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BUSINESS: The Ultimate Resource January 2003 Upgrade #4

ACTIONLIST
How to Tackle Poor Morale
Getting Started
Poor morale undermines the commitment of employees, hurts the product or service they offer, and can alienate the clients and customers they serve. It can arise from many sourcesa difficult economic climate, a clash of cultures after a merger or acquisition, poor management, or any number of other factors. Poor morale is contagious. It may begin with one disaffected individual and broaden into a general malaise, or fan out from one department to infect the entire organization. Its very difficult to identify the sources and causes of poor morale once its entrenched. Insidious as it may be, poor morale is reversible. This actionlist outlines some ways of dealing with it

FAQs
One of our senior managers is destroying the my teams morale by bullying and badgering people whenever he visits. How can I deal with this? Meet with this person and explain the effects this behavior has on you and your team. He or she may not have received feedback on this problem before and may be willing to try a different approach. You might suggest that all messages to your team be channeled through you, or that you facilitate team meetings at which the manager is present. Youre likelier this way to get closer to the source of the problem and influence the outcome. An organizational survey has thrown up a lot of criticism of our management team. People seem to have taken the opportunity to unleash their grievances, and the whole exercise has become very ugly and political. How can we restore our equilibrium? Organizational surveys often turn ugly, particularly if they are conducted in a setting where morale is low. Senior managers need to take this seriously and signal their intention to respond meaningfully to the feedback. Their response should be promoted in the company newsletter or magazine, on the intranet site, or through a series of meetings. They will also need to address some of the specific complaints right away to reassure people that theyre listening. My employer decided that a party would raise company morale, but I really cant see people falling for this. Isnt this sort of thing a complete waste of time and money? That depends on how its done. If its simply a ruse to keep people quiet for a while, then yes, its obvious shallowness will just perpetuate poor morale. However, if the company throws a party in the context of a cultural change and follows through, and

Bloomsbury Publishing 2002

BUSINESS: The Ultimate Resource January 2003 Upgrade #4

plans have been put in place to follow through, then it could be a positive way of introducing change. Ive had a lot of personal problems recently (including a death in the family and a bad performance review), and have the worst morale in my teamand Im the manager! How can I get myself back on track? If a vacation is out of the question, consider professional counseling, or sharing your concerns with a trusted coworker. We all need to vent our frustration and anger from time to time and be reassured that were appreciated. You may need to explain your circumstances to another senior manager, perhaps using a third party as a facilitator, in order to gain support for a fresh start. Explain your morale problem to your team, but take a positive approach and tell them your plan for getting back on track, asking for their help. That will show that you are taking charge of your behavior, and also that you care about them and value their support.

Making It Happen
Consult Your Employees If your company is suffering from poor morale and you dont know why, start by asking your staff. Many organizations conduct regular surveys to canvass their employees eelings and opinions. Find out what tools or resources people need to make their work, and work environment, more satisfying. Ask people about their expectations, their wages and benefits, how the internal communication system is working, and whether the management style is too cumbersome, oppressive, or bureaucratic. You might also explore such areas as reward and recognition, and tangible ways for people to contribute to the process of change. Conduct an Organizational Survey Organizational surveys are designed to elicit comments on the way a business is run, and they therefore give senior management lots to think about. The act of conducting a survey also tends to raise employees expectations, so unless the company is prepared to address the findings, its best not to start down this route at all. An organizational survey can be set up internally, an external consultant can asked to advise on the questions and format, or it can be outsourced entirely. Outsourcing can be useful, because you gain an independent view that is not colored by the dominant corporate culture. Its hard to identify traits peculiar to your organization when youre enmeshed in it. Surveys are usually conducted confidentially so people can give you honest feedback without fear of repercussions. You may get some extreme comments or jokes, but these outliers can be stripped out in the analysis so that common themes emerge. Publish the results of the survey. Employees want to know whether their comments have been heeded and what the organization intends to do about them. Its not the survey itself that raises morale, but the resulting actions that count. All too often, organizations initiate surveys, but when they find the feedback challenging, they sweep the results aside and hope that the contributors havent noticed. This is more damaging than not doing anything in the first place.

Bloomsbury Publishing 2002

BUSINESS: The Ultimate Resource January 2003 Upgrade #4

Draw Up a Timetable for Change When setting out a program of change, its important to outline intended actions or initiatives within a specific time frame. Identify some actions that can be quick wins, and implement those immediately. Some elements will take much longer, especially if you plan a full-scale organizational change initiative. Fully publicize your plans and regularly post progress; solicit feedback to see whether youre meeting employees expectations. Early signs that the organization is prepared to take action can serve as the first boost to morale, and will attract greater staff cooperation with future initiatives. Create a Structure Interestingly, poor motivation often occurs as a result of a lack of organizational structure or discipline. People need a framework so they know where they fit in the wider scheme of things. It provides them with a system and procedures for getting decisions made or making special requests. This framework should not be inflexible, but it should provide the means by which people can contribute to the success of the business. As morale improves the need for structure and discipline diminishes. This isnt to say you should get rid of them altogether, just that in the long run you need to strike a balance between structure and flexibility. Get to Know Your Team On a local level, managers can do much to improve morale. Good managers get to know the people who report to them. This means listening to their thoughts and aspirations, valuing them for their particular skills and knowledge, and helping them develop their potential. All too often, managers think of their jobs in terms of strategic objectives. They forget that people are not merely faceless cogs in an impersonal machine. If you create a culture of open, constructive feedback, people will feel inclined to cooperate with you as you drive your part of the business forward. When employees know you value them, theyll gain self-confidence, morale will improve, and their commitment will deepen. A positive environment with lots of praise when things go well is a very satisfying place to work. Its up to managers to create such an environment for their teams.

Common Mistakes
You Forget Your Employees Are Human In the high pressure of an organizational setting, it takes an effort to remember that people bring their vulnerabilities and aspirations with them to work each day. They dont appreciate being thought of as machines; they respond to human understanding and connection. Managers who enjoy the people side of their job, and who believe there is a way to reach everyone, seldom have trouble getting the cooperation of their team or building morale. You Dont Admit That You Have a Problem Trying to cover up poor morale by denying its existence will only make things worse. Its far better to take some sort of action than no action at allwhether in the form of

Bloomsbury Publishing 2002

BUSINESS: The Ultimate Resource January 2003 Upgrade #4

an organizational survey, a companywide meeting, or a series of focus groups designed to delineate the problem. Poor morale isnt an easy fix, but invoking one or more such initiatives should clearly reveal the source and extent of the morale problem. You Dont Keep Up the Good Work Dont think of addressing morale as a one-time exercise: its an ongoing process. Listening, consulting, and supporting your employees cant guarantee that morale will always be high. As an organizational practice, however, it can serve as an earlywarning system and suggest appropriate corrections should problems return. Some companies conduct annual organizational surveys to keep in touch with employees opinions; a similar policy might be of benefit to you.

For More Information


Books: Blencoe, Greg. How to Be an Effective Manager: A Basic Guide to Maximizing Employee Morale, Motivation, and Productivity. Chicago, IL: August Publishing, 2002. Rye, David E. 1,001 Ways to Inspire: Your Organization, Your Team, and Yourself. Franklin Lakes, NJ: Career Press, 1998.

Web Sites:
Benefits and Compensation Solutions magazine archives: www.bcsolutionsmag.com/Archives/Oct1997/morale.htm CCH Business Owners Toolkit: www.toolkit.cch.com/text/P05_7100.asp

Bloomsbury Publishing 2002