HR Headaches: How Can I Boost Low Morale?

Low morale can spread like wildfire and be costly for your business.

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Here’s how to notice low morale at your organization and turn things around

When morale is low in an organization, it’s almost tangible. Lack of enthusiasm can turn a high performing team into 9 to 5 zombies. Every employer wants workers excited to be at work and engaged in the work they’re doing. When employee morale is high, they take pride and ownership in every task — from the smallest, most routine duty, to the most complex responsibility. When it’s low, it shows in every task they perform.

High morale equates to high productivity, which equates to high profitability. Miserable people do the very least they have to do to get by. They may have ideas on how to do something easier, faster, better or less expensively; but they’re not going to bother to tell anyone. When indifference is the norm, employees trudge through their day watching the clock and employers get minimum performance and innovation.

Worse, employee dissatisfaction can be contagious. Misery enjoys company and the miserable are happy to vent their complaints and concerns to anyone who will listen — even grudgingly. Before it spreads like wildfire, get low morale under control and turn it around.

Low morale = high price tag

Employees who are not engaged are estimated to cost American business between $450 to $550 billion yearly in lost productivity, revenue, and turnover.

If you’re not concerned about lackluster employees, you should be. Low morale equals high cost to business. Absenteeism rises when employees are loathe to show up for work. Turnover is high, causing you to keep filling and refilling open positions (and costing you each time you do). You may be spending more time resolving employee conflicts and dealing with insubordination. On a daily basis, the impact is felt throughout the organization.

From a financial perspective, low morale translates to lower profitability. Employees who are not engaged are estimated to cost American business between $450 to $550 billion yearly in lost productivity, revenue, and turnover. Research shows they produce 60% more errors and defects in work performance. If you don’t think low morale is affecting your bottom line, watch your employees engage with customers. Are they enthusiastic, helpful, and ready to turn a first-time buyer into a customer for life? Or are they turning away business with their lack of interest and service?

Find the cause(s) and address them 

Do staff members have a legitimate reason to be down in the dumps? Before you begin rebuilding morale, it’s important to understand what broke them down. Observe, ask questions, or use surveys to find out what’s bugging them. Then try to address it as well as possible to start the journey back to high morale and high performance.


Burnout can cause low morale. With the difficulties business is having these days with recruitment, you may need existing staffers to work harder and longer. While hiring and training new team members would ease the pressure, you’ll still need to address the issue of burnout in the interim. Employees may be doing their best, but they’re exhausting themselves in the process.

Battling burnout 

Look for ways to ease the burden. Talk to staff members about how many hours/days would be best for them and try to shift scheduling around as best as possible to accommodate them. Now that kids are back at school, some staff members will be able to take on more hours, while others might enjoy a respite. A few open conversations could make all the difference.

Look at how lean you can run your organization without impacting the team. Do you need 4 people for all hours, or can 3 get the job done most days? Look for routine lag times: is Monday morning the slowest, can you take a siesta on Wednesday afternoons? Try to give employees a scheduling break whenever there’s a typical lull.

If you can’t do any internal shifting, can you change your hours to help? Do you need to open at 7 a.m. at full staff; can you close at 8 p.m. rather than 9? Again, look at whether your business is really running profitably during every hour of the work day. For times when it’s slow, consider closing to save a bit on costs and give staff members a little time to rest.


Offering higher wages or signing bonuses? Nothing beats down an existing employee more than knowing the new hire they’ll be required to train is earning more than they are. Consider this: you have 3 existing employees and need to hire 3 more. In today’s market you need to start the new hires at a higher wage than your current staff. How long do you think your (already trained and productive) employees will stay on the team knowing the newbies are earning more?

Create contentment 

It may be hard initially, but if you have to pay more for new hires, increase the wages of current staff. You’ll end up saving money in the long run, on recruitment and training costs. You’ll also avoid the productivity drain of low morale when everyone knows they’re equally paid and appreciated.

If you have to pay more for new hires, increase the wages of current staff. You’ll end up saving money in the long run, on recruitment and training costs.


Lack of trust is a morale murderer. When employees don’t feel their manager or the organization as a whole is genuine, they’re distrust turns into low morale. Trust means being transparent with staff members, letting them know what’s going on organizationally as well as at the team level.

Building belief 

Trust starts with open and honest communication, even when the news isn’t great. They’re adults and they can handle it — often they come up with ideas and solutions that can help, but only if they’re in the know. Employees who feel they’re in the dark about what’s going on within their company often wonder if their role in the organization is secure. Building trust, with honest, 2-way communication is key to high morale.


Fairness is another component to high morale. When some staff members get away with tardiness, harassment — or worse — the message is clear: they’re more important than you are. It doesn’t take long for staffers to understand who is favored and who isn’t. And when they’re not part of the preferred crowd, why should they put their best foot forward?

Insist on equality

When employees are subjected to the same rules and rewards, they know they’re working on an even playing field. A fair workplace is critical to high morale and high performance. The rules must apply to everyone, no matter where they are on the corporate ladder. When employees see that, they know they’re as equally valued as anyone else on the team.

A fair workplace is critical to high morale and high performance. The rules must apply to everyone, no matter where they are on the corporate ladder.


Nothing says I don’t trust you to do the job (that you’ve been doing for years) more than micromanagement. The more you look over their shoulder, the less risk they’re going to take. Less innovation will occur, and they will have less ownership of the work they perform. Why should they, when you’re only going to criticize or correct? Micromanagers may think their way is the best way; they need to understand it’s rarely the only way.

Authorize autonomy

You hired them because they were qualified: you trained them to get the job done. Now leave them alone and let them do it. If you want engagement and ownership, let people own their work (even their mistakes), to boost pride and morale.

Quick morale boosters

Occasionally it’s just a lull in the market or an unusual situation that impacts morale. When that happens, look for some quick ways to boost their spirits.


Let employees know they’re appreciated every chance you get. From the smallest “thank you” and “you’re my rock,” to office celebrations, everyone appreciates being appreciated. You depend on them for your livelihood — make sure they know how valued they are. The occasional surprise lunch or donut delivery may cost little, but it goes a long way.


There may never have been a better time than these challenging work conditions to start an employee recognition program. But they don’t have to be hinged on hitting the million dollar sales mark.

Employees who show up every day of the week for their shift? Make an announcement and show them you’ve noticed. Staffers who stay late or come in early? Put their picture on the break room bulletin board under the heading ‘star staff member.’ Employees who go above and beyond? Make it a party — ice cream sandwiches for everyone.

Every time you recognize achievement, from the smallest task to the biggest event, you boost morale for the worker who’s the recipient and all the way down the line.


Sometimes the best thing is to be there and listen. Let staff members know you’re ready and willing to hear and help. From an occasional shoulder to sniffle for daily dilemmas through huge problems you may be able to help solve, employee well-being should be part of your brand. Show you care about their whole self (not just their work self) with availability and concern.

Low morale costs business in so many ways: bringing enthusiasm and engagement up is key to success. Make time to find out what’s causing the problem, so you can address it and get back the gusto your team once had.

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