As we continue to struggle with a recession that began in 2009, many companies are still experiencing problems with low morale. In fact, a survey by CareerBuilder.com indicated that almost a quarter of all businesses were experiencing low morale. To make matters worse, 25% of those surveyed reported no loyalty to their current employers. As part of a project I have been working on related to this subject, I have been researching what causes low employee morale.
The reasons for low morale are plentiful. In a 2006 survey conducted by the consulting firm of Challenger, Gray, and Christmas, it was poor leadership as the overwhelming leader, as reported by 73% of the respondents surveyed. Heavy workloads came in second at 16% and, surprisingly, salary and benefits only garnered 11% of the vote. In more recent surveys, such as the CareerBuilder survey cited above, workload and high stress over the fear of job loss (a combined 87%) have moved into the lead as causes of low morale over the past year.
The low morale epidemic isn’t just a problem associated with “rank and file” employees. A survey by American College of Physicians Executives reported that 60% of physicians have considered leaving the practice of medicine in the last year due primarily to high stress. An examination of numerous surveys of government employees indicated levels of low morale even higher than the private sector. The reasons for low morale in the government sector tended to be related to poor communication and poor leadership more than fear of job loss or high workloads. It isn’t any better internationally: surveys from England, Canada and mainland Europe were pretty consistent with U.S. based surveys on the subject of low morale.
So what do we do? How can employers turn around the serious and escalating problem of low morale? Here are some ideas for addressing the top offending causes:
Problem: Poor Leadership- This situation surfaced on numerous surveys in many different forms, from bullying middle managers to ego maniacal senior managers who were out of touch with how their decisions impacted morale.
Solution: This is a tough one because in most instances, the employees experiencing low morale have minimal influence over the behavior of managers who are driving the problem. The best solution is to find a way to go around the offending manager to either a peer of the manager or a more senior leader who has a stake in the impact of low morale. Often times, as related in an interview with Dr. Kerry Sulkowicz of the Boswell group, offending managers don’t have enough self awareness to respond to coaching. Unfortunately, in such cases, looking for a new job may be the best solution for the employee if the company doesn’t replace the manager.
Problem: Heavy Workloads- One of the most unfortunate side effects of an economic downturn is the loss of jobs that inevitably accompany the downturn. The loss of the job is not only felt by the ones who lose them, but also by those who stay on and inherit heavier workloads.
Solution: As business begins to turn around, it is easy for employers to inadvertently fan the flames of this problem by delaying much needed headcount additions. The best solution for this problem could be leveraging the services of a temporary employee until confidence is reestablished for the long term turnaround of the business. The worst thing that can happen is to take no action and let employees reach the breaking point before providing relief. Leadership needs to be aware that as the economy improves, opportunities outside of your organization can and will become a viable option for dissatisfied and overwhelmed employees.
Problem: Work related Stress- This broad subject manifested itself in many ways, but the stress of losing a job in a tough economy was the most common.
Solution: As an employer, the best solution is to remember to show your appreciation to the members of your team and acknowledge their valuable contributions during the tough times. Adding flexibility to the schedule and perhaps some additional short term incentives are also great ways to help offset this issue. As an employee, it is critical that you have a strong support group of family and friends. It is critical to make sure you don’t lose the balance between work life and a fulfilling personal life.
As the economy continues to turn around, more options are going to present themselves for employees with low morale who have been “riding out the storm.” Now is the time to address employee unrest and the key issues driving their dissatisfaction. Companies that don’t will find the pain of this recession extended beyond its natural life via record employee turnover in the months to come.