6 proven methods for boosting employee morale

Company leaders with highly rated workplace cultures share their strategies for carrying out a morale boost at work

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Image Credit: Abbey Lossing

How seriously do your company’s leaders take employee morale? If it’s not a priority, your organization may be at a disadvantage: Numerous studies have shown that positive work cultures are more productive than those that aren’t.

And with sites like Glassdoor where employees rate workplace culture, leaders can’t afford to overlook the benefits of happiness at work. Here are six strategies that companies with strong morale have used to make their employees love working for them.

1. Promote work-life balance among employees

Matthew Ross, the co-founder and COO of mattress review site The Slumber Yard, says that he and his co-founder both come from the investment-banking world, where late nights at work were commonplace. “However, for our company,” he says, “we feared the late nights would burn out our employees and eventually make them resent us.” When one employee resigned because of what Ross suspected was burnout, he says, “we knew we had to make a change or else other people would likely starting leaving as well.”

After an IT audit, he and his partner discovered that their employees were working well into the after-hours. In response, they made a new rule: No work emails between 7 p.m. and 5 a.m.

“If we see email traffic during the off-time, my business partner and I will simply talk to the individual the next day and just remind them of the rule,” says Ross, who adds that while it’s rare, it’s usually a positive conversation. “We say something along the lines of how we appreciate their commitment and work ethic but we want them to enjoy their evenings.”

He points out that although they appreciate the hard work, high turnover is costly for business. “It takes time, money and resources to train up new employees,” Ross says. “When our employees go home at night, we want them to spend time with their families, partake in outside activities and just recharge their jets.”

He has since noticed that his employees seem more energized and upbeat in the mornings, which has helped productivity and boost overall employee morale.

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2. Invest in trust building

According to a Slack study on the future of work, 80% of workers want to know more about how decisions are made in their organization, and 87% want their future company to be transparent. And employee morale can only reach a certain level without trust in leadership. After all, employees aren’t likely to communicate or contribute if they don’t feel safe expressing themselves honestly at work.

That’s why at the authentication and authorization platform Auth0, managers are coached in offering actionable feedback and recognition. “Feedback should never be so generic that the person who receives it has no idea what they should do with it,” says Melinda Starbird, Auth0’s vice president of people and culture.

Auth0 partnered with LifeLabs Learning to train its managers to be effective leaders while practicing radical transparency. That means no one in the company would purposely withhold information that he or she knew was important to someone else. “If you ask, you will get an answer,” says Starbird.

Transparency and open communication are useful when leaders need to help explain organizational changes, reduce uncertainty, and get workers excited about new opportunities. “When employees feel valued and vested, they are part of something bigger and work for the benefit of the company, not just for themselves as individuals,” Starbird says.

3. Go beyond “My door is always open”

“The thing that works best in my experience is actually getting to the front lines and talking to employees,” says Marissa Letendre, an independent human resources consultant who has worked with Fortune 500 companies like Amazon. “Stay interviews are a great way to start,” she says, especially in companies that have already built trust with their employees.

For stay interviews, Letendre often starts with “What keeps you here?” and “If you had a magic wand, what would you change?” She says the changes employees crave are often inexpensive and achievable, like more engaged and effective leadership, or the ability to have an impact and a voice.

Letendre recently conducted interviews with frontline employees at a 70-person company. From the information she gathered, the company created a culture committee with a small budget to establish fun activities, brainstorm companywide initiatives and designate coaching leaders—all with the added bonus of sustaining positive employee morale. “Through this,” she says, “we saw a 32% increase in employee engagement and a 28% average increase in performance companywide.”

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4. Give teammates a chance to interact outside the office

The financial services company Acuity has received positive reviews on Glassdoor from employees about the opportunities it provides for team members to get to know one another. These interactions come in the form of picnics, lunchtime trivia events, and monthly happy hours where family and friends are invited.

“These fun events get people together and get them away from their desk so they can interact with each other, not just in a professional way but to get people involved on a more personal level,” says Jordan Lindstrom, a senior human resources specialist at Acuity. New hires are also invited to social events, including the company holiday party, before they even begin work, getting them incorporated into the friendly, inclusive culture ahead of their first day.

5. Support employee-led initiatives

PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) began its Be well, work well health initiative in part because its employees were doing it on their own. “Our people know they need to be healthier, so that kind of stuff started happening in the offices,” says Anne Donovan, a people experience leader at the accounting and consulting firm.

Donovan adds that employees were already organizing wellness classes and ways to incorporate health at work. When a course on physical, mental and emotional well-being for senior management proved popular and effective, she says, “we stepped back and said, ‘This needs to be scaled to the entire firm. This work is important, our people are craving it, they want to work in a different way.’ ”

By investing in the initiative—which includes work breaks and a habit bank—the company demonstrated that not only does it care about its employees, it listens to what they want, too.

6. Don’t ignore the power of small gestures

Whether it’s swag like Bluetooth speakers to promote a continuing-education video or a pre-Thanksgiving pumpkin pie, Lindstrom says, Acuity also likes to surprise its employees with something small that lets employees know “We’re thinking of you; we appreciate your value.”

One year at PwC, employees got a surprise gift card right before the Fourth of July as a thank-you from the company chairman. Small gifts like this can’t wholesale change culture, cautions Donovan, but, she says, “it was a cute bump.”

Employee morale boosts are an ongoing effort

Of course, it’s a wiser investment to show your employees you care about their happiness in the form of morale-friendly policies than with a tasty pie. But in a perfect working world, morale is tended to throughout the life of an organization, in addition to day-to-day tokens and treats.

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