In a recent survey of 1,400 CFOs from U.S. companies with 20 or more employees, the staffing giant Accountemps asked what has the most negative impact on employee morale. The most common answer was "lack of honest communication," followed by "failure to recognize employee achievement," "micromanagement," and "excessive workloads for extended periods." The survey then asked: "Which is the best remedy for low morale?" The executives' responses: communication (48 percent), recognition programs (19 percent), monetary rewards for exceptional performance (13 percent), unexpected rewards (11 percent),events or meetings (3 percent), and additional days off (3 percent).
Here are my ideas for implementing each of these elements in your workplace.
Communication—The single most important tool you have is perhaps the simplest: honest communication. Employees need information about their jobs, but they also want to know more, such as what's going on in the organization. In addition, they want to be asked for their ideas for improving processes or saving money. Best Buy recently set up online surveys to solicit ideas from its employees for cutting costs and in just the first three weeks got 900 ideas!
Recognition Programs—It's time that companies made a concerted effort to teach managers how to use recognition. It must be specific. Don't say, "Everyone is doing a good job—keep it up," but rather, "Before we start our meeting agenda, let's name five things that are going well for us right now." (A strategy a manager from Disney recently shared with me.)
Monetary Awards for Exceptional Performance—Employees want to see their salaries grow again. They also want to see financial awards aligned with performance. For example, even though Home Depot has had to close some of its stores, the company realigned its goals and tied them to the efforts of employees. As a result, it recently distributed a record number of bonuses to front-line staff.
Unexpected Rewards—Though spontaneity means acting without planning, it is possible to plan for spontaneity. For example, have the resources ready for spontaneous recognition: gift cards from Starbucks or Amazon, or party supplies. Host an ice-cream social or bring in a pizza to celebrate a milestone or group success. Use some of the time together to identify and acknowledge individual efforts that made the achievement possible.
Teambuilding Events—Group activities, field trips, entertainment events—these go a long way toward building morale. When possible, try to link these events to some success the team has achieved and, ideally, let the group decide what to do.
Time Off—This is an excellent option when more costly rewards are not an option. For example, Los Angeles–based JS Communications recently gave employees two free "I Don't Want to Get Out of Bed" days. And Boston-based Greenough Communications started "Winter Fridays," in which high-performing employees are allowed to leave at 3 p.m. on Fridays.