By Beth Hood, founder and director, Verosa
It’s cold. It’s dark outside. You are into your third lockdown since the beginning of the pandemic and the days merge into one, long Teams call with colleagues you haven’t seen in person for months. The year stretches ahead of you and, while the end of a challenging time looks like it might be in sight, your morale is at a particularly low point.
The post-Christmas low was a recognised phenomenon long before anyone heard of the terms ‘global pandemic’, ‘social distancing’ and ‘Covid-19’. In fact, the UK Office for National Statistics reports a 3 per cent rise in depression in women and a 5 per cent rise for men in January – and that was before the global pandemic and a new year lockdown.
Add to this dark point the potential challenges of home-schooling, looking after elderly and vulnerable relatives and taking on bigger workloads due to illness among colleagues, and it’s not surprising that workplace morale is suffering in 2021.
Hay research shows that happy, engaged and motivated employees, who enjoy high levels of morale are 30 per cent more productive than their colleagues. If this is the case, low morale is not just bad for individuals, it’s bad for businesses too.
So what can small business owners do to help boost their people’s morale in the bleakest of midwinters? Here are some ideas that might just make a difference.
In tough times, a kind word from someone in a position of authority can mean the difference between a good day and a bad day. As a leader, never underestimate how much power you have to impact the workplace climate your team experiences – even from afar. Conversely, a snippy email because you were rushed or a thoughtless response on a piece of work someone had felt invested in can really damage morale.
Try pausing a couple of times a day to consider something you are thankful for about your team, your business or your peers. And share that gratitude. It’s remarkably powerful and it doesn’t have to be saccharine or inauthentic. Just saying thank you to someone who has picked up something outside of their role could be a huge boost to them.
Offer the same treatment and kindness to yourself. It’s all too easy to fall into the ‘not-good-enough’ narrative when we are at a low ebb ourselves and that sort of thinking can be contagious.
Offering team members the opportunity to get their teeth into something that requires their creative talents can be at the least distracting, and therefore therapeutic, and at best a potent performance multiplier.
Allowing the space for employees to use the ‘right side’ of the brain (the bit that deals with visuals and dreams and art and ideas) has been shown to be powerful in unlocking thinking potential. In part, this is because getting creative in this way reduces the stress hormone cortisol, which can be a big blocker to focus and performance.
In a 2016 study carried out by Philadelphia research institute Drexel University, 40 office workers were given art supplies and asked to create anything they wanted for 45 minutes. Even after this short creative session, 75 per cent of this group found a decreased level of Cortisol. So hit the colouring pens and encourage staff to do the same!
Nothing boosts morale like having something to look forward to and plan for – especially if that something is offered as a reward for a collaborative effort. Many organisations are considering ways that they can reward their teams later on in the year – perhaps even in a post-Covid world.
It doesn’t have to be a monetary reward – one European bank has given their staff an extra ‘bank holiday’ to spend time relaxing with their families away from the demands of the working day.
For some, looking forward will be about planning next steps in careers and making some concrete progress towards this. Now is a great time to talk about personal development goals and to consider what learning and development activity we might embark on this year.
To make this really effective, organisations should engage their people in these forward-looking conversations. Talking to your teams about future plans may help lift the oppression of the present. What’s more, teams will experience being seen and heard, which in a digital world can be the hardest thing for an organisation to achieve.
It’s often the little things that make a difference when we are feeling flat. Remembering to ask about a home situation and taking an interest in the personal lives of our employees builds rapport, and shows a human face to leaders.
By the same token, sharing our own concerns, experiences and challenges can be hugely beneficial in tough times. A leader in a multi-national fintech talked with his team about how he was struggling to switch off and how he was finding the presence of his family at home while he was working a source of frustration and irritation. Naturally, he wasn’t alone in this experience and in sharing his own struggles his team realised that they were not alone and were able to relate to their boss in a way they hadn’t done previously.
Good, thoughtful communication is more important right now than ever. Ask questions and take an interest in the work that your team is doing but avoid anything that sends an ‘I don’t trust you’ message. It is simply counter-productive and will further damage morale and therefore productivity in the longer term.
Instead, if you need to help someone do better with something, view it as an opportunity to connect. Sit together on whatever platform works for you and talk through. Make it a dialogue and be curious about their thinking and approach. Quality time and attention counts for an awful lot at the moment and might be the highlight of someone’s day.
At all costs avoid trite, meaningless emails with inauthentic messages about support and wellbeing. You will be judged by what you do and not what you say, and remembered for how you make people feel.