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Building a Better Workplace: Boosting Morale

When you ask your employees to attend a meeting or complete a task, do they snap into action, or do their eyes seem to glaze over the moment you make a request? You may not think it’s a big deal if your staff members aren’t excited about doing their jobs, as long as they’re still completing the basic requirements of their duties but in fact, lackluster employees can drag your whole company down.

When employees don’t feel motivated to participate in the workplace, productivity drops and absenteeism rises. Their lack of enthusiasm has a big impact on your bottom line. A recent Gallup Employee Engagement analysis found that companies with highly engaged employees showed nearly four times the financial growth rate of companies with lower engagement. The top-performing companies in their study boasted nearly 10 engaged employees for every jaded staffer; in average companies, the ratio was just 1.83 to one.

In today’s difficult financial climate, where employees are often stretched to their limits and worried about layoffs, it can be tougher than ever to keep your staff’s spirits up. By investing time and effort into bringing your team together and making sure that they feel respected and valued, you can ensure that your staff will weather the difficult times and help your company become stronger than ever. Try these proven strategies for boosting workplace morale.

Give your employees the chance to play. Google is one of America’s most innovative companies, but staff members don’t spend all their time hunched over their computers: The company is renowned for its world-class perks, which include ping-pong tables, a video game room, and even a rock-climbing wall. A climbing wall may not be in your budget, but any business can create the same sense of play by purchasing a Nintendo Wii or even a few board games. The key is to give your employees the opportunity to take a quick break during the day to de-stress and build friendships.

“Our conference table is a ping-pong table that gets used for games throughout the day,” says Aliza Earnshaw, director of sales at Portland, Ore.-based Internet company AboutUs. “Besides providing exercise, the ping-pong games bring out a lot of laughter, and high fives at the end of every match.”

Keep the kitchen stocked. In response to budget cuts, many companies have cut back on expenses like free office snacks. Bad move: Nothing’s more likely to send a staff member into a downward spiral than knowing he can’t even count on his free morning coffee anymore. Go the opposite direction instead, and make sure that your staff always has access to high-quality food.

Earnshaw says that AboutUs pays for a weekly grocery delivery that includes boutique coffee and healthy snacks like yogurt and fruit. “We probably spend more on food and coffee than many larger companies, but we find that it keeps people in the office, and happy in the office.” The company’s strategy increases workplace productivity and profits. “People will stay through lunch and late in the day because they can grab a snack so easily, and just keep working.”

Make sure that your employees aren’t being overworked. Along the same lines, make sure that your employees are maintaining a good work-life balance. Start by setting a positive example yourself: “If you, as a manager, skip your child's Little League game to handle a client emergency, you are sending the message to all your direct reports that work is more important than family,” says Leigh Steere, co-founder of Managing People Better, LLC, an online tool that helps managers identify management flaws. “That's a surefire way to damage morale and lose top talent.”

It’s also important to take note of who’s burning the midnight oil and help those employees identify ways to cut back their time on the job. “If you see an employee who regularly puts in 70-hour weeks, pull the person aside and ask what's needed to get that down to 40 or 45 hours,” adds Steere. Even if the answer means making a new hire, it could be well worth the financial cost if it helps keep a key employee motivated and prevents staff turnover.

Bring your team together for out-of-office events. When there’s friction at the office, a day together off the job could be just what’s needed to relax the tension and boost your employees’ moods.

Timothy G. Wiedman, an assistant professor of management and human resources at Doane College, says that a group whitewater rafting trip went a long way towards boosting morale at a college he’d worked for. “To negotiate the rapids, paddling teamwork was vital,” he says. “Further, if a team member ended up in the water, that person needed some help to get back into the boat. Rafting is truly a group effort, and most team members quickly learned to work together and help each other out.”

When planning an excursion, consider activities in which your employees will need to rely on one another for help in fulfilling a common goal. If whitewater rafting isn’t an option, what about a day building houses together with Habitat for Humanity, or even a paintball game? It’s always important to consider the health and fitness level of your employees when planning such events, so be mindful that you’ve organized an activity that everyone will be able to participate in.

Give employees more input into how the company runs. Employees often become disengaged because they feel as though their opinions don’t matter. To counteract that attitude, make sure that all staff members—even your lowest-level employee—have the opportunity to offer suggestions and express their opinions about the workplace, particularly when it comes to their own jobs. “They may have ideas for how to do something more quickly, more efficiently or more accurately,” says Steere. “Instead of ignoring their suggestions or sending them through red-tape hoops, give them some autonomy to implement the ideas that are within their control.”

Similarly, when there’s a problem to be solved at the workplace, ask all of your employees for their opinions on how to resolve it. “Involvement leads to engagement,” adds Steere. “It also helps employees feel ownership over the course of action, instead of feeling that they have no say or control.”

Advocate for your staff. Everyone knows the saying “The customer is always right.” But that’s not always true—and when a customer or client is mistreating one of your employees, it’s your job to stand up for your staff member. Michael Sparado, president of the New York City-based IT consulting firm Help With a Smile, says that clients have occasionally treated his employees with blatant disrespect. “In such instances, standing up for your employees, respectfully and professionally, even if it means potential lost business, shows how much you care about them as part of your team,” he says. “In the end, chances are good that the employees are going to be worth more to you than the belligerent client.”

Give employees credit for a job well done. Employees can become fed-up with the workplace when they feel as though their hard work isn’t being recognized. Be sure to closely follow every employee’s job progress, and take special note when someone comes up with an innovative solution to a problem or surpasses a goal.

If your company is large, it can be most effective if the recognition comes from the top-level staff: Rita Weiss, an executive coach in New York, initiated one workplace program in which a company CEO was asked to write notes of recognition to acknowledge employees’ great work. “The CEO was skeptical about the potential impact,” says Weiss. “What difference would one note make to the person?” But after entering a manager’s office, the CEO saw that his note had been posted on the manager’s whiteboard. “The note remained there for months, and the morale boost lasted even longer.”

Company awards programs, whether based on set milestones or on employee votes, can also serve as a powerful way to commend employees for making an impact. Consider offering monthly employee awards, in which winners will receive gift certificates and other prizes.

Respect, open communication, and a sense of play are essential hallmarks of a happy workplace. Transform the workplace by following these steps, and you’ll see your employees’ dedication levels rise—along with your company’s bottom line.