Tackling low morale in your workplace

As businesses scale back in this economy, the layoffs, salary reductions and furloughs are dampening bright and cheery moods throughout the workplace.

Sarasota business consultant Mary Wolf, founder of Mary Wolf Enterprises, LLC, with 25 years experience in working with Fortune 500 companies on leadership and team building skills, talks about ways business owners can deal with low morale.

What are some signs that indicate morale is low among employees?

There’s a number of things: absenteeism, coming in late, long lunches, productivity slips, lots of side conversations between employees that stop when the boss comes in the room, lack of smiles and happy demeanor, and low energy.

How does low morale impact the workplace?

It’s almost like the silent demon in the corner. You can’t see it, touch it or feel it, but you know it’s there. The way it impacts the company is people make more mistakes, the quality of work slips and the quantity of work slips. In other words, they don’t produce as highly as they did before, they don’t produce the numbers they did before. The interest just isn’t there, and employees become kind of robotic in their behaviors.

What initial approach should a manager take with employees to address the issue?

One is pay attention. Be aware. The first thing a boss is going to want to do is ignore it and say, “Ah well, it will pass” or “It’s just the times.”

What employees need from the leader is encouragement. They need acknowledgement that what they’re going through is normal. It’s possible the boss can give them little glimpses into the future.

But bosses need to put it out on the table. Instead of having the dead elephant in the room, put it on the table, acknowledge what’s going on, be honest, be truthful and give them a little something to hold on to.

The fact that you acknowledge that what they’re going through is OK will re-energize them.

What are some practical things any size business can do to boost morale?

Put some fun into the workplace in any way that you can because people are feeling extraordinarily stressed. Maybe you can give them a certificate at a local restaurant or add a perk to the office.

One of my clients has a Ping-Pong table in their office and that helps a lot.

They can bat the ball around during a break and relieve stress.

Ask people: “What can I do to help us get through this tough time?” Maybe you don’t have big, deep pockets right now, but maybe every Friday we can have lunch together and talk about how the week went.

Any way that you can demonstrate to your employees that they add value to the business, productivity will increase.

How important is giving recognition to employees for their work in this economy?

This is extremely important now more than ever. People are really feeling like they’re left hanging out there by themselves. It’s very important to do recognition programs now.

You can make it fun or silly. It doesn’t have to be serious all the time.

On a serious note, you can give them a certificate recognizing the work that they’ve done or create a contest to reward others in the workplace. You’d be surprised how much people really just want the recognition.

Does it help if employers get to know their employees better? And how can they do this?

People want their boss to know they’re not just a robot and punching the keyboard every day.

Managers can get to know their employees by asking them questions that are not too personal, but revolving around work, such as what is your favorite thing to do in the workplace, in the past month what have you been most proud of?

If you call them in the office don’t sit behind the desk. Come out from behind the desk or go to a conference room. That levels the playing field. If you sit behind the desk they’re not going to be as open with you.

How should employers communicate the company’s status to ease worries?

Some businesses send out weekly e-mails, monthly or quarterly e-mails that is a state of the business update. In this market, I would say the monthly updates would be the farthest out I would go.

People need to hear more often in times of stress than less often.

In those updates, don’t paint over the gloom and doom. Make sure it’s a balanced message. Give employees as best you can the true picture and also keep them focused on the vision.