12 Most Effective Morale Builders That Don’t Cost a Cent
I began this list over ten years ago in response to a bank president’s question: What can you do to improve morale? I replied, “Well, I have four ways, and none will cost you a cent.” His interest piqued, but after I told him the first four on this list, his reaction indicated he would have preferred to pay for others. They aren’t easy, but they don’t cost a cent.
1. Remember and use employees’ names
People love to hear their names. Yet, I’ve been in companies with less than 30 employees and the owner doesn’t know everyone’s name. With practice and cheating, business leaders can remember up to 500 employees. Use employees’ names when addressing them and in conversations. For an extra morale boost, remember the names of their spouses and children.
2. Shake employees hands
No employee should go more than 3-6 months without having his hand shook. Patients touched by a doctor double their perception of time spent with the doctor. Physical contact connects us by reminding us of our mutual humanity. In one 150-employee company, a 14-year employee had never had his hand shook by any company executive.
3. Thank employees
Thank individual employees for their efforts at least once every 3-6 months. If employees do something or change as you requested, follow up and thank them right away. Thank them again a week, 2 weeks and one month later. If they bring questions and concerns to you, thank them.
4. Hold small, group meetings to update employees
Meet with employees in groups of 5-15 to share updates about the company and answer questions. Keep remarks to 3-5 minutes but encourage questions. When the first question comes, thank the employee for getting things started. It might take several meetings before questions arise. After waiting a minute, end promptly if there are none. Meetings only need to be 15-20 minutes.
5. Ask for help, don’t order
Ask employees to help you, others and the company. Avoid telling or ordering them. This increases resistance and harms morale. Show how the request helps you do your job or helps other specificemployees do theirs. Avoid using generic “we,” “them,” or “the company.”
6. Make yourself visible and accessible
If you only visit or contact employees when you need something, they will eventually avoid you. Employ visits and phone calls in the spirit of “Management by Wandering Around.”Keep them short, focused and positive. Say, “I just wanted to touch base and see how things are going.” Listen don’t advise unless requested. Ask about family. Inquire how you can help.
7. Employ active listening techniques
If you’re in a position of leadership and have never received training on these techniques, sign up now. No matter how well you listen, it goes for naught if employees don’t believe you are. Asking questions about what they said, asking them to tell you more about something specific, summarizing what they said and relating to their feelings, (“I can see how you would feel that way”) are just four such techniques.
8. Compliment employees
Complimenting is similar to thanking but with more specificity. Often we compliment by saying, “Good job,” however, this only goes so far. There are more advanced forms of complimenting that tap into employees’ values and talents. The connection between inspiring and complimenting is close.
9. Reference other employees positively
Nurturing positive feelings dramatically improves performance and morale. When we positively talk about other employees to employees, they subtly think, “If I do well, you will talk positively about me to others.” Focus on how others helped you or specifically others.
10. Allow and encourage venting
When employees perform on the edge of their skills and talents, tension is natural. Not allowing employees to vent is similar to not allowing athletes to sweat. Improving morale means encouraging venting within a productive context. Don’t feel as though you must solve the problem. Often, listening is enough. Conflict management training might be advisable.
11. Lead in the present
Often it’s better to handle employees’ requests now rather than set an appointment. By deferring, we lose some of their energy to learn or tackle things. This is in the spirit of the teachable moment in education. Moreover, leadership is as much about perception as reality. Dealing immediately with employees’ questions demonstrates their importance and value.
12. Focus on people; avoid mentioning incentives and rules
People feel best when you can link their good work to an innate desire to do a good job and to help others. By reminding them that they are working for incentives or for adherence to rules, we subtly disconnect this link. If incentives and rules are good and publicized, employees will remember them. Focus on how their work helps others and you.
These work primarily because many leaders don’t use them. Consequently, leaders using them stand out in employees’ minds and improve morale.
Featured image courtesy of by shareski licensed via creative commons.