When company morale takes a hit, it can be challenging to get your team out of a funk — and goodness knows how much morale has dipped during the COVID-19 pandemic. As workplaces have transitioned to remote or hybrid setups, many teams are finding that sustaining morale has become even more challenging. After all, humans feed off each other’s energy — whether that energy is uplifting and positive or negative and cynical.
Low morale isn’t just a drain on individuals. There’s a strong link between team morale and workplace engagement and productivity. Investing time, energy, and money into your employees can reduce costly turnover and translate to a more positive, productive team that’s loyal to your company and each other. Here’s how to make that happen, as well as signs that your team’s morale has taken a hit and more about why morale matters in the first place.
Why Employee Morale Matters
Think of employee morale like the proverbial canary in a coalmine: If morale is on the fritz, that's a good sign other aspects of your business are, too — whether it's team culture, productivity, or even the company's bottom line.
In contrast, high morale boosts productivity and generates economic growth. While this 2006 study may be dated, its findings on the effects of morale likely stand. Researchers found that "morale is associated with greater work effort" and "the relationship between work effort and productivity becomes stronger at higher levels of morale." They concluded that high morale helps increase workers' effectiveness on the job.
Psychologically healthy workplaces don’t just perform better, but they’re also more in demand than ever before. In May 2021, Ten Spot released a survey that found that workers increasingly prefer to work for companies that treat their employees well. As Sammy Courtright, Ten Spot’s co-founder and chief brand officer reports, “Over the past several years we’ve seen workplace culture evolve from perks and competitive salaries to how companies treat their employees and make decisions on today’s significant social issues.”
In spite of the importance of morale, it has recently taken a big hit. In a SHRM survey, 65 percent of employers reported that maintaining employee morale was a challenge in 2020. That's understandable. After all, it's hard to feel upbeat during a global pandemic. As many offices have transitioned to a hybrid work environment, workers have faced uncertainty about their roles and work policies, Zoom fatigue, rising rates of anxiety and depression, and other challenges — all of which can reduce morale.
If your team is among those affected, take heart. In the following sections, we'll detail signs that morale has dipped, plus proven strategies to boost team morale in a hybrid work environment.
How to Boost Team Morale in a Hybrid Work Environment
If your team exhibits any symptoms of low morale, it’s critical for leadership to take immediate action to provide their team with extra, ahem, morale support. Here are 10 proven strategies to do just that.
- Set work-life balance boundaries.
When people work from home some or all of the time, it's easy for boundaries between work and the rest of their lives to blur. That means it's more important than ever to create a culture that normalizes work-life balance.
To start, evaluate your team's workload. If the team has too much work to realistically fit into business hours, decide what you can put on hold until you expand the team. Additionally, make sure senior leadership models healthy boundaries such as signing off emails every evening, assigning manageable workloads, taking naps, using vacation days, and offering flexible scheduling so people can meet their families' needs. During the workday, encourage team members to take real breaks, including lunch breaks away from screens.
- Recognize employees for a job well done.
Per the Gallup poll cited above, positive feedback is in short supply these days. To combat this, establish a culture of positive recognition from the top down and liberally hand out praise for jobs well done. Note that different employees have different "appreciation languages," and tailor your feedback accordingly. For instance, some people feel appreciated through words of affirmation while others might feel more recognized via gifts or a free lunch.
Even when you have virtual team members, you can still spread positive vibes. For instance, you can send video recordings via Loom, encourage the team to share recorded shout-outs, create a dedicated Slack channel for teammates to share acknowledgements, and so on.
- Revisit your promotion and bonus programs.
Not only are appropriate compensation structures ethical, but they're also critical for maintaining team members' morale. No one will feel good about working a job that doesn't pay them in a just manner, and they'll probably spend their energy looking for a job that does.
It's up to the company and its leadership to create promotion and bonus programs that enable employees to thrive outside of work and inspire participation on the job. If you haven't updated your financial policies in a while, it may be time to give everyone a meaningful pay bump.
