Declines in employee morale rarely happen overnight. That shift from a once highly engaged and energetic employee to someone who now gives minimal effort is usually a slow progression. However, unless you are paying attention, the results can be extremely hard to resolve once that positive morale is lost. The key is to boost morale among your employees frequently and consistently.

So, are there warning signs managers should be watching for? Can proactive steps help avoid low morale? Is employee morale even that critical for businesses to be concerned about?

Yes. Yes. And definitely yes! Keep reading as we explain and provide you with some effective ways to boost employee morale.

Warning Signs You Need to Boost Employee Morale

It is important to note that when an employee displays one or two of these warnings, it does not automatically mean they are disengaged with their role or your company. All of these factors can be explained by reasons outside of an employee morale problem. This means you need to recognize your employees as whole individuals with lives outside of the office too. That line between work and life can get rather blurred at times.

It is also vital to know your employees well enough to recognize when their behavior and personalities have changed. You cannot possibly notice changes if you don’t even know what normal behavior is for members of your team.

With those caveats in mind, look for these warning signs as indications you may need to boost morale in your workplace.

  • Lack of attendance. Is an employee frequently missing scheduled workdays, showing up late multiple times a week, or looking for reasons to leave early with some consistency?

  • Lack of engagement or ambition. Be wary of a team member who is no longer enthusiastic about learning new skills or the ability to work on new projects. Even a decline in a commitment to ongoing projects that once held their focus should grab your attention.

  • Becoming withdrawn. Watch for a drop in communication levels with yourself and other members of your team. Silence can speak volumes.

  • Declining productivity and performance. We all make mistakes or are sluggish after a poor night of sleep. However, when usual productivity levels begin to drop, quality declines, and the frequency or severity of errors start increasing, it’s time to take action.

  • Apathetic or negative attitudes. Having a bad day is one thing, behaving in a way that brings everyone else down is quite another. Watch for language or behavior that indicates they no longer care about their work and colleagues or that has become increasingly negative.

  • Avoidance. While we all need a break from our busy schedules from time to time, take notice when an employee is intentionally disengaging with others or proactively taking actions to avoid interactions with team members.

  • High turnover rate. This warning sign takes a broader look at your company. If you are losing employees faster than you can hire new employees or there is a sudden mass exodus of talent, you have a much broader morale problem.

Causes of Low Team Morale

Just like the warning signs, the causes of low employee morale can be slowly progressing and compounding as well. It is also important to recognize that not every employee who has lost a zest for their role is directly responsible for those feelings. In most cases, the cause is a result of problems within an organization. These factors become worse when businesses fail to recognize the causes or to take action that can boost morale.

Here are the most common causes to be aware of.

  • Stress. It should be no surprise among all the negative consequences of stress that it can deflate morale too. While a small degree of stress can keep us focused and push us to complete a project, long-term stress can be very taxing on our mental health and engagement.

  • Employee burnout. That marathon working employee may initially look like a high performer, but placing demands and expectations on employees beyond what is realistic is only a fast track to disaster and the revolving door of incoming and outgoing employees will prove it.

  • Lack of purpose. Employees who no longer feel like their efforts matter or don’t have new challenges that foster learning and personal development will soon become disenchanted and unmotivated in their roles. People need to know that what they are doing matters.

  • Poor company culture. Perhaps the biggest impact on low employee morale is poor company culture. This problem could be expressed as a non-inclusive environment, a lack of trust from management, limited upward mobility, rumors among peers that go unchecked or corrected, and problem employees that go without correction or disciplinary action.

  • Micromanagement. New employees, junior-level team members, and complex projects handled for the first time all require a bit more oversight. However, no one performs well with someone constantly overlooking their every move. Micromanagement is a huge demotivator.

  • Inconsistent management. When routine processes are handled differently every time or problems are managed without any consistency, employees will quickly lose confidence and trust. Meaning, they will soon lose the motivation to follow or support leadership.

  • Poor communication. Do your employees know what is going on in other areas of your company? Are they informed of upcoming changes well before they happen? Lack of transparency is a sure way to kill morale.

  • Lack of input. Conversely, can your employees share their feelings and ideas easily with leadership in your organization? Are their thoughts and opinions sought out? Employees who don’t have a voice will find ways to communicate through their actions…or in this case, inactions.

  • Unrealistic expectations. While striving to be a step ahead of your competition or to produce more than just the average is admirable, goals have to be achievable to motivate and encourage.

  • Unresolved problems. Issues and challenges are going to arise in business, that’s a given. However, does your organization address and resolve them in a reasonable manner and amount of time? Problems cannot go unresolved or ignored if you want to boost morale among your employees.

  • Frequent/unplanned changes. Most people don’t respond favorably to changes. The reason usually isn’t the change itself though, but moreover due to a lack of planning throughout the process or that changes happen so frequently that nothing is ever settled.

  • Job insecurity. Employees who are worried about the stability of their jobs are not focused on what they were hired to do in the first place. When uncertainty rises (and it does) letting your employees fend for themselves will do nothing for morale.

  • Lack of recognition. Do your employees know that you appreciate them? Are their efforts recognized? Employees who aren’t appreciated won’t maintain the excitement for their roles for long.

Why Strong Employee Morale Matters

At this point you should understand that low employee morale is a serious problem. However, at what point does employee morale turn from poor to positive? Can “average” team morale be good enough? Maybe. Taking a look at the consequences and benefits of varying morale levels may help you decide.

Consequences of low morale

  • Disenchantment is contagious. Have you ever noticed how one person can quickly shift the mood of a room? Just like one bad apple can spoil the entire bushel, the same is true among colleagues. Disengaged employees can cast doubt in the minds of colleagues about company culture or career opportunities, even if perceived, that slowly erodes a once positive culture. While unengaged employees may avoid leadership, they generally still have a small group of internal confidants to share their frustrations with.

