How To Build Employee Morale

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As the economy continues its steady trek toward improvement, how engaged are your employees?

The recession and slow recovery has changed the way many U.S. employees view work; turbulent economic times have led workers to replace the question of “do I love my job?” with “do I have a job?” as the nation has weathered a period of layoffs, unemployment and uncertainty.

Workforces have been stretched thin and employees have been asked to do more for the same or less pay. It’s no wonder that a CareerBuilder survey in February found the share of U.S. workers satisfied with their jobs fell to 59 percent this year – down from 66 percent last year. And Gallup's most recent workplace survey found that about 70 percent of workers are either not engaged with their jobs or are actively disengaged.

What's On the Minds of Smart Business Leaders? Employee Engagement.
Now that the economy is on the mend, progressive business leaders are thinking about what they can do to make a difference when it comes to employee engagement – such as how to maintain and increase productivity, retain the right people, and drive overall performance improvements to ensure sustainability in the years to come.  This means investing in the things that will improve engagement and employee morale.

Although morale-building and engagement actions may require some additional resources, they can produce great company returns.  Employee engagement -- generally defined as the commitment an employee makes not just to the job but to the organization overall --  is a significant driver of productivity.  Highly engaged employees offer more discretionary effort to their employers and are more motivated to make a strong contribution.

And building employee morale isn’t always tied to pay. In fact, oftentimes investing in employee engagement doesn’t cost a lot. For instance, providing workplace flexibility, job-shadowing or in-house training opportunities are low-cost company benefits that employees truly value.

Engagement Ideas: Flexibility, Training, Appreciation, Culture
According to Randstad’s most recent Engagement Study, a national sample of 2,033 adults aged 18 and older who are currently employed full-time, work flexibility and professional development ranked high among the  benefits that drive their engagement. In fact, workplace flexibility is particularly important to women when it comes to engagement – a third of women (33%) said a crucial engagement factor is having a job that’s flexible or accommodating in terms of hours or working arrangements, compared to 22 percent of men.

Showing employees appreciation is also an important factor in building employee morale and it’s relatively simple to achieve. Managers can help a talented team member feel more valued through a variety of ways, such as enhanced communication, showing appreciation for contributions (even just saying “thank you”), providing balanced and constructive feedback, offering a more flexible work schedule, or offering opportunities to advance and grow through coaching, mentoring, or training.

Another way to build employee morale is to focus on company culture. Employees value a workplace that allows them to express their ideas and opinions, but also encourages and respects work/life balance. When a cohesive and collegial culture is nurtured, the end result is having employees who are happier at work, more connected to overall business results, and motivated to make a strong contribution in their individual roles.

Low Levels of Engagement Can Be 'Infectious'
While focusing on employee engagement may have a small price tag, not paying attention to engagement can have a large negative impact on your company’s bottom line. If employers do nothing, they risk a less engaged workforce at best -- and serious attrition at worst. A worker who is not engaged can diminish productivity within their own job and have a negative effect on those around them. Low levels of engagement can also be “infectious”.  That said, not all turnover is bad, and leading companies focus on retaining and investing in their high performers.

One last piece of advice on building employee morale: Listen. Talk to your employees to find out what is important to them. Conduct surveys, hold focus groups, or just ask in one-on-one meetings.  Each employee is unique, and what they are looking for from their employer will vary. Find out where your employees stand so you can nurture a productive, long-term relationship with them.