Thank Your Team by Helping Jump-Start Their Morale

Job morale has been found to increase productivity, retention, and performance.

Posted Nov 11, 2020

Last week, a client, who had just extended his company’s work-from-home date to June 5, 2021, called and left an urgent message: “Camille, I need to talk. I think we have a morale problem.”  

My client isn’t alone. Two out of three employers say that maintaining workplace morale during the COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenge. 

Fortunately, morale isn’t a mystery. It is something we can jump-start with the right interventions. As emphasized in this recent article, which describes how one team of hospital workers found a way to boost morale during the pandemic, “Boosting and maintaining morale ... is essential for work productivity and institutional success.” But boosting morale isn’t just about helping people feel better. It can also mitigate stress and anxiety, facilitate social bonding, and acknowledge team members' ongoing work. If you're looking for a way to thank your team this holiday season, the very best gift may be helping them jump-start their morale.

Job Morale 

By definition, morale refers to the mental and emotional condition (e.g., enthusiasm, confidence, or loyalty) an individual or group brings to a specific task. It can also refer to a group’s shared sense of purpose and is frequently associated with purpose and hope. While high morale tends to drive one forward, low morale is associated with lower drive and even hopelessness. This is why morale is so critical in the workplace. 

“Job morale,” as it is often described, has been found to influence performance, including productivity. High job morale has even been found to lead to higher quality performance. Research has found that in some sectors, positive job morale also supports greater retention. For all these reasons, investing in morale can also have a significant impact on your bottom line. 

Why Morale Has Suffered During the Pandemic 

Low morale is plaguing a growing number of teams, even those that thrived at the very start of the pandemic. If your team is suffering from low morale, there is an explanation.

Neurologically, we are wired for what David Rock summarizes as SCARF—status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness, and fairness. Unfortunately, the pandemic and shift to remote work have compromised SCARF on multiple levels. 

First, it is more challenging to assess one’s status relative to others without constant social and work-related interactions. Certainty—our ability to predict the future—has also been compromised. As Rock observes in this 2009 article, “Uncertainty registers (in a part of the brain called the anterior cingulate cortex) as an error, gap or tension: something that must be corrected before one can feel better again.” Autonomy—understood as a sense of control over events—has also taken a huge hit. Likewise, relatedness—how safe we feel with others—is increasingly difficult to determine. Finally, as more interactions occur online, even fairness, or how we perceive exchanges between people, has become more challenging. 

Help Jump-Start Morale From Within

Accept That Everything Now Takes More Time

  • How it was: Pre-pandemic, issues could be resolved quickly by simply dropping by a co-worker or team member’s office.
  • Now: Simple calibration conversations take more time and energy.  Rather than stopping by someone’s office, you now have to schedule a call, often on Zoom. This can make small issues appear bigger than they are. 
  • Jump-start Morale: Notice when and how small issues are being magnified. Rather than schedule a Zoom call, get back on the phone. Use this time to move away from your desk. Even suggest a “walking call.” Just going for a walk can do wonders for one’s mental and physical health. 

Foster Genuine Interactions and Connections 

  • How it was: Pre-pandemic, we had regular meetings, conversed over the coffee maker, and envied colleagues already working remotely.
  • Now: We are holding more meetings, are more stimulated and stressed, and more sedentary. Sadly, although we may be seeing more faces daily (at least on Zoom screens), connections are not as genuine or fulfilling as they once were.  
  • Jump-Start Morale: Acknowledge how the pandemic has impacted relationships. Remind your team that even good friends may have to be more thoughtful (e.g., about when to schedule meetings). Also, think about how to keep everyone engaged, bearing in mind that different team members may need different things to remain connected. 

Encourage Your Team to Unwind and Shift Gears 

  • Was: Pre-pandemic, many people used their commute to work, happy hours, or lunch breaks to unwind and shift gears. This is no longer possible. 
  • Now: The distance from the home office to the kitchen is short. Unlike a commute, transitioning from work to life now requires a lot more intention.
  • Jump-Start Morale: Help team members maintain clear boundaries between work and life by putting boundaries in place, communicating these boundaries, and encouraging everyone to respect them. For example, try only scheduling meetings during a shared four-hour slot every day when everyone feels present and focused. Encourage your team members to regain control by choosing their optimal hours. If someone does their best work from noon to 8 p.m., let them know that they are empowered to work during this time. 

Keep Building Your Team  

  • Was: We used to welcome new team members with a tour around the office and often, with a lunch or after-work event with grand introductions. After that, relationships formed organically (e.g., during elevator conversations and social events outside of work).
  • Now: We schedule everything—even onboarding introductions. 
  • Jump-start Morale: It may be difficult, but find a way to build genuine conversations, especially between old and new team members. If you’re introducing a new team member on a remote team, acknowledge that they may struggle to connect. Find out what they value and connect them with team members who share their values and interests. Don’t take anything for granted. Invest increased resources into the onboarding process. Also, leverage the fact that some people are now more able or willing to be candid. After all, working remotely has also helped some people let down their guard, even around our colleagues. 

Acknowledge Latent Mental Health Issues and Offer Support

  • Was: Pre-pandemic, mental health was rarely talked about in most workplaces.  
  • Now: Over the past eight months, mental health has received more attention from leaders than ever before. 
  • Jump-Start Morale: As a leader, take the risk of talking about mental health issues, even your own challenges. Be candid. Also, acknowledge that it is okay to feel more stressed, anxious, or depressed than usual. Then, invest in helping your team. Offer anonymous support services. 

Morale is abstract, making it difficult to address and yet essential to manage. The sooner you can boost your own morale and morale on your team, the better. It has a stacking effect on team productivity. It is also a proactive way for leaders to support post-traumatic growth for their team and organization. 

References

Grieve S. (1997). Measuring morale—does practice area deprivation affect doctors' well-being? The British journal of general practice: the journal of the Royal College of General Practitioners, 47(422), 547–552.

Gutkin, P. M., Minneci, M. O., Valenton, J., Kovalchuk, N., Chang, D. T., & Horst, K. C. (2020). Importance of a Culture Committee for Boosting Morale and Maintaining a Healthy Work Environment in Radiation Oncology. Advances in radiation oncology, 10.1016/j.adro.2020.07.002. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.adro.2020.07.002

Reininghaus U, Priebe S. Assessing morale in community mental health professionals: a pooled analysis of data from four European countries. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol. 2007 Mar;42(3):237-43. doi: 10.1007/s00127-007-0154-7. Epub 2007 Jan 31. PMID: 17268760.

Sabitova, A., Hickling, L. M., & Priebe, S. (2020). Job morale: a scoping review of how the concept developed and is used in healthcare research. BMC public health, 20(1), 1166. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-020-09256-6