Low morale can be infectious and it only takes one employee to poison an entire office. If left unchecked, it can actually cripple a company, regardless of its size. “The most common examples of morale issues are the hardest to discern and potentially the most dangerous,”
Once morale becomes an issue, companies are apt to experience productivity problems that can hurt the bottom line. For instance, workers may take more time off, take longer to complete assignments and spend more time gossiping about the wrong doings of the company or supervisor, says Kerekes. If the situation isn’t corrected, really disgruntled employees may engage in workplace sabotage and even violence.
But a company doesn’t have to let it get that far. Taking a few proactive steps will ensure low morale doesn’t become a company-wide issue.
“If low morale is present managers have to take a really proactive stance on it and have to identify the cause,” says Paul McDonald, senior executive director of Robert Half International. “If you don’t address it, it takes on a life of its own and sends the rumor mill into overdrive.”
According to human resources experts, good managers will always have their pulse on the morale of his or her employees and will be able to know immediately if morale is starting to dip. But knowing and doing are two different things, which means if a company wants to prevent the low morale from spreading, they have to address it head on with the employee as soon as they get a whiff of it.
“Having the emotional intelligence and savvy to know what employees are thinking and feeling, and being able to nip issues that may have a negative impact on morale in the bud before they have a chance to spread is critical to a company’s overall success,” says Kerekes. “In my experience, morale issues get out of hand when the situation is allowed to fester and leadership is ignoring or avoiding the tough conversation in the hopes that it will correct itself.”
According to McDonald, managers need to meet with their direct reports formally and informally on a regular basis both in groups and one-on-one if they want to quickly identify any changes in morale. McDonald also says managers that go out of their way to reward employees for a job well done are less likely to suffer from morale problems than those that never reward their employees. “Many times the recognition is left to the HR department. The best managers tailor it to each person and don’t leave it up to HR,” says McDonald.
While low morale can come out of nowhere, usually when it’s widespread, it’s due to changes in the company, whether it’s a new business direction or layoffs, and a lack of communication on the topic. That’s why it’s important for the company to communicate with its employees, especially if there are big changes adrift. According to Kerekes, if managers watch for signs of low morale like reduced productivity and actively communicate what they can share about what’s happening in the business, they have a good shot of isolating the morale issues and correcting it before it gets out of hand.
If the low morale is coming from one person, experts say it’s critical that someone within the company, preferably a manager or supervisor, sits down with the person to figure out what’s going on. The complaints may be something that is easily fixed. If the manager can’t rectify it, it’s time to get HR involved. If the company bashing still doesn’t end or the person’s work suffers the best option may be to let the disgruntled employee go. “You don’t want to jump to that conclusion first,” cautions McDonald.
Even if it’s one person that’s creating all the problems, the company shouldn’t treat the incident in isolation. Yes, the manager has to speak one-on-one to the unhappy employee but they should also assume more employees are suffering from low morale. “Even when an employee says ‘we all feel the same way,’ it is incumbent on the leader to follow up with each team member to understand the issues and to problem solve for workable solutions,” says Kerekes.