  • Casts a negative light on brand image. Candidates have learned to do their homework about organizations before joining. This means not only asking direct, probing questions during the interview process, but also reading online reviews and talking to current employees they may already know. If prospective employees continue to read and hear about low morale or an unsavory company culture, your chances of recruiting new talent will become much more challenging.

  • Can drive customers away. When you connect and engage with a company, do you prefer to interact with someone who is positive and energetic or the individual who is sour and indifferent to their role? An employee who is unengaged toward coworkers is going to be just as cold (perhaps even more) to your customers.

Benefits of healthy team morale

  • Increased productivity and performance. It’s incredibly hard to put your full effort and attention into something you don’t like or care about. However, when employees are faced with a task or project that excites them, motivation kicks in driving them to work with more intent and commitment.

  • Increased loyalty. While an employee with low morale will gradually distance themselves from colleagues, projects, and the organization in general, engaged employees have a much stronger sense of connection. That strong connection makes them better team members and stronger brand advocates.

  • Improved retention rates. Just as avoidance and absenteeism are signs of declining employee morale, employee retention is a measure of a strong culture and positive morale. Employees stay where they find value and fulfillment.

  • More cohesive team. Organizations with high employee morale also have colleagues that are more supportive of each other and tend to operate as a united group. That doesn’t happen when employees are disenfranchised and frustrated.

  • Improved profitability. When increased productivity and better work performance are met with teams that work well together, are supportive, and have the benefit of longevity, improved profitability for the overall organization is likely to follow.

  • Increased creativity and innovation. When employees find personal fulfillment in what they do, there is added incentive to invest more of themselves, especially when their ideas are appreciated, rewarded, and implemented.

With so much to gain from healthy, strong employee morale, why would you stop at average? (Spoiler alert: you shouldn’t.)

Effective Ways to Boost Morale

Having and maintaining healthy team morale isn’t just wishful thinking. There are proactive steps managers and business leaders can take to boost morale for their employees — several that are relatively simple and offer an almost immediate impact.

  • Analyze, ask, and listen. Before implementing any program to boost morale, take a moment to analyze the situation. Are you seeing any of the warning signs in your employees? Can you pinpoint possible causes of disengagement that are currently present in your workplace? Ask your employees if your observations and conclusions are correct. Along the way, listen to what your team is telling you. One of the best ways to boost morale is to encourage feedback and open dialogue from and among your employees. Anonymous surveys are great tools to accomplish this.

  • Connect with your employees on a professional and personal level. No one is expecting you to know every detail of each employee’s life. In many large organizations, just knowing everyone’s first name would be impossible. However, you can encourage and support managers on all levels to take the time to know their team on multiple levels. Work and life are not as separate as what was once purported. Especially with more of us working remotely. Let employees know you care about all aspects of their lives, not just what you can actively observe during business hours.

  • Proactively communicate. Employees don’t like to be left in the dark longer than necessary. When and where possible, be transparent with information. Share good news freely and bad news honestly.

  • Take action. When problems from employees are brought to your attention, listen to understand the full issue. Then work to resolve conflicts or issues quickly and consistently. Knowing leadership is supportive and cares can provide a huge boost to employee morale.

  • Recognize employee accomplishments. Business isn’t Little League or Junior Soccer and not everyone is going to get a trophy for every minor win. However, you do need to acknowledge and applaud the ones that matter. (Hint: pay attention and your employees will let you know what matters to them.) This could include earning degrees and certifications, work anniversaries, closing large deals, launching new projects or initiatives. But this could also mean celebrating weddings, births, and personal firsts.

  • Be realistic. Pay attention to what is going on in your community and the world. Don’t underestimate the impact of environmental factors on your employees' morale and mental health. Everyone responds to situations and challenges differently. Being realistic also means monitoring the volume and time demands of employee workloads. Setting unrealistic deadlines or work hours that leave little downtime will have negative results.

  • Create, share, and encourage career development and personal growth. Knowledge and learning should never be confined to a specific time frame in life. Encouraging employees to be lifelong learners in all areas of their lives is a simple way to boost morale.

  • Encourage time away from work (it’s not a marathon). A 2019 study found that 55% of Americans did not use all of their paid vacation time. Reasons for leaving this perk unused ranged from guilt to the increased workload when they returned to the office. Employees need to have dedicated time to relax, unwind, and recharge guilt-free. Lead by example and take your own allocated vacations and make sure your employees do the same. Trust us, they’ll thank you for it in multiple ways.

  • Foster a fun environment. Yes, there is a time to be laser-focused on the tasks in front of you, but there also needs to be time at work to have a little fun. Pool tables and beer gardens aren’t practical for every company, but even occasionally sharing a funny meme or story in your interoffice chat can lighten the mood. Plan group events and occasions to gather. Allowing moments where complete seriousness isn’t required can help your staff relax and offer a boost to morale.

Not everyone is going to be bubbling with excitement over their work responsibilities every day of the week. That’s not the purpose of this post. However, there are clear telltale signs when an employee is losing interest and excitement for their role, or worse your company. Further, there are often causes within the workplace that can be prevented with a little focus and forethought.

Proactive steps to boost morale have many positive benefits for organizations, and often with tangible results for your bottom line. The best news may be that the most effective ways to boost morale for employees involve simple acts with an intent to connect on a real and personal level. Let your employees know they matter because they do. Recognize them as individuals and they will reward you with a business you can all be proud of.

Learn how to engage with your employees by leveraging your employee value proposition and maintaining positive employee morale. Access the guide here.

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