9 Ways You’re Hurting Morale… And Don’t Even Know It

It should come as no surprise that today’s workforce wants to feel their contribution is valued, be part of something great, and be able to manage their own careers. In management circles we refer to these wants as employee engagement. We can more accurately define employee engagement as the amount of personal and professional fulfillment our employees’ find at work. And to be successful in an environment where our employees have such high expectations of their employers, modern managers need to remain acutely aware of the needs and demands of their staff.

We recently wrote an article offering some tips for boosting morale within your organization. From this we learned that taking an active interest in employee engagement goes a long way toward becoming a highly effective manager. Unfortunately, there are things you or your business may do unknowingly that undermine your efforts to build employee engagement and boost morale.


To help you recognize these behaviors, here are 9 ways you might be killing engagement and employee satisfaction without even knowing it.

1. A General Lack of Freedom and Empowerment

If you want to kill employee morale, impose rules that require multiple levels of approvals for business travel, three levels of sign-off to pay for your employees’ basic training needs, and four levels of approval to post a job opening. When decisions for even the most basic things require approval of higher level managers, and when employees are unable to make their own decisions (with some exceptions of course), it represents a lack of freedom in your organization. And by freedom, we are talking about the empowerment and trust of your workforce. While there are limitations to every business and there is always a need for some level of oversight, your employees already recognize this. So it is important that you trust your employees to make the right decisions, and resist the urge to micromanage every aspect of your business. If you’re not comfortable with the day-to-day decisions your employees make, perhaps you need to discuss expectation more clearly. In short, your employees need a certain amount of latitude to do their jobs well, so be sure to allow some amount of flexibility in their jobs.

2. Lack of Growth Opportunities

At some point, each of your employees wants diversity in their work and a chance to grow. This is not just about more pay or more responsibility, but again about personal and professional fulfillment. Gone are the days when someone did the same thing for 40 years. As a manager of the modern workforce, you can do a lot to help your employees remain engaged and fulfilled by their jobs by offering them new and challenging assignments from time to time. This does not mean to suggest that you should give your employees a new project every 3 months just to keep them entertained. But it does mean that if you are not being creative and deliberate about the work you assign your employees over time, you are leaving the door open for attrition as employees will eventually take their careers elsewhere. Keeping your employees engaged has a lot to do with the interest and enjoyment they get from their work, so be on the look out for opportunities to break up monotony.

Related: How To Turn Your Well-Intended Training & Development Program into a Success

3. The Absence of Management

Effective managers are Management Success Series Tip #2: Being Visible to Your People. Even when he or she is away on travel, a good manager will call to check in with the office, drop an email to see how things are going, and otherwise be available to some degree. By contrast, when an organization’s leaders are inattentive and frequently unavailable, employees will begin feel homeless and under valued. Moreover, when managers are absent and leave employees on their own, employees are left with little direction and guidance. Thus, it is important to make time to be available to your team, regardless of circumstances. Part of creating an engaged workforce is serving as a mentor and the leader people want to work for. When you’re in the office, stop by once a day just to check in and briefly connect with each of your employees. It doesn’t have to be about work. Ask about the weekend, the family, or the upcoming sports game. The 5 minutes you take to do this will have a great impact om your organization. The underlying principle here is that a little face time with the boss means a lot to your staff. A lack of this interaction can be extremely damaging.

4. Lack of Contribution

Everyone wants to be part of a winning team. Every employee wants to feel that he or she is having some sort of impact on customers, the team and the business overall. As a manager, it’s important you recognize this and to give different employees a chance to be part of prime time. This doesn’t mean to suggest that everyone should be involved in every decision, project or activity. Your junior employees, for example, do need to serve time on lower level tasks and assignments to develop and master the fundamentals. But they, too, need stretch assignments and challenges from time to time. But when your employees do not feel they are valued or that the work they do has some significance, you are hurting morale and engagement. If you are stuck in a scenario where you need certain employees to continue to support less exciting projects, make up for it by publicly recognizing their efforts in front of the entire team. Highlight the value of this contribution, even if it is less visible to the rest of the organization. Sometimes the biggest contribution an employee can make are not on the new, exciting projects, but rather holding down the fort elsewhere.

5. Obsolete Technology

Now let’s be clear here. This is not to say that you need to splurge on the latest gadgets and devices as soon as they come on the market. Nor does it mean you should spend vital cash on the fanciest software to make your business successful and to keep you employees happy. But it does mean that you need to on the look out for how your level of technology is impacting your business. For instance, it is easy to pass up on a $200,000 network infrastructure upgrade, opting to stick with your old network lines. But add up the cost your business incurs when each of your 1,000 employees wastes 25 minutes a day waiting to download files across your slow network. Now the $200,000 is not so forbidding, is it? Many businesses today try to reduce costs to compete, which is generally a good strategy. But there is a limit to how much cost control you should impose. The key here is to recognize that success in business does come with an investment. Further, what message does an outdated IT policy send to your employees? When they find themselves wasting time with an outdated network, or fighting for the minimum amount of software to do their job well, it can be demoralizing to your workforce. So when it comes to investing in technology, keep in mind you need to balance fiscal responsibility with providing the right tools to your most expensive cost: your people.


