Strong morale is vital for any business—especially in today’s ultra-competitive economy.

When your team feels good about their jobs and their company, they perform better and work more efficiently. And these effects are seen across the board, from customer satisfaction to the bottom line.

But all too often, we only take the time to think about employee morale when there are problems. We ask ourselves how to motivate a discouraged team, or what we can do to increase low job satisfaction and poor engagement.

However, as the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If we implement morale-boosting best practices on a daily basis, we inoculate our teams against apathy and bad attitudes. And these same practices also make it easier to deal with the inevitable rough patches that any company is bound to go through, since they’ll already be in place when problems arise.

In this article, we’ll give you four core practices that can help you keep your team’s spirits high—in good times and bad.

Transparency

In good times: A transparent workplace is one in which everyone feels that they understand how and why decisions are being made.

  • This means being frank and open with your teams about why certain policies are implemented, or the reasoning behind a particular strategy or course of action.  
  • But it also means making the leadership’s decision-making process a part of communications with employees (especially with regards to changes or new policies).
  • When people are given decrees and dictates from on high, without any explanation or reason, they can feel alienated, as if they are outsiders at their own company.
  • But when you take the time to explain why something is happening, you create a climate of trust and openness. And more importantly, people feel that they are actually a part of something, since they have been let in on the decision-making process.

In rough times: When a company is going through a tough time—especially if there is a prospect of layoffs or furloughs to contend with—there will naturally be a tremendous amount of anxiety (and even fear) in the air.

  • And while you may not be able to wave a magic wand and fix the underlying financial problems, practicing transparency can make these difficult situations better for everyone concerned.
  • By letting your team know, honestly, what is going on and what may be coming up, you can prevent them from feeling that something is being kept from them. They will know that no one is keeping secrets. And since you’ve made transparency a normal part of your company culture, they’ll feel able to trust what you tell them during these difficult periods.
  • And if you are going to have to go through a round of layoffs, then by telling your team, as much as possible, how such decisions will be made, you will gain their trust—because they can see for themselves that whatever tough choice have to be made, it will all be done fairly and objectively.
  • In these situations, transparency also has the benefit of preventing gossip and rumors from taking over. If employees know that they can trust the leadership to be open and aboveboard with them, they’ll be much less willing to listen to a co-worker’s unofficial version of the situation—or invent their own!

Support

In good times: The best way to keep a team in high spirits day to day is to show them, in everything you do, that you support them.

  • On a simple, practical level, you can do this by taking care of the little things that they need to do their jobs. Listen to them when they tell you that the printer on the third floor is always broken—and do something about it. If your team mentions that tech support is always unresponsive during busy sales days, schedule a meeting with the IT manager to see how things can be improved.  
  • These may seem like small things. But small things make up 90% of our day. Over time, constant little problems lead to real frustration—and low morale. If you show your team that you actually care about fixing the issues they face, they will notice.
  • And in terms of the bigger picture, you can support your people by always having their backs. For team leaders and middle managers, this can mean advocating for their interests with executives, making sure that they get the raises and bonuses they really deserve. And for those a bit higher up the ladder, it means doing everything you can to foster a company culture in which employees’ concerns and issues are taken seriously.

In rough times: Business can be brutal. And most professionals are used to taking heat from a frustrated customer, a difficult vendor, or a particularly demanding colleague in another department.

  • But sometimes a line is crossed, and a tense situation becomes something that no one should have to deal with. Companies can support their employees by standing up for them—especially at times when they wouldn’t feel comfortable coming to their own defense. For example, if they’re dealing with an important customer, and legitimate complaints are becoming borderline abusive, it’s time for the leadership to step in.
  • Beyond just being the ethical thing to do, it’s also one of the best ways to turn a potentially depressing work experience into one that creates rock-solid morale. Do the right thing and calmly and professionally let such people know that mistreatment of your staff is unacceptable. It may be uncomfortable, but you’ll be rewarded with a fiercely loyal team—and one that is proud to work for you.

Flexibility

In good times: One of the most important things to most of us is work-life balance. And its lack is often cited as a point of dissatisfaction among unhappy employees. But people who feel that they have good work-life balance tend to report higher levels of job satisfaction (and less desire to look for another job in the coming year).