Even outside of promotion and bonus periods, don't be shy about offering other gifts and tokens of appreciation for jobs well done. Whether in the form of gift cards, tuition reimbursement, professional development trainings, or wellness stipends, financial perks go a long way.
- Leave room for innovation.
It's important to make space for creative thinking while team members are on the clock instead of expecting them to come up with innovative ideas outside of an overly packed work schedule. Consider setting aside dedicated brainstorming days to talk about what's working, what's not, and new project ideas. Then, make sure team members have the ability to tackle new tasks in a way that doesn't overload their schedules.
- Understand the power of free food and drinks.
Sure, free snacks aren't going to fix a company culture that's otherwise unhealthy. But when combined with a respectful and affirming work culture, free food and drinks can give team members an extra mental and physical boost. Healthy snacks and meals can improve energy, enhance mood, support cognition, sustain energy, and more. Don’t limit these perks to in-office employees; consider giving remote team members a stipend for takeout or gift cards to restaurants near their homes.
- Invest in a virtual corporate wellness program.
People who feel good are more likely to, well, feel good. And healthy habits are one of the best ways to feel good. Support team members’ wellbeing by investing in a virtual corporate wellness program that provides employees with reimbursements for gym memberships, online fitness classes, spa days, and so on. You can even hire a remote wellness coach for the team and/or book group workouts online.
- Host virtual team-building events that employees actually want to participate in.
No, we’re not talking about awkward Zoom icebreakers. Consider partnering with a company that offers engaging virtual events and parties that will strengthen camaraderie among the team and infuse some levity into the workplace. In fact, Ten Spot’s survey found 56 percent of respondents think an employee engagement and productivity platform could help their company improve its culture, communications, and training and development efforts. That number jumps to 63 percent among GenZ respondents. GenZ was also most enthusiastic about virtual company events, followed by millennials, GenXers, and Boomers.
- Give back as a team.
In a Deloitte survey, 70 percent of respondents said they believe volunteer activities are more likely to boost employee morale than company-sponsored happy hours. Giving back is a great way to build camaraderie between team members (especially those who don't spend a ton of time in person together), cultivate a sense of fulfillment, and feel connected to something bigger — all of which can help liberate people from the stresses of the workday.
Encourage team members to participate in the planning process by voting on participating charities and offering multiple options. Be sure to schedule volunteer days on regular workdays instead of asking team members to spend their free time on a work-related activity.
- Stand for justice.
In recent years, the U.S. and the globe have been transformed by a variety of social movements — such as the Me Too and Black Lives Matter movements — that have shined a light on the many injustices affecting marginalized groups. Odds are many of your team members are affected directly or indirectly by structural racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, and other forms of discrimination — and nothing drains morale faster than feeling like your employer doesn’t care about the issues affecting you every day.
The Ten Spot survey cited above found 70 percent of respondents have experienced some discriminatory issue or abusive behavior in the workplace, with the most common forms being sexism, racism, pay inequality, bullying, and classism. Meanwhile, 56 percent of respondents reported they would be more engaged and productive at work if their company was actively involved in addressing today’s critical social issues.
While many companies shy away from being political, it’s important to recognize that sociopolitical issues have a very real impact on team members’ lives. If you care about workers’ wellbeing, it’s important to care about the factors that impact them in and out of work. Establish clear company values, hold everyone to them, and take whatever steps necessary to ensure your company walks the walk.
- Regularly solicit team members’ feedback.
If you’re trying to improve team morale, it’s important to gather feedback from the team about what would actually improve their working lives. Otherwise, your efforts may come off as insincere. Additionally, when you regularly collect feedback from team members, you’ll be better equipped to catch future morale dips before they snowball. Anonymous surveys are a great way to collect uncensored feedback.
Sustaining employee morale requires ongoing effort and frequent recalibration. It’s not a one-and-done kind of thing, but any and all efforts will pay off tenfold. By listening to your employees and actively demonstrating that you care about their emotional, financial, and physical wellbeing, you’ll strengthen your hybrid team’s morale and boost the company’s performance.