There's a general low mood among employees at my company. We've had some really successful weeks, and workload isn't too overwhelming, so I'm not sure what's driving this negative energy. As a manager, is there anything to look out for? Any advice on how I can find out what's really going on, and what we can do to try and boost morale?
Before you try and implement strategies to boost morale you need to identify what sort of action might have the biggest impact.
Have you considered holding a meeting or series of meetings in which you ask people directly how they’re feeling and try and discover some of the reasons why?
The extent to which people are prepared to open up will be dependent on your culture and the real reasons for low morale but even in the most dire situations you will positively impact that by showing your willingness to listen and desire for positive change.
Although you say you’ve had some very successful weeks and that workload isn’t too overwhelming be careful not to make assumptions about how other people feel. These are your perceptions but they may not be shared by your team so its worth keeping an open mind when asking others how they are feeling.
It might sound blindingly obvious but by far the most effective strategy when trying to positively affect morale is to be open about what you are seeing and show some vulnerability in attempting to address it. Something like this,
“I’ve noticed recently that there is a sense of low mood and low morale and it worries me because I want you all to feel good about your work and happy to be here. I’d really value your input in helping me to make whatever changes might be needed to address it. I can’t promise I can fix every problem but if we work together I’d like to think there isn’t much that is beyond us.”
You’d use your own words of course but the message required has three parts.
I’ve noticed there’s something wrong
Your happiness is important to me
Help me fix it
It’s hard to imagine that your people won’t respond to that and then you will have the clarity required to decide what steps to take next.
It’s great that you are trying to help the mood and increase the energy but please remember that others contribute to this, too. You can’t be solely responsible for the energy in your team – that will exhaust you.
We are creatures of connection and coregulation; this means that we feed off and give out to other people’s moods. There may be a dominant character in the team that impacts the others’ moods to a greater extent, so if they are low, it brings the team down. It may be useful to observe the difference in the team when certain individuals are not present (including you – ask for feedback from the team on what it’s like when you’re not there). Then have an understanding in the team that, when someone feels a bit off, they just declare it and perhaps sit elsewhere for a little while. It’s OK to not be jolly.
I understand that you have observed a low energy but I wonder if the rest of the team feel the same way? They may see it as calming or productive. Before doing anything to change it, perhaps check in with the team about how they have experienced the energy over the last few weeks. If they agree with you, you can then get their buy-in to start to shift it up a little together.
I wonder if you’ve just got into a bit of a groove/rhythm and you’re all just a bit flat. Psychologist Ester Perel talks about the importance of spontaneity (https://www.estherperel.com/blog/letters-from-esther-25-eroticism-in-hard-times). You could surprise the team with a spontaneous lunch or activity or time out of the office being silly. Or plan something daft together to look forward to. Play and creativity is so important to our minds and mood. Routines and rituals help us feel safe but can also lead to boredom and flatness. This is the same for work relationships as it is for our more intimate ones. What could bring in an element of surprise, fun or creativity? What could bust you out of the routine, even for a short moment?
Even though you’re having a successful few weeks, this doesn’t mean that moods will be better. Some of us thrive off the uncertain (what’s happening at work today?) and the challenge of reaching tricky to reach targets (feeling stretched and therefore a higher sense of achievement). Where do you and the members of your team get their excitement from? Do they like a challenge? Do they need more stress in their lives to feel more alive and powerful? A successful few weeks may sound good in theory but may have produced a sense of underwhelm in reality.
It's hard to say what you need. Explore this with the team, check if they feel the same and, if so, have a spontaneous brunch outside (for example) and bring some thoughts together about what would help. As a manager, you don’t have all the answers but you can find them and bring them together to explore.
You have noticed that team morale has fallen at work and there does not appear to be an obvious trigger. You would like to know how to get to the bottom of this and boost team morale again. Many factors may impact team morale including communication, how effective managers are, how supportive colleagues are and the general culture of a company.
The following tips will hopefully help you get things back on track:
Have regular one-to-ones with your team. This has many benefits particularly in relation to communication, transparency and detecting problems in the workplace. One-to-ones should help to pinpoint what is affecting team morale. Also make it clear you have an open-door policy where people can give feedback any time.
Be responsive to feedback. If clients try to initiate positive changes in the workplace, support them, give them updates on changes and if you are not supporting a request explain why.
What I notice is that many employees feel inundated with pointless meetings. Consider if any meetings are overkill and sapping the life energy of your team.
Acknowledge achievements and recognise the efforts of your employees. Give genuine praise where appropriate and avoid criticism, outline the behaviours you want to see more of instead of complaining about what isn’t working.
Take an individual interest in all team members in terms of their goals, interests, and personalities. Invest in the growth of team members.
There are also people who really struggle with working remotely. If your team works remotely make sure they have sufficient opportunities to connect with one another and encourage team members to ask for help and support each other. Even if your team does not work remotely, consider whether they get enough time to connect and build positive relationships.
Help your team to think about self-care. Encourage a healthy work-life balance. Provide resources and tools like Spill that help to improve wellbeing.