When Shop Spirits Sag?

What it takes to rebuild your employees’ morale and get everybody working toward the same goals.

I was reading an article from the Society For Human Resource Management and came across this statement: “With a daily diet of news about layoffs, foreclosures, bankruptcies, bailouts and cutbacks large and small – from no raises to no bonuses to fewer flavored coffees in the break room – it is no wonder morale is in a free fall with the economy.”

One of the top issues, if not the top issue, in the workplace is the weakening of morale. The inner spirit is so important and, at the same time, so fragile. The human spirit is resilient, but under enough stress, it can be depleted. When that happens, the desire to fight on, the belief that things will get better, the joy of going to work and the desire to move forward are all under attack.

If you listen to people talk, many of them believe that their life plans have been shattered and they are no longer in control. However, we’re missing the point of what needs to be done in our emotionally driven transitional society. The message needs to be one of rebuilding morale and recapturing the human spirit.

As I’ve traveled and listened to what people are saying, I’ve noticed a few common attitudes that have contributed to this sinking of the spirit. Maybe you’re familiar with some of them in your shop. They include:

There is more to do in the same amount of time. With cutbacks and layoffs, there are fewer people to do the same amount of work. But the decrease in the number of people has not diminished the amount of work. Compound these feelings with the fact that there seems to be no end in sight, and you’ll understand the challenges facing the morale of your employees.
Employees feel as if they’re working in the dark. Despite our advanced communications technology, people feel they have no clue what’s happening in their own workplace. They get up, go to work and aren’t sure how long they’ll have a job. This has created a heightened fear of the unknown. However, resilience of the spirit needs information to remain strong. How can an organization expect its human capital to come to work in the spirit of “Yes, we can do it!” when they don’t know who or what to believe in?

Respect for human capital has diminished. My neighbor, Andrew, told me, “My manager selected me for termination because of my cost to the organization. He was under a mandate to cut X amount of dollars from the bottom line, and if he let me go, he could keep two others. He said it wasn’t personal; it was just a business decision. I did my work with passion and commitment. Doesn’t loyalty mean anything anymore?” The answer to that question these days is, “No.”

All the organization cares about is the bottom line. This is one of the most frequently stated feelings among people I’ve talked with. So what happens to the morale when an employee feels like an ID number rather than a person? How can managers expect people to come to work and give it their best when they feel they’re viewed as an expense rather than an asset?
Layers of doubt have crept in. When your beliefs and your faith have been damaged, you lose respect for those you’ve entrusted with your livelihood. When they speak, you doubt they’re telling the truth. And when this bond has been broken, it lowers the level of morale throughout the organization. Trust is a critical part of any relationship, and after it’s been damaged, it usually can’t be restored to the strength it was.

Emotions heat up when trust is broken. When events move faster than they can be managed, the inability to communicate turns into an emotional war. People aren’t willing to slow down to seek a resolution. Broken trust results in people not wanting to listen because they don’t want to be lied to again. This escalates the anger, the resentment and the mistrust, and there’s nothing positive to hold onto, much less build on. That’s when employee behavior can become destructive.

Rebuilding your shop’s inner spirit

The strength of an organization is its inner spirit. When it’s strong, morale is high. Organizations can succeed with productive people committed to delivering quality work. Moreover, the reward of strengthening morale is an internal calmness that focuses people on their jobs, not on worries about “what are they doing to me?”
Still, rebuilding morale is not as simple as writing about it. These seven tips for changing the way you manage your team members to help them restore lost morale can keep them performing at peak levels and help you achieve the success you want.

1

Make human capital an asset, not a liability. The No. 1 thing humans want to feel is that they matter. You can’t make them feel this way with words; it has to become the prevailing behavior in the organization.

People create the product that keeps shops like yours in business. When people don’t feel valued, they don’t care about their work, the quality of your product or service diminishes and business declines. To achieve, people must feel as if they’re part of a family. The members might disagree, but they’re still there for one another. People who know they matter will fight for the organization, not against it.

To Achieve This Step:

• Stop making your bottom line the main focus.
• Take time to talk to your people about their value.
• Encourage your people to bring ideas to management.
• Create an openness to address any issue that can affect morale.

2

When communication stops, conflict occurs. Anything can be resolved when there is open communication. So many times I’ve heard, “Why didn’t they talk to us about all of this? I would have been willing to work with them to find a solution. Don’t they respect us enough to talk to us?”

To Achieve This Step:

• Stay focused on the value of people.
• Treat your people with respect, not just as necessities.
• Educate your people on where improvement is needed.

3

Revisit the purpose of owning a business. Is the purpose of your business just to make a profit? Or is it to build a “presence” through the efforts of committed people where profit is the result? Too many companies lose sight of why they’re in business.

Profit is only a result of the right people coming together with the right product to create value that compels the customer to do business with them. Think of it this way: The longevity of any business is the result of having this presence that is present when you are not present. That takes committed people who are passionate about what they do to bring quality to the creation of the product.

To Achieve This Step:

• Stay focused on the value of your people.
• Treat your people as business partners.
• Express your gratitude to your people for their commitment.

4

Re-create the spirit of family. People who are united in a cause are stronger than people who simply have a job. Outsourcing has become an enemy to the inner strength of the organization. So many outsourcing decisions have been made to add to the bottom line that keeping an internal commitment to the strong “family spirit” has been forgotten. Have you ever watched what greed can do to a family? It destroys the feeling that “We are in this together.” When family no longer matters, negative emotions set in. The result is a feud, not a family.

To Achieve This Step:

• The spirit of togetherness must be strong.
• Those in any position must feel valued by leadership.
• Enthusiasm must be shown
through a caring spirit.

5

Value your people more than the bottom line. I’m not opposed to making a profit; that is the purpose of a business. But when profit is the single most important thing in an organization, people are going to be sacrificed. People are the human capital that produces the dollars that result in profit. When the human capital begins to feel disposable, the inner spirit weakens and this results in the loss of morale.

To Achieve This Step:

• Stay focused on those who created your reputation.
• Treat your people with respect.
• Educate management on the value of their people.

6

Everyone must align around a common agenda. When people are not on the same page, there will be emotional collisions that result in divisions, cliques and a loss of quality. People must feel leadership appreciates them, values what they do and respects the commitment they bring to the organization. When morale is strong, so is the organization.

To Achieve This Step:

• Create solid partnerships within your organization.
• Establish a clear vision so that all members are committed, no matter what their positions are in the business.
• Get them moving forward so that all of them are committed to a common purpose.

7

The internal design of an organization creates what it can deliver. You may think you can replace humans with technology, but this can’t happen. The greatest value an organization has is its human capital. When this is bankrupt, the organization becomes a cold environment where there is little commitment to quality, an exodus of those who are the mental and emotional backbone of the organization and a void of a spirit that says through its behavior, “We care and are here to be the best we can be.”

I believe in advancement through technology. But it is only a tool to help companies become more efficient at what they do, and a tool can’t offer the spirit of human emotions that makes every product a living, breathing part of who and what the organization represents. Without the human touch, an organization can become a cold wasteland where people are merely “tools” to be used. Think that affects morale? Think that affects quality?

To Achieve This Step:

• Appreciate the value a human touch creates.
• Touch the lives of your people in a positive, caring manner.

Conclusion

How important is morale? Just look at what’s happening to companies today, and you’ll see the answer. Isn’t it time we raise our sights from the bottom line to a forward-looking strategy that reinvests in the greatest asset of all: human capital?

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