How to Solve A Workplace Morale Problem

How to Solve A Workplace Morale Problem

The numbers don’t lie: 70% of those surveyed in a recent Gallup poll either hate their jobs or are completely disengaged. An unhappy workplace yields poor results and poor results drain resources. In fact, it’s estimated that lost productivity, stolen goods and missed days of work cost the U.S. over $450 billion per year.

“Worker dissatisfaction, anger, boredom – it hurts the economy, it hurts you,” says Lisa Panarello, Founder and President of Advanceman New York-based Center for Professional Development.

How do you turn it around? Start with these four strategies for building a happier, successful workplace, from Panarello:

Four Strategies for Building a Happier, Successful Workplace

  1. Address the Issues
    Once you’ve recognized the signs of an unhappy workplace, find out the meaning behind the signs. Set one-on-one meetings with staff members and encourage honest dialogue about what’s impacting their feelings. Create a ‘what’s bothering you?’ box where employees can share concerns anonymously. Be open to suggestions, but be realistic too – not every desire can be met and not every concern warrants major action. Although, always respect your people.
  2. Recognize Talent
    Raises, bonuses and promotions are exceptional ways to reward and incentivize performance on an annual basis. If you want to see results on a daily basis, make employees aware of their value more often. It’s not necessary to feed someone’s ego minute-by-minute, but, even the most humbled individual needs to feel appreciated once in a while. Affirmations and support go a long way to boost morale. It doesn’t take much.

Here are some examples:

  • When closing a meeting or conference call, thank everyone and give a special shout out to the person(s) who contributed key information/ideas.
  • Write an email to your boss that credits your staff for saving money or a winning over a client (cc your staff).
  • Leave a note on an employee’s desk saying “Nice work on that budget report”.
  • Ask an employee to tell another employee “The director said you did a great job on that presentation.”
  • Encourage an employee to take lead on a special project where you know he or she would shine.
  • Bring in breakfast or dinner for your team after a few early mornings or late nights in the office.
  • Arrange a company luncheon, party, picnic or outing and interact with employees – get to know them.
  • Conduct a 3-part performance review: positive, constructive, positive. Help employees understand where they succeeded, where they can improve, and how they are valued overall.

Other recognition incentives to consider: flex time and work-from-home days. Although, be sure to make it known that you’re not playing favorites, but recognizing quality work. It should be a fair practice made available to all those who meet and exceed your expectations.

3. Prune Underperformers
If after addressing issues and recognizing talent you still have a disruptive worker; someone who is chronically late, extremely lazy, delivers subpar work, instigates problems, ignores bylaws, it may be time to let them go. Do this properly in conjunction with HR, of course. Just consider the cost/benefit.

“Negativity breeds negativity and hinders performance,” says Panarello. “When you have a cohesive team, you have the power to develop a world-class, profitable brand.”

  1. Invest in staff development
    You may be thinking, “I’m already paying for the experienced, knowledgeable staff I hired.” Well, at this moment, hundreds of thousands of employees are at their cubicles searching for a better job. In an AON survey, respondents ranked “opportunities for personal growth” ahead of salary as the main reason they took their current job and stayed.

Training results in fewer mistakes, machine breakdowns, and help desk calls. It boosts employee performance, productivity and satisfaction. It increases customer fulfillment. It reduces downtime, staff turnover and recruitment costs. Ultimately, training improves profits. It’s a win-win for company and staff, says Panarello.

“You’re most valuable asset is your people,” says Panarello. “They are on the front lines dealing with customers and behind the scenes running operations. If you want to keep your business growing, you need to stay competitive. That means staying on top of technology and industry trends, government regulations and consumer needs. Empower your staff to be the best you need them to be.”

Lisa Frame-Jacobson, founder and President of Feature Talent Builders, a national business coaching, search, staffing and training firm, provides strategies for turning around the unhappy workplace. Frame-Jacobson has performed culture turnarounds and coached executives and teams on how to do the same in their organization.

