“Morale is the state of mind. It is steadfastness and hope and courage.” – George C. Marshall
How we see, measure, or feel the morale of an organization is not an exact science. Some organizations use engagement surveys, which can be helpful and give an indication of the mood and sentiment but have their own challenges. Staff can only answer the questions that they are asked, so the freedom to express how they feel is already stifled a little.
When trying to decide what to do with the results, there is a tendency to focus on ‘fixing that which is broken’ – but this can mean that energy and effort are given to the signs of disengagement, rather than doing more to boost the positive factors.
Furthermore, if only run on an annual cycle (albeit with ‘dip checks’ throughout the year with smaller sample size), then the results can be influenced by the moment…it is (and should be treated as) nothing more than a snapshot.
And let’s not forget that that is what this is about – delivering great customer service. Having a site with great morale is brilliant, but it is not the endpoint. Far from it. Morale is an input and customer service success is an output of this.
So, what can we do to improve morale? Here are a few things that help both frontline staff and their managers to feel more connected to each other and to the brand, putting them in a great position to deliver great service.
Consistency in a leader is hugely important, and it needs to be evident in a number of things that they do. The 1st of these is simply the way they show up to work. Have you ever had one of those bosses who arrives at work in a different mood every day? Some days there are all smiles, floating on air…as if they came to work by riding a unicorn down a rainbow. The next day it looks like they have just emerged from one of the 7 circles of hell! The impact of this is that people who see this will be on edge. Stress levels will go up a little (or maybe a lot), and in doing so, fear starts to creep in. Within a minute, morale is negatively impacted and the quality of the offer to the customers drops.
Now, no one is saying that leaders cannot have feelings or tough days or stressful moments, but by increasing their emotional intelligence, they can learn to better recognize and regulate their emotions, and maybe keep a lid on some of the extremes. As they are more behaviourally consistent, staff feel more comfortable (knowing what they are going to ‘get’) and so feel happier…lifting morale.
Further to this, leaders also need to be consistent in how they treat their people. That isn’t to say everyone is treated the same way, as staff have different needs and different things that make them ‘tick’, but if they know their manager is consistent with them, and that approach is in line with the consistency they see with other staff, then it can be a boost to morale – all is fair, so now I can be at my best.
Often recognition and reward are words that are interchanged as if they mean the same thing. The problem we then have is that people associate a budget with both. The beauty of recognizing the great work your staff does is that you don’t need a budget to do it. Recognition can be something as simple as a genuine ‘Thank you’, to a site-wide announcement. Provided it is authentic and has something to back it up (e.g. a story to evidence it), then recognition is hugely powerful too to boosting mood and morale.
When someone receives recognition, their brain releases dopamine. This is a powerful neurohormone that makes people feel great. Scientists now think that a single dose of dopamine is more powerful than an equivalent ‘hit’ of cocaine…and it has similar effects. Dopamine connects with the brain’s ‘pleasure center’ and so people feel great when it is released. The great thing is that it is free and through proper recognition, managers can have staff who are on a dopamine high, delivering great service and feeling fantastic.
Almost every organization has health and safety policies and procedures. I think I have sat through my fair share of health and safety elearning, as part of my induction plan.
It is critical as well, however, that we give just as much attention to creating an emotionally safe environment. The work done to improve mental health awareness is just incredible and there are people far more qualified than me to write about that. I mean it from a slightly different perspective.
Managers and leaders, is your environment safe enough for your people to fail? Is it ok for them to try and miss the mark? To have a go and not quite make it? This isn’t to say that standards and effort go out the window, or the mediocre becomes the new benchmark, but simply this:
Can someone in your team fail, without feeling like a failure?
Your role is to create that safe space. To help them to stand if they fall and to learn from it. Once you have this environment you can unleash all kinds of creativity and innovation. As mood and engagement improve, so will their productivity and everyone wins!
Linked to the idea of emotional safety is the need to create a team that is empowered. During a keynote at an industry event, I asked those listening to raise their hand if they had an empowered site…and almost all 500 hundred hands went up. I asked them to keep their hands raised and only bring them down if they did one of the following:
- Tell people when to arrive and when they could leave
- What they could wear and what they could do with their mobile phones
- When they could have a break and when they could take lunch
- How long they could break and lunch for and with who
- How quickly they answered the phone and how long they could talk for
- What words and phrases they needed to use during the conversation
- What notes needed to be captured and how quickly
- What tone of voice and pace of speaking they needed
Guess what, every hand came down. So I asked again, who had an empowered workforce…queue the tumbleweed!
One of the biggest causes of stress is a feeling of helplessness and that people have no control over what is happening. If we set an environment where almost all decisions are made for the staff, they will also start to experience stress.
A non-work example of this is my 3-year old daughter’s bedtime. I always ask her if I am carrying her to bed or if she is walking. She is fully empowered to choose how she gets to bed…but she IS going to bed!
As leaders, we need to be brave enough to let our staff make some decisions for themselves – to give them some autonomy. Our challenge is to find and set safe boundaries, in line with company expectations, productivity, and behavioral standards.
‘To create is to own’ – or so the saying goes. When staff feel like they have some opportunity to input, to shape things…to have ‘skin in the game’ it improves their sense of connectedness and their mood and morale. The opportunity for staff to make suggestions, share improvement ideas or even help with work distribution can have a huge impact on positively increasing morale.
Do people know why they do what they do? I often ask clients to write down their team’s ‘WHY’ statement, to help them see and understand their purpose. Almost every time their v1.0 is a list of ‘WHAT’ they do, sometimes with a bit of ‘HOW’ they do it. So we go again…and again.
Getting to the WHY is a key part of helping staff to feel happy and to boost their morale as they feel more connected to the organization. A sense of purpose helps show them that they matter. That they are seen. That their contribution counts. As such, they know the reason that they need to bring their A-game and that if they don’t, it matters.
This sense of purpose takes away the risk that people feel as if their role is meaningless or that their contribution is so small, it is insignificant. So as leaders, build up the importance of what they do, in every interaction.
In-house communication can sometimes miss the mark. The reason for this is that often information, stats, etc are pushed on staff – downloaded. This can negatively impact morale as staff feel like they don’t really play a part. It is being ‘done to’ them. Additionally, they may not even understand fully what is being said. A message that is simply broadcast leaves no room for questions, discussing, validating or confirming.
As such, leaders need to also make time for conversation. Listening and chatting. Helping to understand perspectives, opinions and misunderstandings. As people feel listened to, their connection and morale increase – as does their care and commitment and in due course, their productivity.
So there you have just a few simple ideas to try and boost morale in your site. No budget needed, no planning required, just a decision, intent and then the commitment to see it through.
About the author – Nathan Dring
Nathan is the SME for our Contact Center Catalogue. Having worked in L&OD for over a decade, Nathan has experience in sales, service, SME and retail. Whilst at Asda, Nathan led the learning and development function for the global contact center estate.
Nathan was Head of Global Organisational Development at thebigword, before setting up his own business, Nathan Dring and Associates Limited at the start of 2018.