rebuild morale, you need to provide for basic health and safety.
“It starts with safety,” says Deloria Nelson, president of Authentic Culture & Engagement Solutions Inc. This includes physical safety measures such as supplying personal protective equipment, cleaning equipment and sanitizer while keeping team members distanced on the floor. Communicate your new safety protocols clearly, and don’t deviate from them.
Psychological safety measures need to be put into place, too. “Managers need to show that they care,” says psychological safety expert Rebecca Morgan. “Managers and employees have different definitions of what that looks like.”
Coach your direct managers to check in with employees about how they’re doing. Employees may not volunteer their needs on their own, so have direct managers ask them what they need to complete their work. It’s hard to adjust the schedule of a working parent, for example, if you don’t know what’s going on.
A prerequisite to building morale is to build trust. Don’t let negative interactions erode trust between team members. “Trust gets broken when managers or team members commit microaggressions,” Morgan says. “People check out mentally and emotionally if they don’t feel psychologically safe.”
If an employee suggests a process change, for example, and is met with eye-rolls or other dismissive actions, that team member won’t feel safe speaking up again. How leaders respond to microaggressions sets the team’s tone — for better or for worse. Consider using Morgan’s psychological safety survey to start conversations and evaluate psychological safety in the workplace.
Finally, make sure team members have access to the mental health resources they need. “You have a lot of people who are highly stressed, whether they tell you or not,” Nelson says. Invite your employee assistance program provider to be available onsite one day or have them virtually address your group.
Emphasize Your Appreciation
Once you’ve established psychological safety, you can build morale by demonstrating your gratitude to every team member. “Morale is built on knowing that your work is appreciated,” Morgan says. But don’t just say “great job!” and move on, Morgan says. Back up your words of appreciation with tangible support such as additional COVID-related sick leave, even if your organization isn’t covered under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.
Personal gestures of recognition and appreciation are effective morale boosters, too. “Recognize that team members are here working for you,” Nelson says, especially if they’re putting their health on the line by coming into a physical workplace. Present them with certificates or gift cards for food delivery services, for example. “Create a special COVID recognition program,” Nelson recommends. “Find ways to show your appreciation.”
Remember, though, that these gestures will ring hollow if employees feel that their basic needs (like safety, compensation, and benefits) aren’t being met. Morale can only be as good as the base it's built on.
Ask Employees What They Need Now
The best way to build morale during COVID-19 is to find out what drives your team members. The act of asking them for feedback — and acting on it afterward — is itself an important step toward increased morale. “Ask your employees: ‘What will encourage you to do more?’” Nelson suggests. “Then, keep the conversation going.” Make use of surveys and standardized questions to facilitate the conversation.
Sometimes it can be challenging to pin down precisely what encourages employees to engage. Try to get at what drives morale through other lines of questioning. “Ask: ‘What motivates you?’” Morgan recommends. This helps you connect with each team member’s vital sense of purpose. “When was a time when you felt that your work was appreciated?” is another question she suggests. This encourages team members to connect with past experiences and meaningful memories.
Even if you’ve had these conversations before, a lot has changed recently. Your workforce may be entirely remote now, for example. As you adjust your processes for remote work, try to discover where your weak points might be. If your employees are used to seeing each other in person, find ways to maintain those connections. This could be a group video chat every Friday evening or randomly assigned one-on-one virtual coffee meetups on Wednesday mornings. Find ways to keep employees engaged and reignite their passion for work despite the major challenges we’re all facing.
And don't forget to check out this webinar if you're interested in more insights on employee morale!