Building Staff Morale: A Holistic Approach

Staff morale is like the weather of your workgroup. It stands to foster or inhibit growth. It permeates the culture, impacting everyone’s outlook. Nurturing morale must be approached purposefully and mindfully. But because it can seem more abstract than other more pressing or tangible management responsibilities, it can sometimes be relegated to an afterthought on a manager’s already full to-do list.

Effectively building morale attests to the subtleties of leadership. Impactful leaders create cultures where workers feel comfortable and valued. Only then can they fully employ their skills and talents. It feels satisfying and validating to work to full capacity. In such an environment, employees can continue to mature as professionals.

In order for morale-building efforts to truly have an impact, they have to be holistic and address employees’ fundamental needs. Employees need to feel secure in their roles and they need to feel appreciated for their contributions to the team. Only when these two psychological needs have been met can staff members enjoy perks like parties, special lunches, etc. Too often, those initiatives alone are designated as morale builders, but those efforts can feel half-hearted and disjointed to employees if they are not coupled with emotional affirmation.

Create a Culture of Security
The first step is to ensure that your staff members feel comfortable in the culture in which they work. This is particularly important during times of organizational transition such as reorganizations, especially those that result in position restructuring or layoffs. Reorganizations feel to staff how remodeling feels to homeowners. It’s hard to have faith in the end result when there is dust everywhere and the contractor keeps revising the timeline.

But staff members don’t initiate these changes, whereas homeowners do. So they are probably not in possession of the final plan. In this case, staff are counting on management to keep them informed. Any lapse in communication will likely be filled by a rumor mill. This is especially detrimental if there are layoffs involved. Staff members need communication from their leaders during times of transition. Even if the news is simply a statement that there are no new updates. Regular and reliable communication is key to building morale on your team.

The same is true during less eventful times. Create a unit where communication is valued. Keep your staff informed about big-picture news impacting the institution. Be in touch with your team members individually. Check in with them to learn about their progress in their roles. Help them identify meaningful professional opportunities so that they can continue to evolve.

Your involvement with your staff will keep them engaged in their work, because it confirms that their work is important to you. Amanda Meeson, vice president of programming for The Leadership Program writes, “Ensuring that there is one-on-one time with your employees builds recognition for how they uniquely contribute to the greater team while supporting their individual growth and trajectory. It is important for leaders/managers to always balance their team time with the personal connection and development each staff member needs. Many leaders falter on this balance because it can sometimes seem exhausting or time-consuming. I am a believer and an observer that the investment is well worth it in building highly effective teams.”

It may be hard to find the time for these touch points. But your team members will appreciate your use of time. Plus, putting your energy into employees already on staff is a better use of resources than having to recruit and onboard new team members.

Build a Culture Where Staff Members Feel Valued
Contributing your talents to a winning team is rewarding and fun. In order to create this end result, the individual members of your team need to feel that they bring value to the whole. Taking every opportunity to recognize your “database administrator extraordinaire” or your “master administrative assistant” as direct contributors to your well-functioning team is key. And this is no insincere gesture. It’s hard to hire a great database administrator or a seasoned administrative assistant. If you are lucky enough to have stellar professionals in these roles, make sure they know just how important they are.

Letting your staff know that you recognize what they are doing and how well they are doing it means a lot. Meeson notes, “Specific praise and recognition can be impactful in three ways: First, it values ​​the employee’s success and contribution. Second, when the praise is specific enough, you are giving them the tools to repeat or replicate for future success. Third, when sharing it more publicly or team-wide, you are shining a light on best practices you’d like other staff to work towards as well. It’s a simple concept, but when done well, it is highly effective.”

Honor your team’s work in a sincere and genuine way. Recognize the extra miles they go, and they will keep going those miles.

Celebrate Your Champions
Once you have done the emotional components of morale building, then it’s time to celebrate. Those lunches, happy hours, and parties will feel good once you have built a solid and genuine emotional security and rapport within your team.

Then, maximize the opportunity. If your team is assembling for lunch, talk about their collective work, highlighting those who have been instrumental in recent successes. Track who you mention and when, so that you are very deliberate in your efforts to recognize excellence. Having their best work celebrated by their peers and their manager will have a great impact on your staff. Sincere and personal recognition is truly motivational.

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