How’s worker morale these days? Depends on who you ask.
A recent Gallup poll found a startling 70 percent of workers either hate their jobs or are completely disengaged. Most observers blame the economy: Businesses are short staffed, everyone is overworked, and no one can remember their last raise.
But others see it differently. The 2012 Workforce Retention Survey by the American Psychological Association says that 67 percent of employees stay in their current jobs because they enjoy the work.
While the surveys may diverge, business owners typically know for themselves whether their employees are loving or hating their work. Either way, a big percent say morale is a top priority. In a recent Robert Half poll, one in five business owners said maintaining morale and productivity was their top priority.
Gift cards and plaques help, as do spontaneous thank-you awards. (And you can even give tax free.) But here are some other ways you may not have thought of to boost morale today.
1. Give them the power.
At HourlyNerd in Boston, “we’ve found that employees are motivated by ownership of their work,” says co-CEO Robert Biederman. “Rather than tell our employees what to do on a given series of tasks, we begin by asking them what they think is ideal. We allow our sales force to craft their own outbound emails, select their sales targets, and report in on their own performance. Our basic philosophy is that self-directed employees — subject to proper monitoring and oversight — are far happier employees.”
2. Send them home.
At SaaS startup BambooHR in Provo, Utah, all employees work a 40-hour week, period. “The founders have a firm policy of no more than 40 hours per week for all employees because [we] believe in trading a manageable workweek for greater loyalty, focus, and productivity,” says co-founder Ryan Sanders. Employees report being “happier, more focused, and more willing to be productive during work hours because they know they’ll never be asked to work more than 40 hours in a week. They respect the company’s acknowledgement that they aren’t drones fit to be worked to death.”
3. Introduce them to guests.
A little acknowledgement goes a long way. Sometimes recognition can be as simple as an introduction, says Mike Topa, a corporate advisor in South Bend, Indiana. When taking guests on a company tour, for instance, stop by employees’ stations for a quick greeting. Describe the person’s career, maybe share an anecdote. This can go a long way toward validating workers, helping them to feel more like part of the team.
4. Give together.
Lots of businesses make donations to non-profit groups, partly as a feel-good measure to boost morale. To help people feel even better, engage them in the giving, says Patty DeDominic, COO and chief catalyst of business-coaching firm Maui Mastermind in Santa Barbara, California. “Ask them which charity you should give a special gift to and when to place that donation. Team members who volunteer for groups usually love to hand-carry checks to their favorite causes. It is good business and reinforces the prestige of your employee in the community, too.”
5. Go away.
Among small business owners, one of the most widely touted morale-boosters is the off-site lunch. While the measures named above are generally free, this one can cost a few dollars, but supporters say it is worth it. By getting off site, employees get a break from the work routine. They engage each other as individuals, talking through problems and laying out a vision for what is to come. It doesn’t have to be a lavish corporate retreat. Sometimes the best way to make work fulfilling and productive is to walk away from it for a while.