6. Non-Value Activities (NVAs)

How frustrated do you get when you boss asks you to do something that keeps you at the office late, or that you had to work the weekend to complete, only for it to not be reviewed or otherwise considered important? I’m fairly sure that’s a universal way to anger employees. NVAs are tasks that tend to have little meaning or value to the business or progress towards a goal, and instead are activities that take valuable time away from employees. Some examples may include things like weekly reports that go unread, adding steps to already complex processes to make sure it’s done the same way each time, or just plain old asking for things that are worth less than the time they take to produce. So what does this have to do with employee engagement? Your employees’ time is valuable, and they cost the business a lot of money. Why would you want to waste this time on something that does not have some sort of benefit? Bottom line, you don’t want your employees wasting your time, so be sure to return the favor.

7. Cryptic Communication

With the wide-spread use of email and mobile devices, a trend that has developed in modern business world is the influx of short, terse communication between people. Think about all the one line email responses you get like “Pls send me the spreadsheet. Thx.” or “Do we have agreement on the numbers?” Maybe you’ve gotten something like “What is the risk?” From the sender’s perspective, this may just be a means for being efficient. But from your employee’s standpoint this type of communication could imply lack of willingness to take the time to explain an ambiguous requests for information. Moreover, each one of these emails can prompt a multitude of potential answers. And if you’re like me, most of the time, the answer you think the person is looking for is incorrect, prompting another exchange. Rather than leave your employees to decipher your request, take 2 more minutes to add a couple of sentences to your question or comment is clear. If your employees are constantly struggling to figure out what you want, you could probably boost morale a little bit by making the effort to communicate more effectively.

8. [Repeated] Poor Planning

Like a game of chess, good business requires strong, well thought out planning and strategy. Businesses and managers who fail to plan and continually look ahead at what is coming will find themselves in a perpetual state of playing catch-up. Moreover, when it comes to how their business is run, it will feel like the 2009 global financial crisis over an over, as the conversation will surround cost cutting, financial controls and limited opportunities for employees. When employees feel like the business doesn’t know what it’s doing, or that the highly paid executives are unable to steer the business appropriately, you are eroding their confidence in the organization. Further, keeping employees happy in such an environment will be the last thing the business will focus on, leaving employees to their own devices. But good planning and strategy is not just about employees, it’s about good business. While you’ll never have a crystal ball to predict the future, plan ahead early, gather multiple inputs, share thoughts and ideas across your organization to ensure your financial and strategic objectives are attainable and appropriate. When circumstances change, change with the circumstance. Don’t let your employees get caught in the middle. Poor planning is the sign of a business out of control.

9. Barriers to Doing A Good Job

Finally, your employees want to do a good job and want to be enabled to do their best. And as the manager, you should want your employees to be at their best. As discussed at length in Follow This Path, employees will produce the best results when they are set up to do so. Thus, when businesses hinder their employees ability to do a good job, there are negative effects on the organization as a whole. Moreover, when your employees feel they must constantly fight for what seem like simple little things, they will slowly begin to lose confidence in the organization. So what are some examples of barriers to doing a job? Well, looking at the list above, we can see that many of these items are such barriers. Non-value activities are barriers, because they take valuable time away from the true mission. Relying on obsolete technology is also a barrier to doing a good job, because your organization’s performance is limited by technology, not human ability. Other barriers to doing a job are burdensome processes, poor financial planning, and gaps in skills. When it comes to assessing the barriers you are placing in front of your employees, remember that people are the most expensive cost to a business, and for this reason, you want your people to place their energy on the job at hand, and not on working through roadblocks.

As parting thoughts, be sure to avoid some of the common management traps and mistakes that undermine a positive work environment. Further, think about the positive impact that an engaged workforce can have on your business or organization. When employees are engaged, it creates a highly energetic environment full of new ideas. Businesses where employees are happy and fulfilled tend to attract better talent to the organization. And highly engaged teams will always produce better results because each employee wants to make a difference.



The Manager’s Resource Handbook

The Manager’s Resource Handbook

The Manager’s Resource Handbook is a reference guide for managers to offer commentary and thoughts on a variety of challenges that managers face. The authors of the Manager’s Resource Handbook are all managers of people.

This article is by The Manager’s Resource Handbook from managersresourcehandbook.com.