Numerous studies have shown that positive work cultures are more productive than those that aren’t. And while there are many benefits of remote work (buh-bye boring commute), some remote workers report feeling less satisfied with their sense of belonging.
After all, it’s the social connection and bonds between colleagues that is foundational to the success of all organisations. People who feel a sense of connection to their work, teammates, partners and organisation don’t just show up for their 9–5. They look forward to the opportunity, are resilient in the face of challenges and exceed goals faster. And these days it’s easier than ever to gauge the culture at a potential workplace with sites like Glassdoor allowing employees from all levels and departments to rate a workplace’s culture.
The importance of prioritising employee satisfaction – especially in distributed teams – has never been more important. Here are six strategies that companies with high employee morale have used to make their employees love working for them.
1. Promote work-life balance among employees
Findings from the Remote Employee Experience Index found that knowledge workers across the globe feel that remote working is better than working in the office. That said, 39% of remote workers also reported working more hours every day compared with 31% of office-based workers.
Matthew Ross, the co-founder and COO of mattress review site The Slumber Yard, says that he and his co-founder both come from the investment-banking world, where late nights were commonplace. “However, for our company, we feared the late nights would burn out our employees and eventually make them resent us.” When one employee resigned because of what Ross suspected was burnout, he says, “We knew we had to make a change or else other people would likely start leaving as well.”
After an IT audit, he and his partner discovered that their employees were working well into the after-hours. In response, they made a new rule: No work emails between 7 p.m. and 5 a.m.
“If we see email traffic during the off-time, my business partner and I will simply talk to the individual the next day and remind them of the rule,” says Ross, who adds that while it’s rare, it’s usually a positive conversation. “We say something along the lines of how we appreciate their commitment and work ethic but we want them to enjoy their evenings.”
He points out that although they appreciate the hard work, high turnover is costly for a business. “It takes time, money and resources to train up new employees,” Ross says. “When our employees go home at night, we want them to spend time with their families, partake in outside activities and just recharge their jets.”
He has since noticed that his employees seem more energised and upbeat in the mornings, leading him to believe that boosting employee morale increases productivity in the long run.
2. Invest in trust building
According to a Slack study on the future of work, 80% of workers want to know more about how decisions are made in their organisation, and 87% want their future company to be transparent.
Good employee morale can only reach a certain level without trust in leadership. After all, your team would be less likely to communicate or contribute if they don’t feel safe expressing themselves honestly at work.
Trust is built into the company values at Culture Amp, a leading employee experience and analytics platform. Their values include “trust people to make decisions”, “Amplify others”, “Have the courage to be vulnerable” and “Learn faster through feedback.” They also have a Slack channel called
#yay-we-failed, where employees (affectionately called ‘campers’) openly discuss mistakes and learnings.
They also have a
#ceo channel where founder and CEO Didier Elzinga answers questions submitted through Culture Amp’s ‘ask me anything’ surveys.
At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Elzinga used
#ceo to get in touch with campers, posting two-minute videos every working day with observations, what’s going on, how we’re doing, how we’re tracking against the plan.’ This reassurance was a simple but powerful way to stay connected during such a challenging time, and the initiative’s success has led to more transparency as the company continues to navigate virtual work.
3. Go beyond “My door is always open”
“The thing that works best in my experience is actually getting to the front lines and talking to employees,” says Marissa Letendre, an independent human resources consultant who has worked with Fortune 500 companies like Amazon. “Stay interviews are a great way to start,” she says, especially in companies that have already built trust with their employees.
For stay interviews, Letendre often starts with “What keeps you here?” and “If you had a magic wand, what would you change?” She says the changes employees crave are often inexpensive and achievable, like more engaged and effective leadership, or the ability to have an impact and a voice.
Letendre recently conducted interviews with frontline employees at a 70-person company. From the information she gathered, the company created a culture committee with a small budget to establish fun activities, brainstorm company-wide initiatives and designate coaching leaders—all with the added bonus of sustaining positive employee morale. “Through this we saw a 32% increase in employee engagement and a 28% average increase in performance company-wide.”
A starting point for creating a culture of open communication with your employees could be as simple as creating open channels where every staff member can feel comfortable asking honest questions to leadership.
4. Support employee-led initiatives
PwC began its Be Well, Work Well health initiative in part because its employees were already independently exploring wellness classes and ways to incorporate health at work. When a course on physical, mental and emotional well-being for senior management proved popular and effective, they decided to scale out a health initiative to the entire firm.
The Be Well, Work Well program covers six dimensions of well-being, including physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, financial and social. As their employees moved to remote work, the initiative has evolved with it to include access to virtual psychological support and crisis child care reimbursement, for example. The program also includes a habit bank, where team members can get inspiration for healthy habits.
By investing in the initiative, the company demonstrated that not only does it care about its employees, but it also listens to what they want, too.
5. Don’t ignore the power of small gestures
Whether it’s swag, recognition or educational resources, small gestures can do big things for morale by showing employees that their leaders appreciate them.
Take design platform Canva, which is consistently ranked as one of Australia’s best places to work. Canva has embraced hybrid work, establishing a policy whereby employees only need to come into the office eight times a year.
This means how they show appreciation to each other has changed. Recognition is a team ritual made possible thanks to Disco, an online culture platform for distributed teams. The app integrates with Slack and lets employees give a well-earned shout-out to their colleagues.
The company also subsidises mindfulness and meditation apps, and have established a process called “Messages of Appreciation” whereby employees can create cards on the platform and have them printed and delivered to a colleagues’ doorstep.
Boosting team morale is an ongoing effort
Employee morale is a crucial measure of an organisation’s health, and needs to be constantly measured and tended to throughout the life of an organisation. For continued insight into how employees are feeling, leaders can regularly use employee satisfaction surveys to measure mood (or as is the case for Trivago, a custom bot to keep track of employee sentiment).
Creating a healthy and positive culture goes beyond free merch or a booming social calendar. Ultimately, morale is cultivated by the big stuff (like policies, career growth, learning and development) as well as the small stuff (like social events, regular recognition and swag).
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