This is a guest post by Brennan McEachran, CEO and Co-Founder of Hypercontext, a suite of tools to help leaders and their teams streamline objectives, meetings and morale into one workflow. He has spent more than a decade in the leadership and employee engagement space building apps to create better relationships between managers and their teams.
As millions of people quit their jobs or contemplate doing so, companies are struggling with the question of how to retain employees during the great resignation.
This is a challenge for employers on a number of fronts. But, as you run around trying to figure out how to hand off work while avoiding productivity loss, don’t forget about morale.
When many people leave an organization it can be a difficult time for those who stay. It’s not uncommon for morale to decline. Whether it’s because team members lost a friend at the company, are worried about their own future, or they’re taking on more shifts to cover all the work that needs to be done — morale can quickly diminish.
It’s up to leadership to take action to avoid low morale for employees who remain at the company.
In this article, we’ll explore:
What low employee morale means
Why low morale is bad for workplaces
What causes low morale at work
How to combat low employee morale during high turnover
What does low employee morale mean?
According to QuestionPro, employee morale can be defined as the “attitude, satisfaction and overall outlook of employees during their association with an organization or a business.”
High morale means that employees have a good attitude, and are feeling satisfied in their role. Low morale, on the other hand, means unhappy employees who are disheartened with the organization and feeling unmotivated. This could look like consistent complaints, low productivity and greater turnover.
As you can imagine, employee morale — both positive and negative — touches every facet of an organization.
Why is low morale bad?
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why low employee morale has negative impacts on an organization.
When morale is low, employees are less engaged, motivated, and happy. What’s more, it creates a negative environment that can quickly lead to a toxic work culture.
Even the low morale of a few employees should be a cause of concern. When a handful of employees are feeling down, it will inevitably lead to more widespread dissatisfaction. It goes without saying, low morale is something you want to avoid. So it’s important to listen to your team members and address concerns head-on rather than letting them spiral into larger issues.
What causes low morale at work?
Earlier in this article, we talked about how resignations can lead to low morale. But, it’s not necessarily a cause and effect relationship. Low morale leads to high turnover, and high turnover leads to low morale. But what could have caused the drop in morale in the first place?
Let’s explore some causes of low spirits at work:
1. Lack of trust
Often a lack of trust starts from the top and trickles down throughout the organization.
When managers don’t trust their employees, it results in micromanaging and a lack of career progression. And it goes both ways. When employees don’t trust their managers or leadership, it can result in fear or simply a lack of motivation.
Don’t wait until you need trust (like when people start leaving) to start building it. The easiest way to build a foundation of trust with your employees is consistent one-on-ones and feedback sharing.
2. No recognition or rewards
People want to be recognized for their work. In fact, Bonusly’s 2019 employee engagement and modern workplace report found that 84% of highly engaged employees were recognized the last time they went above and beyond, compared to only 25% of highly disengaged employees.
When employees are consistently working hard and not being seen, it becomes harder and harder to continue to self-motivate. Employees start to feel like they’re not appreciated and may begin looking for opportunities elsewhere.
3. Unclear goals
Not knowing what your role is on the team or in the bigger picture of the organization is uninspiring and the cause of a lot of workplace stress. Instead of focusing on how to achieve their goals, team members are focused on trying to figure out what their goals are.
Setting clear goals is one of the easiest ways to avoid wasting energy and stay aligned as a team— keeping everyone accountable and motivated.
But remember, not all goals are made equal. Some great goal-setting frameworks to help build clear and achievable goals are the widely used SMART framework and OKRs (objectives and key results). Once your goals are set, make sure you continuously communicate them with your team and adjust if needed.
4. No team-building
Sometimes it feels like there’s no time for anything except work— especially when you’re short-staffed. But that will be to your detriment. It’s important to make time for team-building activities — even if your team is virtual. This will help build morale on more than one level. Firstly, it’ll allow your team members to get to know each other and create a stronger sense of unity on the team. Secondly, it’ll help create more trust — which we’ve already established is an important factor in avoiding low morale.
How do you combat low employee morale during high turnover?
There are a lot of things that are important to do to improve employee morale. To name a few important factors: consistent one-on-ones to build a foundation of trust, setting clear goals and expectations, creating a culture of continuous feedback sharing, a flexible work environment — the list can go on.
But when it comes to combating low employee morale during times of high turnover, how you approach employee departures will play a large role.
Here are a few things you can do to mitigate low morale when it feels like everyone’s moving on to new opportunities:
If you’re not transparent about the changes happening at your organization, people will create their own narratives. The lack of transparency will cause your team to lose trust and confidence in your organization’s leadership.
Don’t shy away from announcing employee departures to your organization. If your employees are leaving, be transparent with the organization and let them know. Lay out the facts: who’s leaving, when they’re leaving, if you’ll be replacing the role, etc.
If you’re sharing the announcement via email, here’s a template to help you get started.
Make sure that you give your employees the space and time to ask any questions they have or address their concerns in their manager one-on-ones. It’s not a one-way conversation!
Share the plan for the future
When there’s uncertainty in a workplace, it can cause a lot of fear. Sharing a plan for the future will help clear up any questions or discomfort. It’ll also help spin the change to be more positive. For example, if three employees are leaving, that’s also 3 new roles that you’re hiring for — and potentially three opportunities for referral bonuses.
Not sure your plan for the future quite yet? That’s okay. Don’t be afraid to address it. You can say that you’re still reviewing whether or not you’ll be re-hiring for the role or who will be taking on what responsibilities. But, make sure you commit to a timeline and let your team know when you’ll be able to give them a better sense of how the team will move forward.
Proper offboarding for feedback
Don’t leave offboarding to HR only. This is a good opportunity for you as a manager to get a better sense of what your team needs moving forward and where improvements can be made.
Why are your employees leaving? Get to the root of the issue by conducting an offboarding meeting. This will allow you to dig deeper into any constructive feedback the team member may have so you can course-correct for the employees who remain. It will also help you get a better understanding of team dynamics and what will be needed to successfully replace the role and keep morale high.
It isn’t easy for anyone when resignations abound. It’s a time of high stress not only for organizations but also for the employees who remain at the company.
To help reduce tension and low morale, create a line of open communication with your team. Be transparent about employee departures, share your plan for the future, and gather as much feedback as possible so you can commit to making the necessary improvements for your team to thrive.