Simple Survival Tips for Low Morale

Dear Ruth,

I liked your article about “leaning in,” but I need some advice to help improve employee morale. The people I supervise are working extraordinarily long hours. They are hard-working, honest, but unhappy. For me, as their manager and leader, what advice can you offer? We don’t have extra money for a “fun day” or bonuses at this point, but I’d like ways to improve their morale. I keep hounding them to be faster and more productive. But will they bail with the upturn in the economy?

I.M. Kenserned
Supply Chain Manager

Dear I.M.,

A recent poll of more than 700 people by Silkroad, an HR software company in Chicago, showed that 14 percent of companies are challenged with low company morale. Although the sample is not huge, you can assume that you are not the only manager wanting to improve things. I have a few simple suggestions for you to try.

How about career development?
Have you talked privately with each of your employees to develop short- and long-term goals for their careers? Does your company have a tuition reimbursement program that would encourage growth in their areas of interest? Some may be interested in growing into their jobs by finishing their degrees. Others may hate their jobs and have never considered next steps. To encourage people in their careers it's helpful to create new energy for moving forward, rather than leaving an employee to think he or she is stuck in a dead-end job. Try to help each person set personal goals for next steps.

Time for improving morale.

Time for improving morale.

What are the problems?
Take time for assessing problems. A quick, 15-minute, weekly meeting may help. If you want to retain your staff, you need to hear what is going right and what needs attention. Avoid a gripe session. Take turns sharing something healthy to chew on besides what went wrong. Concentrate on innovative ideas that recently improved processes. Talk about roadblocks. With more engagement, there will be less fear of failure. Be careful you don’t simply implement your own ideas.

What about time management?
In the brief meeting determine ways to save time. Ask each person to contribute ways to achieve “faster and better,” rather than staying late, which requires overtime. Stress that, to have better work/life balance, the team must collaborate.

I can hear you now: “We have always done it this way.” Or maybe, “I’m not changing, just for the sake of changing!” Stay open to your employees’ suggestions. Try new ideas. You may never gain 100 percent buy-in, but by demonstrating your will to rectify a bad situation, morale should improve.

These simple suggestions are not the only answers, but they may help improve your situation.

Please join the EBN webinar on Tuesday, April 30, at 11:00 a.m. ET, titled “Averting the Supply Chain Talent Crisis.” You may register by clicking here.

Related posts:

32 comments on “Simple Survival Tips for Low Morale

  1. Cryptoman
    April 18, 2013

    Every employee's key motivator is money. Without cash to spare in the bank, it is very difficult to motivate unhappy and overworked employees. Even a simple non-work related company activity will require money.

    However, breaking the existing boring and repetitive work routine may help to improve the employees' morale. Here is one possible method of achieving this. Monday through Thursday are the worst days of the week for all employees whereas Fridays are very special as they mark the start of a weekend. So why not make Fridays even more special? Simply ask the employees to come to work one hour earlier and to leave work an hour later than normal on Mondays through Thursdays. This means each employee will put 8 hours extra over 4 days, which means they can take every Friday off which will give them 3 day weekends! Another advantage of this scheme is the employees will miss the rush hour traffic in the mornings and the evenings during the week.

    I would personally feel very motivated if my company asked me to work on this basis. The best part of this for the employer is he/she does not have to spend a penny by being a bit flexible with the traditional work pattern.

  2. Ruth Glover
    April 18, 2013

    There are companies already doing the 10 hour days.  Another method would be an  hour extra Monday through Thursday and leave a noon on Friday (or similar format).  We need motivated leadership to implement programs, such as you suggest.  

    “That's the way we've always done it.”  Ugh!

  3. Cryptoman
    April 18, 2013

    You are right Ruth. There are leading companies who adopt similar schemes to keep their workforce happy. Such companies also promote things like “casual smart dress code” days on certain days of the week, which help the employees to work in a more relaxed way. All such seemingly small details really make a difference when they all add up.

    In order to make such changes, the employers have to leave their psychology of micromanaging their workforce. The fact tha someone is sitting at their desk 8 hours per day does not guarantee productivity at all, which most employers tend to think. Allowing employees to work from home every now and then is a way to improve productivity and yet employers feel uncomfortable when they do not make an eye contact with their workers at all times, which is something I can never understand.

    Employers must always be asking themselves the following question to keep a happy workforce inhouse:

    “What else can I do to keep more of my employees happy?”