Frame-Jacobson recommends these 11 strategies to turn around an unhappy workplace:

11 strategies to turn around an unhappy workplace

  1. Identify the root cause(s) for the unhappy workplace. It will likely be a combination of people issues, process issues or technology barriers, or any combination. Surveys and soliciting feedback by walking around will help you zero in on the issues. Engage professionals that know how to facilitate climate, satisfaction and engagement surveys.
  2. Select an executive sponsor for the turnaround initiative. They should model the way, attend a portion of the weekly groups to kick them off and provide updates to their peer group.
  3. Identify Change Champions in the organization. These individuals are passionate about the need for change and have keen insight to the issues. They are your “ambassadors at large” to keep the energy going within the organization.
  4. Create employee focus groups that meet weekly for approximately three weeks. Their purpose is to collaborate together to provide recommended solutions for resolving the barriers to achieving a happy workplace. Give them the task to identify three to four ways to resolve each identified barrier and hold them accountable for providing detailed steps for the recommendations. They should be specific and actionable. Never underestimate the brain power of your employees.

They are often closest to the issues that impact their daily work and are best able to share what they are already telling others.

  1. Identify facilitators for these groups. Their role is to keep the group moving and collaborative, ensuring everyone is heard, and to report back on the recommendations. They should receive advance coaching in group facilitation and brainstorming techniques.
  2. Review findings: After three weeks, the executive sponsor and focus group facilitators should set time to come together for two to four hours and review all findings and recommendations. Their purpose in this meeting is to prioritize which barriers should take priority, and then discuss which recommendations can realistically be acted upon to drive change. If more time is needed, don’t delay in scheduling it.
  3. Build out project plan: From the prioritized list, build out a project plan that includes the barriers under their appropriate category: people, process and technology, as applicable.
  4. Assign project managers for each of the three categories. The executive sponsor should meet with the project managers and set dates and milestones for the project plan that the PM’s build.
  5. Work the plan.
  6. Ensure continuous communications/feedback so the employees understand what has been identified and what is being addressed. Establish a rhythm for the communications and ensure all appropriate channels are included.
  7. Launch an interim survey once half of the project plan is complete, to get feedback on the changes. This could reveal the need to approach the second half in a modified way.

Boiled down, you are essentially doing the following in turning around an unhappy workplace, says Frame Jacobson: Identify, brainstorm, prioritize, create the plan, communicate it, manage it, assess its progress, modify approach if needed and achieve results.

Once employers start to see the red flags, what can employers do to combat the negativity? Start by communicating with employees and actively listen to what they say, says Michelle Prince, Senior Vice President, Talent Management, North America of Randstad USA. These conversations will provide key insight regarding the root cause(s) of unhappiness, and thus allow leadership to develop a more effective strategy to improve workplace conditions. Here are five tips Prince identifies as ways employers can alleviate workplace stress:

5 ways to alleviate workplace stress and increase satisfaction

  1. Communicate often: By effectively communicating with workers, managers can better gauge the stress level of their employees and work to diminish pressure before it affects morale and productivity.
  2. Encourage camaraderie: Employees who actively connect with one another often create a better office environment. It’s important to set aside time for staff to socialize and get to know one another. Ideas that can easily be put in place are potluck lunches or BYO picnic lunches when the weather allows. Employees also may enjoy joining a bowling league or other sports team or participating in a community event together.
  3. Promote wellness: Give employees access to wellness programs that help relieve stress; whether it’s a company workout facility or reimbursements for gym memberships or yoga classes, wellness programs are proven strategies to help relieve workplace stress. Be sure to offer healthy food and snack alternatives in the cafeteria or in on-site vending machines.
  4. Set an example: Healthy stress management starts at the top; if employees consistently see their boss as being stressed, the negative energy can trickle down and impact the entire team.
  5. Empower your employees: One of the most stress-inducing triggers is feeling out of control, so allow your staff to take ownership of their work and give them as much control as possible when it comes to making decisions on how work gets done. Whenever possible, also find ways to help employees see the meaning and value of their work and their accomplishments.

“Armed with a solid understanding of what lends to an unhappy work environment, employers will be better equipped to make the necessary changes,” says Prince.

Written by

Matt Krumrie is a career columnist and professional resume writer who has been providing helpful information and resources for job seekers and employers for 15+ years. Learn more about Krumrie via, connect with him on LinkedIn ( and follow him on Twitter via @MattKrumrie.

More Articles by Matt Krumrie