  • One way that companies can leverage this fact to increase morale is by being flexible.  This helps employees work with maximal productivity but also attend to the responsibilities in their own lives (which, in their minds, is the reason they’re at work in the first place!).
  • This can mean allowing parents of young children to start the day a few hours early so that they can leave in time to pick up the kids after school. Or it can take the form of letting staff with a long commute work from home one or two days a week when they’re not physically needed in the office.
  • When people feel like they’re working to live, instead of just living to work, they’re happier, more satisfied with their jobs, and ultimately, better workers. By being flexible whenever possible, companies can help to build morale and improve performance at the same time. 

In rough times: Flexibility is also important when the going gets tough—and we’re not talking about the economy here. Life is full of troubles, and your employees will inevitably have to deal with illness, aging parents, or the death of a close relative. And younger workers, too, may face serious personal problems—they may be dealing with anxiety conditions or depressive episodes that make it hard for them to perform at their peak.

  • Companies that make flexibility a part of their company culture are much more likely to be able to meet the needs of their employees at the darkest times in their lives without making co-workers resent the “special treatment”.
  • In fact, when employees see that their company goes out of its way to provide flexibility during such difficult periods, it creates a feeling that they’re part of much more than just a business—that they belong to a real team that looks out for one another.
  • Such companies are also much more likely to retain valuable members of staff who might otherwise feel pressured to quit to take care of whatever is going on in their personal lives.
  • When things get hard for members of your team, you can consider temporarily re-assigning some of their duties to several of their co-workers to lighten the load. You might allow them greater flexibility in terms of their working hours, or even let them work from home for a period if they need to spend less time commuting and more time caring for a family member.
  • When things return to normal and your employees are back on their feet, they’ll remember who was understanding, who helped them in their moment of need. And you’ll be rewarded with employees who are glad to come in to work every day—and wouldn’t want to work anywhere else.

Development

In good times: More and more, today’s employees say that they value the opportunity for continuing development and training above many other perks. This is doubly true for the younger generation: some surveys have shown that millennials value on-the-job training and the chance to develop their skills even more highly than pay raises.

  • It makes sense—the world seems to be changing more and more rapidly, and there’s a general feeling that no job is ever perfectly secure or stable. So today’s workers are always looking for a way to give themselves a competitive edge—and stay ahead of the changes in their industry.
  • If you show your team that you are ready to invest in their training and education, and help them build the skills they’ll need to thrive in the years and decades to come, you’ll see a more satisfied, energized, and motivated group.
  • People who feel like they’re moving in the right direction (as opposed to just spinning their wheels or falling behind) are much more likely to report higher levels of job satisfaction.

In rough times: While a strong commitment to employee development is always important, it’s even more crucial during periods of economic instability or turmoil in your industry. Because that’s exactly when people are most worried that their jobs are at risk (and most likely to let that anxiety affect their day-to-day work).

  • Of course, it can be difficult to fund things like tuition reimbursement and specialized training in a downturn, due to the unavoidable belt-tightening that comes with increased risk and falling profits. But there are still things that you can do to help employees continue to grow and skill up during even the worst of times.
  • For example, setting up a mentoring system with senior staff can be a great way to help junior employees build new skills and learn how to handle new responsibilities—without much in the way of additional cost.
  • For your employees, the knowledge that they are continuing to invest in their own development may put their minds at ease during an otherwise panic-inducing period.
  • And there’s an added benefit as well. If you’re in the middle of a hiring freeze, mentoring programs can provide benefits that go beyond morale, because you’ll find yourself with a leaner, more capable team—one that’s able to take on extra work if you lose some people that you can’t replace right away.
  • In the end, the things we do to create a healthy and happy workplace for our employees will see us through both good times and bad.

Employers who practice transparency, support their teams, provide flexibility, and commit to employee development will boost morale in the office and create stronger, more productive, more profitable organizations.

And they’ll also create resilient companies, ones which are able to weather the very worst of times and even thrive when the going gets tough. So no matter what’s going on in your business, in the economy, or in the world, now is a perfect time to implement these four morale-building practices at your company.