Morale is an important and sensitive feature of your office environment, and it goes beyond basic emotions that people feel in a day. It’s about having a sense of belonging, a sense of purpose, and a sense of pride in your work. Some obvious events and habits can affect morale; for example, buying lunch for the team will increase morale, while going on an angry tirade will decrease morale. But it’s the subtler habits—the ones you don’t immediately notice—that have a bigger and more dangerous effect on the morale of the office.
You may be conducting these habits without even realizing it, so pay close attention to your behaviors and try to eliminate these as soon as possible:
1. Being inconsistent. Inconsistency in almost any area is grounds for morale to decrease. Consistency is important because it gives people a sense of what to expect; even if your employees don’t like or agree with one of your behaviors, as long as you’re consistent with it, they’ll learn how to work around it. For example, holding a morning recap meeting every day—even if your employees aren’t overly fond of it—isn’t as bad as holding a morning recap meeting every once in a while, or only when you feel like it. This doesn’t mean you have to be robotic, but it does mean you should set consistent expectations.
2. Failing to follow through on a commitment. When you say you’re going to do something, you need to do it. Pledging to support one of your coworkers on a project, then failing to show up—even if you have a valid excuse—can reduce the overall team’s morale, not to mention damaging the trust you have with that coworker. The best way to avoid this is by expressing your potential commitment honestly; for example, you might say something like “I want to help you on this, but I’m not 100 percent sure I’ll have the time.” It’s all about setting the right expectations.
3. Complaining. The truth is, venting can be healthy—and we all need to vent from time to time. But when you have complaints and criticisms, you need to express those in a controlled and positive environment. Complaining—even if it’s over something little, or is in a fleeting context—can have a significant impact on your team’s morale. You don’t have to eliminate complaining altogether, but you do have to take measures to prevent complaining from being a habitual or expected feature of your workplace.
4. Being late. Tardiness in itself isn’t inherently bad. Everyone shows up a few minutes late from time to time, and in today’s age of digital communication and heightened productivity, a few minutes’ absence is rarely significant. However, being consistently late shows disrespect to your work environment, and undermines those who make the effort to be on time regularly. Even if you have a lax or informal start time, it’s a good idea to strive for punctuality. Keeping to a schedule is important for fostering morale, and it also improves the consistency factor of your business.
5. Communicating unclearly. Effective communication leads to higher productivity, and ineffective communication leads to frustration. If you repeatedly express things unclearly, or if there are frequent gaps in your communication, it could lead to a significant drop in employee morale. Strive for better communication, both to and with your team, to keep spirits up.
6. Forgetting the team. Speaking of the team, you have to remember that this is a team-based environment, and every individual matters. Even one weak link in the chain can compromise the efforts you put forth together, so be sure to include everyone in your efforts to keep morale high. Talk to your employees individually, but set goals and reward your employees as a group. Encourage them to talk to one another regularly, and foster teambuilding with exercises and frequent opportunities to socialize informally.
7. Working through breaks. It’s a tragically common feature of the modern workplace; employees work through breaks and lunchtime in an effort to get more done, or adhere to perceived social norms. They might even do so of their own volition, with no direction from you. Still, doing this consistently can have a massive negative impact on employee morale. Breaks exist for a reason; they’re important opportunities to de-stress and decompress, and taking a few minutes to relax can actually boost your productivity for the rest of the day (not to mention prevent the onset of burnout). Encourage your employees to take more breaks—and take breaks yourself to set the example.
If you see these bad habits forming in yourself, take swift action to reduce or eliminate them. Achieve greater self-awareness by simply acknowledging the habits’ existence, then work to gradually substitute these habits with better behaviors. If you see these habits forming in others, have a frank and direct discussion with them to figure out how you can overcome these habits together. Anyone can contribute to employee morale, both positively and negatively, so it takes a team effort to keep morale high.