Work Got You Down? 6 Ways to Improve Morale During Tough Times

How can you get your employees to give you the thumbs up? Improving morale is one place to start.

“Budget cuts, restrictions, reduced resources, and shutdowns” could be the mantra of our times. Many public sector workers got into their field out of a love for service, but constant roadblocks can wear down even the most passionate employee, and bring down morale across the board. Heavy workloads dump enormous pressure on staff, and there’s rarely room in the budget for extra incentives like pay raises and bonuses to sweeten the deal.

Improving morale doesn’t have to be expensive, nor is it an impossible task. Often, subtle changes can reap great results. Read on for some concrete ways to lift everyone’s spirits.

#1: Listen to your employees

Most government employees come into their job with high spirits and a desire to serve – but over time setbacks and frustrated expectations will wear down even the most motivated employee’s resolve. Managers who want to improve employee morale should be on the lookout for the things that are dragging their staff down – outdated processes, meaningless busywork, and an uncomfortable work environment can lead feelings of disempowerment. Talk to employees about their frustrations, and be sure to act on what you hear. If employees don’t feel as though they’ve been heard, the cycle of poor morale will continue ever downward.

#2: Bring the magic back

What’s your department’s core mission? What’s truly exciting about what you do? Where do you make a difference? The answers to those questions are the reasons your employees sought out work in your department to begin with. If that core mission gets obscured by red tape and other frustrations, employees may start to disconnect from it. Remember to highlight department wins, and remind staff how much their work has impacted others. Dig up those success stories, organize a meet up with some of the people your department serves, and remind your staff why they got into this work in the first place.

#3: Empower your staff

With furloughs and budget cuts left and right, employees may feel as though they have no control over their careers. Hands-off management is a crucial part of any high-morale team, but it’s especially important in a climate of overall uncertainty. Give your staff agency in their daily roles, and let them take charge of projects rather than micromanaging. Engage staff in the decision-making process, and encourage them to be innovative about taking care of their tasks. After all, ideally each staff member was hired for the unique insight he or she brought to the table – take advantage of it, rather than just plugging them into a role like a robot.

#4: Recognize effort and achievements

We may not all like being on stage, but everyone needs to share a bit of the limelight from time to time. Recognition is a huge motivator – and no one likes to have their efforts go unnoticed. Take the time to thank staff for what they’ve accomplished, personally, and as a group. Be particularly sure to acknowledge when your staff has gone above and beyond the call of duty. Have people pulled in the overtime lately? Picked up the pace to meet a deadline? Bring in a round of coffees, or leave notes on their desks to thank them. Ignore the fact that your staff is working harder at your own peril – eventually your employees may not feel like the results are worth the effort.

#5: Throw a party

Humans have been building community around the breaking of bread ever since the beginning of time. There’s something about sharing a meal that helps strengthen bonds and renew energy around the office. Organize a catered lunch if the budget allows, or plan a potluck where people can bring in their own favorite dishes. Whether it’s a monthly event to celebrate birthdays, a quarterly “just because” social, or even just once a year around the holidays, food is a great community-builder.

#6: Invest in training

One major cause of low morale is the feeling of being stuck in a rut. Provide motivated employees with a way to better themselves and their careers, and they’ll come at the work with a renewed sense of motivation. Can you offer stipends for employees to get certifications, or hire an outside trainer to come teach a seminar? Invest in training to build your employees’ skill sets, and they’ll not only feel better about themselves and their jobs – you reap the benefit of a highly-trained (and highly-motivated) employee.

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