  4. Ariella
    April 18, 2013

    @Cryptomam A number of businesses offer Fridays off — if only in the summer — as a perk. Of course, some people may consider it not that much of a perk if they ar working longer the whole rest of the week to make up the time. As for the flexible options, I believe that is common in the medical field. Some even work 3 gruelingly long 12 hour days to be off the other 4 of the week altogether. 

  5. Brian Fuller
    April 18, 2013

    I've found it helps to have an active and engaged HR department leading the charge. Managers can only do so much and they need the help from HR. 

    And outside of @cryptoman's great suggestion, there are a lot of little things you can do on a regular basis, starting with the amazingly simple: Just walk up to a direct report and comment on a job well done. It's easy to tell ourselves we're too busy to do that, but it's probably more valuable than whatever you're working on at the moment in the long term. 

    At a previous gig, I'd stop on Fridays to grab a bagel and coffee when I was dropping my youngest off at high school. One day he suggested I buy bagels for the office. And so I did, every Friday. It cost me $10 a week and was such a hit that when I'd go on vacation, everyone would grumble. 

    Now the CEO or the GM should have been doing this, not me, but the point is, in the end, it doesn't matter who does it. It can build bonds all around. 


  6. Ruth Glover
    April 18, 2013

    I'm always happy to hear about companies who are trying hard to help with work/life balance, which definitely affects morale.  And Brian, so many times, it's the “little things” that work the best.  Just saying, “Great job on that report!” can reduce stress.  People want and need regular feedback, not just during appraisals.  


  7. t.alex
    April 18, 2013

    Cryptoman, this is an interesting idea. But i think it should be applicable to those who want it, not to everyone in the company. 

  8. prabhakar_deosthali
    April 19, 2013

    In my opinion, one of the reason for the low employee morale is that the employee does not feel connected with the company's macro goals.

    If the employee feels that he is only working for his boss who gets all the credit from the top management then the employee morale is down.

    So there has to be a participation of employees at all levels when company level policies are discuses, company performance is declared and so on.

  9. Ruth Glover
    April 19, 2013

    Communication, top to bottom and bottom to top, sems to be the most frequent solution for improvements.  Too bad it is so often the problem!  Thanks for adding your comment.

  10. William K.
    April 19, 2013

    Two things that I do are often able to improve the morale level, at least some, and they sometimes produce additional valuable results. The first is to openly thank, or compliment, others when they do something helpful, or acieve a goal ahead of times, or catch a problem early so that it does not grow. Recognition in public is a good practice and it does lead to folks feeling appreciated. 

    The second thing is to ask individuals what they think, or what they recommend, when seeking solutions to some problem, or just hoping to make a correct choice the first time. I don't alays follow their advice or ideas, but I never openly reject or criticize them. Not only does asking them make them feel valuable, but also, because they are very close to these issues, I get ideas that were not obvious from my greater distance. And when somebody's idea pays off, not only do they get complimented, but it also goes into their records, to be remembered at anual review time. A bigger raise is a very much appreciated way to say “thank you.”

  11. Mr. Roques
    April 19, 2013

    My opinion is that people want to have a great job or at least pretend to have one. Whenever money isn't an option, people would want to tell their friends they have a good job. Here are my suggestions: allow your employees to have flexible hours, also give them better, more “professional”, job position names.

  12. Ruth Glover
    April 19, 2013


    I bet your employees enjoy working for you!  Sincere compliments and gathering ideas from your direct reports can certainly improve productivity.  Keep up the good work.  

  13. Ruth Glover
    April 19, 2013

    Mr. Rogues,

    I like the idea of improving job titles.  Even if no raises are available, people like the titles to reflect progress in their careers.  Some people really don't care about titles, while others seem to gain great satisfaction for improved titles.  


    I'd like to add that accurate job descriptions can assist, too.  Employees need to understand the expectations and management needs to be aware of what the employee actually does.

  14. _hm
    April 20, 2013

    @IM: Have you talked to your team? If you talk to your team and give this same feedback as you wrote here, most of their morale will return.

    Also, if you have one to one meeting with each of them and talk about their family, their health, child education, call for luch or dinner, they will be even more energetic.

    This should be from deep of your heart and genuine. People find this out in few days. This should also be preserved after team member departs from team to other organization. You should give equally good reference. Your past bahaviour also sums up to show your true hidden agenda.

    Once in a week, you should also share Dilbert and Dogbert with them.

  15. Ruth Glover
    April 20, 2013

    I love your suggestion for Dogbert and Dilbert.  A healthy sense of humor can interrupt a tense situation, when appropriately inserted.  Even just a smile can be good for co-workers.  Sometimes we are just too serious!

