Improving morale in a crisis

Are your staff stressed and struggling with change? Matt Somers shares five tips to help support your workforce in extraordinary times.

At the time of writing we’re besieged by the coronavirus and all the unprecedented uncertainty that comes with it. There’s talk of entire workplaces closing their doors and having everyone work from home – although for some businesses and organisations that simply isn’t possible. Coronavirus is a timely reminder that as a leader you can’t plan for these sorts of exceptional incidents. There are all sorts of external circumstances such as flooding, market conditions, lost customers, staff reductions, etc. which may be beyond your influence which can damage morale. Nevertheless, there are always things you can do to try and create a good climate amongst your own team.

It goes without saying (doesn’t it?) that a happy, motivated, upbeat workforce will outperform one that isn’t. Every leader should therefore make it a priority to ensure staff morale is maintained, whatever the circumstances. Below are a few tried and tested ‘quick wins’ that that I’ve drawn from my coaching work that can help restore morale if it’s taken a bit of a battering.

Share positive feedback
Let’s face it, when we’re told we’re doing a good job it motivates us to keep up the good work and develops our esteem and self-worth. But if there’s one thing that trumps sincere praise from a manager, it’s sincere praise from customers. It’s easier than ever to collect good customer comments but do you make sure that everyone involved in creating a positive customer experience gets to know when it works well? Notice this use of the word ‘sincere’ in the above description. Forcing or contriving praise doesn’t work and will likely have a negative effect. The praise should also be proportional to the action. Showering someone in lavish praise because they filled up the stapler they borrowed from you will again seem cheap.

Mix things up
Have your people been sitting in the same room, at the same desk beside the same colleagues for months or years on end? If so, how about changing things around? As the old saying goes, a change is as good as a holiday and it can be surprising how new conversations with new people, or new routines, can freshen things up and make a life a bit more interesting again. There may be huge positives to staff working remotely now in terms of shaking things up!

Support a good cause
Is there a good cause that the team can rally around, get involved in and support? If so, this can be a really good way of strengthening relationships and keeping perspective in difficult times at work. Be careful – it needs to be something that most, if not all, of the team care about and you may need to allow some work time for a level of involvement that would make a difference, but the payback in terms of staff morale can be huge.

Celebrate failure and analyse success
Of course, we normally do this the other way around. But sometimes it can be more encouraging to celebrate/commiserate after a series of blows. Equally, we can pass off successes too easily and not complete a thorough enough analysis to realise that we might have simply struck lucky and that there are still things to change and improve. When staff are happy and content in their job, productivity levels increase. Thus, there are many benefits to improving and maintaining staff morale (growth, an enhanced bottom line, increased staff retention rates, sales quota attainment).

I’ve saved the best until last. If my work as a coach has taught me one thing it’s that listening really is the low hanging fruit when it comes to improving any employee’s morale. It’s not the only thing of course, and not enough by itself to give you a highly engaged and motivated team but the simple act of truly listening to understand what’s going on for our people can be truly transformational. You don’t even have to act necessarily on what they’re saying. Naturally you can’t grant every employee’s every wish, but that’s ok. Simply listening – again with sincerity and with a desire to understand and empathise rather than diagnose and solve – is often all that’s required. I remember a manager of mine who would regularly pass his PA and say, “Morning Sonja, everything ok?” He’d then take his seat beside me and say, “Right Matt, that’s staff morale checked for another month!” I know for a fact he was joking but it’s an approach that’s too close for comfort in terms of how seriously some leaders take their responsibilities in this area.

About Matt Somers

Matt Somers is the founder and Managing Director of Coaching Skills Training, a specialist training consultancy focused on the idea of the manager as coach. It operates throughout the UK and beyond, working in partnership with clients to ensure that what is intended is achieved. It has a wide and varied client list including the likes of HSBC and Citigroup. 

As advocates of the coaching approach Matt works hard to make sure clients are able to continue developing the skills learned long after any initial project has finished. He is a leading voice on training and coaching in the UK publishing Coaching at Work in 2006 and Coaching in a Week in 2016. He holds an MSc in Human Resource Development and is a Fellow of the CIPD.


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