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How to Improve Employee Morale Amidst Uncertainty

To say employees are working under unique circumstances in 2020 would be considered an understatement by most.

We are dealing with an intersection of stressors between the global pandemic, the impact of the resulting economic downturn, political divisions in an election year, and social unrest. Add in the upcoming holiday season and it may seem like a plunge in employee morale is inevitable, but is it? The short answer: it doesn’t have to be.

Managing morale in the face of crisis can be challenging but it can also provide an opportunity for self-examination, realignment, affirmation, celebration, team building and growth.

Self-Examination

Moments of crisis can be a great opportunity for self-examination. Leaders should take this time to think about whether their planned goals still make sense for their organization, their team, and themselves. Other employees can benefit from self-examination as well. The goals we set in January are likely completely different than our goals in October due to the realities of today. While working on setting new goals, look for opportunities for growth and innovation. Ask yourselves: How have things changed and how can we come out the other side better and stronger?

With the economic downturn businesses may need to operate with a much smaller staff than ideal. While longer hours and additional responsibilities coupled with pay and hiring freezes can lead to lower morale, opportunities exist.

Actively encourage and welcome creativity. Include employees who you usually don’t hear from. Quiet employees aren’t necessarily employees who lack great thoughts and ideas. Consider developing a cross-training program where employees can learn from each other and explore other areas/positions within the company. This allows for strengthened institutional knowledge, better teamwork through increased understanding, and potential career growth leading to increased retention. It’s a win/win with minimal cost or risk.

Realignment

Now that you’ve thought critically about where you are and where you want to be, it’s time to realign your actions so they complement your goals. Every decision that is made should support the end result you want for your team, department, and organization as a whole. Communication is key. Employees can only support and work towards what they know about. Communicate change with honesty and transparency. No one likes bad news, but it is better received when employees know they are fully informed and can believe what they are being told. When employees are fully informed, they are more likely to think of themselves as part of the solution and act accordingly.

Affirmation

Affirmation isn’t just for times when morale is low, it can be a great way to motivate your team while increasing productivity and engagement. Authenticity matters. Affirm and reaffirm the truth. Ensure that your employees feel heard, seen, and most importantly, valued. Reassure employees the company is financially stable if that is the case. The point is to provide as much certainty as possible during an otherwise uncertain time.

Recognition/Celebration

During periods of lowered morale, identifying genuine opportunities to celebrate team members is critical (and fun!). This is another opportunity to think outside of the box. With the economic downturn, many employers are not in a position to spend much, if any, money. Gathering together to celebrate in person is also limited and, in some places, not possible. Neither of these things mean recognition and celebration cannot take place. This is your opportunity to get creative. Send emails highlighting a team member who went above and beyond, add a section to your internal newsletter (e.g. “The Kudos Korner”) where anyone can shower their colleagues with praise for anything they appreciate about them, host virtual celebratory sessions handing out “awards” for great customer service, teamwork, enthusiasm, etc. How you recognize and celebrate your employees isn’t as important as prioritizing recognizing and celebrating each other. This can help to boost employee confidence, engagement, and teamwork.

Celebration is also important with this very unique holiday season approaching. Many organizations are canceling their usual holiday celebrations. Employees are facing a similar reality in their personal lives with their own holiday plans in limbo or canceled.

The holiday season can already present a challenge for those who do not have anyone to celebrate with, have recently lost a loved one, or don’t find it to be a joyous time of year for other reasons. This is another opportunity for creative celebrating and connection.

Host virtual themed celebrations. Encourage participation by asking for ideas, focusing on fun and interaction (games are always a great way to get the laughter and conversation flowing), while also being respectful of those who prefer not to celebrate for their own personal reasons. Most importantly, make sure that any celebration is inclusive, so everyone feels welcome to join in on the merriment if they choose to.

Team Building

When morale is low, it easy for teamwork to follow suit. Strengthening the sense of team can be a critical component to reviving flagging morale. Feeling supported by colleagues can make a significant difference in surviving crises. Teams that feel connected and accountable to each other are more likely to boost each other up during tough times. Along with encouraging recognition and celebration of fellow team members, team-building exercises can be helpful. Consider intentional joint “breaks” from work where socializing is the only point of coming together. This “break” is not about celebrating or fun in the traditional sense of the word, the focus is connecting through conversation. With the upcoming holiday season, many individuals and organizations are focused on giving back to the community. Consider volunteering virtually as a team after polling employees to narrow down a cause(s) that is important to them. What employers do isn’t as important as ensuring that whatever is selected involves the whole team. Again, inclusivity is key.

Growth

While an economic downturn resulting in competing crises may not seem like an ideal setting for growth, it is rife with opportunity for just that. Quantitative growth may not be realistic for some, but being able to grow in other ways can lead to improved employee engagement and spark the innovation necessary to take your organization to the next level.

Curious to learn more about enhancing employee engagement? Check out this recent post: Performance Management Trends That Lead to Increased Engagement. Or, connect directly with a OneDigital strategist to create a strategy for addressing your specific challenges.

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