  16. William K.
    April 20, 2013

    At one employer I used to routinely put up copies of the “dilbert” strip, but with the names changed to reflect our management. I was very discreet about it because they were never complementary. It may have boosted the moral of some of the people, it did get a few laughs. That was the era when I was an applications engineer, one of the “profit center” assets of that company. But the least respected of all the employee types in that company. And they always wondered why people would quit without giving any notice at all.

    And I thought it was quite funny when an official-looking memo was posted: “The Floggings Will Continue Until Moral Improves.” Nobody would admit to that one, but many laughed about it.

  17. _hm
    April 20, 2013

    @Ruth: During normal working hours most humor is no no. But during lunch time with friends, we do share more lighter side of life. it really helps to make day more merry.



  18. Ruth Glover
    April 20, 2013

    Your point is a good one.  The person, who wants to be a clown all the time, should join the circus.  A good laugh can diffuse a situation which may be intense, but not at someone's expense or in a rude or obnoxious way.  What some may see as humor, others may not.

  19. HM
    April 21, 2013

    very honest query from the leader. I guess a transparent and healthy working environment will help to retain employees if other benefits like compensation and flexible hours are difficult to offer. People spend more time in office than in home, a good and healthy work culture always helps.

  20. Ruth Glover
    April 21, 2013

    Getting laughs from an already disheartened team will not improve morale.  It can make it worse.  Humor, as someone else pointed out, should be used appropriately, not to make fun of leadership.  

    April 21, 2013

    In my experience managing people the happiest folks are those who are trained to do a job, understand what they are expected to do and have the time, skills and tools etc to do that job.  This allows people to feel they are successful and achieving things that hopefully make the company successful. 

  22. William K.
    April 21, 2013

    The copied cartoons were not a “mamagement” attempt to improve moral. They were pot-shots at our bosses, anonymous to avoit retributions and discipline. They stated facts and feelings that mobody would dare to state publicly.

  23. Ruth Glover
    April 21, 2013

    Have you thought about updating your resume?  You never know when you'll need it.

  24. William K.
    April 21, 2013

    I occasionally think about updating my resume, but presently I am not seeking to work for anybody else at this time.

  25. Ruth Glover
    April 22, 2013

    Updating your resume every six months is a good idea, as it's easy to forget great accomplishments from several years past, if we only update when we NEED the resume.  I'm convinced people rarely do this, but if you don't, be sure to save your proformance appraisals for reference.  


  26. Houngbo_Hospice
    April 23, 2013


    Thank you for the advice on updating one's resume every six months. But it is obvious that you can't put all your achievemnts and skills on one resume, can you? Maybe one good option might be to have many different resumes depending on your job target.

  27. Ruth Glover
    April 23, 2013

    You are definitely on the right track.  You could make one really long resume over a few years and then customize it when you needed it.  But your idea is on target, too, as if you have a Plan A and Plan B, C, D  taking your career in different directions, you need separate resumes focusing onduties and accomplishments for that  particular plan.  The giant resume could be the basis for moving your career in different ways.  Thanks for your comment!

  28. Mr. Roques
    April 24, 2013

    Also, if a raise is out of the question, get a prize or some sort of award and recognize the hardest working employees but also give out other awards as the most friendly or the most improved.

  29. Eldredge
    April 24, 2013

    @Hospice – I am currently in the job market, and I think your comment regarding having many different resumes depending on your job target is right on the mark.

    The one problem I have come up against is this – some companies invite you to place an untargeted resume on their website for general consideration (not necessarily targeted to a specific job that they have posted). This has forced me to consider and concentrate on my more general, widely applicable skills. Frankly, I don't know for certain that this has helped my job search, but I think it has improved the 'skills' section of even my targeted resumes.

  30. Eldredge
    April 24, 2013

    @Ruth – Very good suggestion. I have been forced to revisit my long-past accomplishments for a current job search. In general it has been a good excercise for me – I have been reminded of several things I had not considered for a long time.

  31. Ruth Glover
    April 24, 2013

    When starting a job search, writing the generic resume helps build confidence. Looking at your duties and accomplishments helps you see your career progress.

    Your resume is a sales tool, so the generic resume doesn't help much but it is a good exercise to begin the process.  With 80% or more jobs (so they say) being filled through people you know, the next step is finding people you know in target companies or connecting with them through LinkedIn or other social networks, professional groups and activities. Then, once you see the job description, you'll need to customize the resume to focus more on yiourskills that will meet that company's needs. 

    Next week's article will talk more about the actual job sesarch process.  

  32. Eldredge
    April 25, 2013

    @uth – Looking forward to next weeks article, and compare notes with what I have/have not done in my search.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.