COVID-19 is Destroying Employee Morale — Here are 5 Ways Managers Can Fix It

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  • Employee morale is the collective mental state of individuals in the workplace.
  • Positive employee morale is important to maximizing productivity, reducing costs and improving your organization's competitive edge.
  • To fix poor employee morale, maintain transparency with employees, emphasize work-life balance and provide room for growth.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has proven to be a uniquely stressful and disheartening crisis. Across the world, people have completely shifted their routines to abide by nation-wide lockdowns  — including their work day routines. With many people now working remotely or removed from their normal, working decreased hours or working without promise of bonuses, promotions or raises, employee morale at many organizations has crashed. How can you encourage employees during this difficult time and why does employee morale matter for your business in the long run? We've got answers to both of these questions and more, just keep reading. 

What factors influence employee morale?

To understand what influences morale, we first need to know what it is. Professor Edwin B. Flippo, author of Principles of Personnel Management, describes morale as “a mental condition or attitude of individuals and groups which determines their willingness to co-operate." Different management researchers — of which there are many — say there are different ways to determine employee morale. However, the most agreed upon factors that influence employee morale include: 
  • The organization: Employees' perception of the organization, its reputation and what it stands for can increase or decrease morale. 
  • The nature of work: If work is repetitive or mindless, employees are more likely to feel bored or alienated, causing lower morale. A lack of goals or connection to the goals of the organization can also negatively impact morale. Meanwhile, work that feels meaningful and successful can improve morale.
  • Satisfaction: If employees are generally satisfied with their job and the opportunities it brings them, they are likely to demonstrate higher morale. If they are generally not satisfied, they are likely to demonstrate poor morale. 
  • Supervision: Ineffective leadership or organizational communication can decrease morale, while strong leadership can strengthen it.
  • Concept of self: An employee's perception of self — including the strength of their self-esteem and mental health — can influence their morale.
  • The organization's rewards system: Workers' perception of their past rewards and opportunity to earn future rewards can impact their morale. If they believe a rewards system is fair, they are more likely to demonstrate high morale. 
  • Age: Studies suggest that older employees tend to demonstrate higher morale than their younger counterparts.
  • Work-life balanceEmployees' perception of the role work plays in their life can significantly impact their morale. Too much work can lead to burn out and feelings of dissatisfaction, lowering morale. Meanwhile, low levels of organizational pressure and time to work on personal goals and wellness can improve both job satisfaction and employee morale. 

What does positive employee morale lead to?

Why have positive employee morale? Building positive morale can provide many benefits to your organization, including: 
  • Increased productivity and efficiency: When employees have a high morale, they produce better work more efficiently. They enjoy what they are doing and are willing to put extra effort into it. 
  • Increased employee retention and stronger talent acquisition: When employees enjoy the organization they're working at, they are more likely to be loyal to that organization and to promote it to their networks. This leads not only to stronger employee retention but to stronger acquisition, too. 
  • Reduced costs: Higher productivity and efficiency among employees, along with longer tenures, means less personnel costs. 
  • A general competitive edge: Having happy employees who care about doing good work gives your organization an edge over companies with talented but demotivated employees

Why morale for your remote workers is a must.

As you read above, morale is important to maximizing productivity, reducing costs and improving your organization's competitive edge. Why shouldn't you want these benefits from your remote workers? Keeping your remote workers engaged by investing in their morale provides the same payoffs as engaging your in-office employees. And since studies suggest remote work can boost productivity and efficiency in the first place, doubling down on maximizing the output of these workers can lead to large advantages. 

What is poor morale?

Based on Flippo's definition, poor employee morale is a negative attitude of employees towards their organization that decreases their willingness to contribute or engage. It kills employee efficiency and productivity, and can cause increased personnel costs. 

What causes low employee morale?

As you read above, there are many factors that influence employee morale. Here are some factors that specifically cause low employee morale: 
  • An event that causes employees to perceive the organization as morally corrupt, overly political or unjust 
  • Repetitive, mindless work that feels it lacks meaning or connection to organizational goals; Low standards for work or for employee behavior 
  • A lack of career opportunities or growth
  • Ineffective leadership or ambiguous communication
  • An atmosphere that encourages low self-esteem, high levels of stress or diminished mental health 
  • A lack of rewards for hard work or high achievement
  • Poor work-life balance

How do you fix employee morale?

So, if the above factors cause low employee morale, how can you turn it around? And when the world is dealing with a global crisis that diminishes everyone's mental health and confidence in our systems, how can you fix employee morale? Here are five ways to do so: 

1. Be transparent. 

The best way to boost employee morale is to make good decisions and to share those decisions with your employees. Even if a decision is hard or unpopular, transparent communication boosts trust and allows employees to feel like a part of the bigger whole — important contributors to employee morale. If you've recently made a decision that lowered employee morale, or if times are tough at the company and its impacting productivity, acknowledging the challenges and its impact on employees, then communicating a solution, can go a long way. 

2. Keep calm. 

Undue levels of stress leads to employee burn out — and absolutely destroys morale. Even if times are tough for your team or business, encourage your teammates to stay calm and, as a leader, refrain from making hasty decisions. Give your employees time to prioritize their wellness and practice the same yourself. 

3. Recognize efforts. 

As you read above, a strong recognition system for hard work or achievement can boost employee morale. Even if you don't have the resources to give pay raises or the power to give promotions, recognize your teammates efforts using a regular rewards system. Something as small as a Slack shout out or a Starbucks gift card can boost an employee's feelings of self-confidence and contribution. 

4. Provide room for growth. 

Another important part of recognizing hard work is providing space for that hard work to turn into growth. If you aren't in the spot to reward employees with compensation changes, providing other benefits that encourage growth — like a title change or educational opportunity — can boost morale. 

5. Emphasize work-life balance. 

As mentioned before, stress and burn out are devastating to employee morale. Encourage employees to take the pressure off their work life by focusing on the personal. Encourage personal growth, mindfulness practices and more to see a boost in employee productivity and happiness.