By: Caitlin Gibson
Now more than ever, we should expect that most employees are struggling with morale. Not only is everyone in the world facing unprecedented uncertainty in light of a global pandemic, people everywhere are joining in solidarity to protest the systemic racism and brutality embedded in US policing in the wake of George Floyd’s murder…and Breonna Taylor’s…and the murders of so many other Black people.
People are hurting. They’re angry. They’re overwhelmed. For many, focusing on work is harder than it’s ever been. And when employees lack focus, they’re quicker to disengage and may even begin to resent their work. So, what can you do as an employer to boost employee morale right now? First, before you do anything else, address what’s going on in a meaningful, actionable way. Without doing so, any efforts to boost morale can fall flat because they may fail to appropriately address how people are feeling or provide what employees really need right now to feel more engaged and energized at work. Then, go back to the basics of employee engagement, and customize your approach from there based on the needs of your employees, your company’s culture, and the priorities of your business.
Send a Clear, Compassionate Message
How do you address the powerful uprising we’re witnessing right now and the reasons for it while in the middle of a pandemic? Oregon’s Legacy Health network set a good example. In an email sent to all of its patients from its CEO, they communicated four key things:
- A clear condemnation of racism
- An empathetic recognition—to the best of their ability—of how their community, particularly their Black community members, are feeling right now and why they’re feeling that way
- An honest acknowledgement of past shortcomings and how much work and learning they still have to do
- A clear outline of the commitments they’ve made as an organization to long-term, anti-racist work and service
Sending a message of this clarity and caliber is your first step. Not only is it your moral obligation, your employees want you to be a driver of change. They want to know their employer cares about what they’re experiencing. Many employees are even willing to take a pay cut if it means working for a socially conscientious and responsible company. If you’ve already sent a message about what’s going on and it’s missing any of the above components, update your messaging and share it again. If your company is unwilling to condemn racism in all its forms outright or speak directly about it, find out why and work with your fellow leaders to appropriately challenge that unwillingness to speak up. Then, in the weeks, months, and years ahead, honor your commitments and continue doing the work.
Leverage Key Employee Engagement Strategies
Once you’ve shared that message and commitment with your employees, take the following approach:
When employees are feeling anxious and uncertain about what’s going on in the world, a lack of consistent, reliable communication at work can make things worse. Employees may begin to worry that important information is being withheld from them or that they’re not trusted or valued enough to be kept in the loop. To alleviate some of this stress and concern, ensure managers share company and team-specific updates with their direct reports in a timely manner. If changes are made to roles, responsibilities, or company priorities, consider using a change communications software to let folks know what to expect. To ensure that all of this communication doesn’t add to the information overload employees are experiencing right now, craft an effective, strategic communication plan that’ll get the right information to the right people at the right time. You can also leverage communication journeys to communicate more effectively during this time of unrest and uncertainty.
Hold regular 1:1s.
Ensure managers are meeting one-on-one with their employees at least every other week. These informal meetings are the best way to get a temperature check on employee morale. If a manager learns that an employee is struggling with something, they can use these one-on-ones to help. If it’s something work-related, they can help come up with a solution in real time. If it’s personal, they can encourage their employee to take the time they need to address the issue, like adjusting the employee’s schedule or responsibilities, so they can take a mental health day.
Find opportunities to recognize employees for their accomplishments. You can give timely praise one-on-one or dedicate a Slack channel to giving kudos and highlighting wins, so everyone can spotlight great work. This is a key employee motivation strategy and way to boost morale. Employees are more likely to put effort and energy into their work if they regularly receive recognition. So, find ways to give recognition often, and you’ll be able to re-energize your employees and help avoid employee turnover.
Try hosting lunch-and-learns.
These informal sessions are easy to host virtually and can focus on issues in the world, changes at work, or even personal hobbies and interests. How often you host them is up to you. If you come up with a variety of potential lunch-and-learn topics, consider holding these sessions every other week or at least one a month. Particularly if folks are feeling isolated or lonely at home, lunch-and-learns can be a great way to feel connected to a group of people who are having a similar experience and wanting to feel a sense of belonging and connection. You can even host a lunch-and-learn focused on the challenges of working remotely, so employees can share ideas and advice and appreciate that other folks are feeling the strain, too.
Support those who don’t know how to ask for help.
Even if folks know they can take mental health days, many may still be hesitant to do so. So, make it easier for them. Show your employees work-life balance matters by creating ways for them to take care of themselves without guilt or uncertainty. For example, you can encourage your team to wrap up early on a Friday, so they can start their weekend early. You can also set a powerful example yourself by taking a mental health day and encouraging your fellow leaders to do the same. If you find yourself particularly concerned about an employee’s mental health, connect them with your EAP if you have one or another professional resource, so they can talk with someone who can help.
Have managers set a positive example.
If managers consistently respond to emails late at night, their team members will think they should do that, too. This type of behavior might seem like admirable dedication, but it can quickly lead to burnout and negatively impact engagement. Make sure managers work sustainably and not at the cost of their physical, mental, or emotional well-being, and employees will model their approach accordingly. What’s more, employees who are supervised by highly engaged managers who set healthy boundaries are 59% more likely to be engaged themselves.
Provide consistent feedback and coaching.
Make sure each employee is regularly receiving feedback from their manager and peers, and ensure they’re also comfortable giving feedback to those on their team and in leadership. One-on-ones are a great place to give and receive feedback because the environment is already set up for honest, supportive discussions. Regularly giving and receiving feedback can boost employee engagement and employee morale and create a connected enterprise that’s accountable, responsible, and honest.
Get a mentorship program going.
When the vast majority of employees are experiencing acute anxiety, a mentorship program can help alleviate some of that stress. It can create a safe space for employees to talk about how they’re feeling and get the support they need to bring their best selves to work. Employees can receive the support they need to focus on their growth and development. As a result, mentorship can offer the peace of mind so many employees are craving right now. To set up a mentoring program that’ll work for your employees, ask your employees what type of mentoring they want and need. Then, tailor your approach accordingly in creating the program and matching employees with mentors.
If you’re having a hard time maintaining employee morale right now, you’re not alone. 65% of employers are experiencing the same challenge. You can begin to address this issue by first crafting and sharing an honest, empathetic, and actionable message with your employees about what’s going on across the world right now and why. This is, in part, about letting your employees know that when they come to work, even if their office is currently their kitchen table, they’re not expected to work in a vacuum. You’re showing them that they’re not alone in feeling how they do and that you’re invested in doing what it takes not only to care for and support them, but the communities they call home, too. Then, do what you can to boost morale by prioritizing consistent, effective communication, regular one-on-ones, employee recognition, and opportunities for growth and development. By taking this approach, you can give your employees the tools and support they need to feel more focused and motivated at work.