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Michelle Ray is a Vancouver-based leadership expert. (Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)
Michelle Ray is a Vancouver-based leadership expert. (Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)

LEADERSHIP LAB

The high cost of low morale Add to ...

This column is part of Globe Careers' new Leadership Lab series, where executives and leadership experts share their views and advice about the leadership and management issues of today. There will be a new column every weekday. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab

If you were to ask most managers about the importance of high morale to the bottom line, most would agree that happy individuals are more apt to make significant contributions to overall productivity.

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To create this ideal environment, managers and employees need to be on the same page. Nevertheless, it is not uncommon for leaders to see the workplace atmosphere somewhat differently than their employees do, and this gap is at the heart of enduring morale problems in many organizations.

How do we begin to narrow the gap? While it is true that everyone shares responsibility for contributing positively to the ambiance at work, it is the leader who sets the tone and is ultimately accountable.

The consequences of low morale in the workplace cannot be overstated. Job dissatisfaction and the attendant high employee turnover inevitably lead to negative customer experiences. The financial loss stemming from this sequence of events is certainly unsustainable and may be irreparable. Happily, these consequences can be avoided when leaders focus on addressing the atmosphere within their own walls. After all, the future is much more hopeful when we work on things that we can change rather than those we cannot.

Develop your people skills

Training managers to become better communicators is a sorely neglected aspect of leadership development. Because business usually necessitates human interaction, it is clear to most successful leaders that interpersonal communication is an extremely high priority in any enterprise. Articulating goals and inspiring your team begins with you.

Focus on the intangible motivators

People are attracted to an organization for its remuneration, benefits and career-building opportunities. In the long run, however, they stay because of genuine displays of trust, respect, camaraderie and expressions of appreciation. Tend this garden of intangibles and you’ll reap benefits that may surprise you.

Engage new employees

The orientation process for new employees is all too often short and not so sweet. Plans to engage them simply don’t exist. New staff are frequently left to fend for themselves.

An employee who is beginning a career at any organization requires not only a description of his or her role, but also an explanation of how this role, well performed, adds to the company’s success. The new employee should not only meet his or her co-workers, but also tour the whole establishment in order to see how his or her contribution feeds the entire operation. This kind of inclusive experience on the first day can only increase efficiency and improve the bottom line.

Offer non-monetary rewards

Is it any wonder that the trend among employers of choice is to demonstrate trust by providing not only a flexible work experience where possible, but also perks such as fitness memberships, in-house wellness programs like yoga classes, and on-site day care. This approach engenders a much happier work environment than the obligatory annual company picnic or Christmas party, and it is dependent not so much on big budgets, but rather proper a way of thinking. By giving individuals options, one increases the likelihood of employees returning this trust with optimal work performance.

Deal with problems swiftly

Nothing brings down morale faster than managers who allow problems to fester. Highly engaged team members become frustrated by the lack of action which, they feel, is a sign of ineffective leadership. It’s up to leaders to create an atmosphere where people feel comfortable sharing their concerns before situations become unmanageable.

The demise of too many enterprises that have able people, good products and well-developed markets is brought on by the mismanagement of people. The good news is that there are strategies leaders can use to improve workplace culture.

If it’s true that low morale results in higher costs, surely high morale can bolster the bottom line.

Michelle Ray (@MichelleRayCSP) is a Vancouver-based business keynote speaker, leadership expert, author and founder of the Lead Yourself First Institute.

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