What Great Bosses Know about Morale

Your organization has cut staff, salaries and benefits, and it has asked employees to take on more work. If I ask about morale, the answer's obvious: It's taken a hit. But let's talk about how morale is measured and managed.

Morale can be measured across multiple dimensions. Consider the percentage -- high or low -- of employees who say:

  • I get satisfaction from my job.
  • I feel valued in this company.
  • I'm compensated fairly for my work.
  • I have a chance to grow.
  • People look out for each other here.
  • I respect and trust my boss.
  • I believe in what we do.
  • I think the leadership of this organization is moving us in the right direction.

When a substantial percentage of employees find it hard to agree with a substantial number of those statements, morale is suffering.

What can you do about it?

First, take note that only one of those morale metrics deals directly with money. Make no mistake, money matters, and I know of no employee who has ever demanded a decrease. Cuts hurt. But they're not necessarily fatal to morale.

That may come as a surprise to bosses who think money changes everything and assume that lowered wages and benefits dramatically impair employee engagement. Here's the problem: If they believe low morale is tied to dollars alone, they'll miss important opportunities to boost job satisfaction in ways that don't take a dime out of an anemic budget.

Here are ten things bosses can do to build morale:

  1. Review staff workloads and work distribution. Don't punish the most competent employees by piling work on them.
  2. Have a "stop strategy." As a diminished staff takes on more work, bosses should identify low-priority tasks they can stop doing.
  3. Increase feedback about what employees are doing well. It should be sincere and specific.
  4. Let 'em vent. Make it safe for people to talk about their frustrations or fears.
  5. Listen. The time bosses spend with staff costs nothing, but it can have great value to them.
  6. Neutralize jerks. Now's the time to finally confront bullies, divas, and slackers about the toll they take on teammates.
  7. Endorse fun. Play and laughter, including laughing at the boss, are free. Be a good sport.
  8. Share info. In challenging times, people are hungry for information on plans and changes.
  9. Talk about what matters. Never miss a chance to inspire.
  10. Aim high. Many staffers still crave "stretch" assignments, the kind that make them feel trusted and successful. Great bosses know who they are and what they need.

There's no question that bosses are the key drivers of morale. But isn't there always some degree of grumbling and grousing in every organization? Is it fair to think bosses can provide some kind of "Universal Happiness Care" in the workplace? I'll share a reality check in today's podcast, "What Great Bosses Know about Morale."

Poynter's "What Great Bosses Know" podcast is sponsored by The City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. Poynter's leadership and management expert Jill Geisler shares practical information that's valuable for bosses in newsrooms and everywhere.

You can subscribe to this podcast via RSS or to any of our podcasts on iTunes U.

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    Jill Geisler

    Jill helps news managers learn how to lead her favorite people in the world - journalists. Good journalists, she points out, question authority and resist "spin." It takes exceptional leaders to build trust, along with the systems and culture that grow great journalism.


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