Maintaining Morale Now and Into the Future

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If you are a leader, you now also have to take on the role of “chief morale officer.” With your people working remotely and the current climate of fear around health and finances, a top priority for you as a leader is to keep your people motivated and feeling as good as they can about the work they do for you. For many years, time has been a key driver of our work structures and priorities. Now, all of a sudden, time is less relevant. You and your people are likely struggling to maintain a nine-to-five existence.

It’s challenging to sit at a desk for that long without the natural breaks of a workplace—walking to other people’s desks/offices, going to the photocopier, or grabbing lunch. People need to move around more when they can.

Plus, many people now also have their families at home with them. Add to that a global health crisis, and people are naturally distracted. Our usual methods of keeping people task-focused will not work.

If time is not an effective leadership “currency” right now, what is? Morale.

Helping your people maintain their morale is key to keeping your organization going. And to be clear, morale is not about false positivity or false security. It is not about being an overenthusiastic cheerleader praising people’s every move. It’s about being clear, communicating effectively, and reassuring people where you can to maintain productivity as much as possible and reduce the distraction caused by fear. There are key tenets to great people leadership that will help you to make sure morale is built AND sustained, both now and into the future.

Show trust

In a crisis, it is tempting to set up systems that mimic our everyday experience of managing people. However, some of the ways we do things do not translate well to remote work and can actively undermine morale.

Checking in daily is good. It’s important to have one-to-one conversations and virtual meetings so people know what everyone is doing. But too many meetings and calls will give people the sense that you are checking up on them. It also makes it hard for people to get their work done.

Be careful of creating restrictive rules about your need to “see” what people are doing versus giving them room to do the work when they are most productive. Stand down on trying to control schedules and step up the trust—shift your mindset to the idea that people want to do their best work.

Create connection

In the workplace, we often rely on physical proximity for creating connections. People may naturally form groups that go out after work, eat lunch together, and/or form professional friendships hanging out by the water cooler.

Working remotely provides none of those opportunities, and people will miss them greatly. As a leader, it’s crucial that you are intentional about creating ways for people to stay connected to each other, to you, and to the work overall.

Sharing information from your organization helps people know what is going on in the company. Include stories of success, humour, and empathy in your internal communications now too. If you have kids, check out what their schools are doing to help them stay connected and adapt fun ideas for the workplace.

You also may want to call on your Gen Z and millennial employees for their ideas on how to stay connected virtually. Give them opportunities to lead where they can. Regular communications that people can count on by phone, virtual meetings, and e-mails are all important for maintaining connection too. Create a communication plan and stick to it.

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Give direction

Given the distractions in the world and at home, people may be struggling to stay focused. They may want to do good work but are feeling pulled toward the relentless news cycle, or may just not know where to start because they are not used to working at home. Be clear about your expectations.

Help employees understand what their priorities are. Either set priorities for them or ask them to send you what they see as their most important pieces of work. Agree on the priorities, being careful not to overwhelm, and set an overall time frame. Try to work weekly. Overscheduling leads to a feeling of mistrust.

A week provides some boundaries yet allows for flexibility. Setting priorities and having a time frame also helps people be clear about expected results. This sets them up to have “wins” on an ongoing basis, which also boosts morale.

Share appreciation

This may seem obvious, but employees often identify appreciation as lacking in organizations. This is a major contributor to poor employee engagement. Often, leaders do appreciate what their people are doing but fail to prioritize sharing it. Again, false positivity is not what is needed. Genuine, heartfelt appreciation for the work getting done and the contributions people are making is absolutely crucial right now.

Tell your staff when the work they have done has made a difference to you, to the company, or to your consumers, so their sense of purpose is satisfied. Thank them for their service by recognizing something specific they did that added to your success.

When people feel appreciated, they are more likely to step up and help out. They are also more likely to come up with new ideas and solutions because they care about you and your company.

And, when you model appreciation, it comes back to you in lots of different ways, which is important for your own morale right now.

It won’t necessarily be easy, but if you can shift your mindset to a more people-focused approach AND take on the role of “chief morale officer” with enthusiasm, you are helping your team and organization to thrive in, not just survive, the current crisis. And, in this time of disruption, no one expects perfection. You can try things out while feeling less exposed to criticism or judgement. This will shift, however, if you do not focus on the above four things and make sure that morale stays steady. So, stay people-focused now and into the future. Your organization will only benefit from the sense of camaraderie and connection that builds when morale is taken seriously by leaders at all levels.

Susan Black

Lianne Picot

Learning Architect at The Niagara Institute

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