Whether you're running a company or a department, it can be easy to focus your attention on your bottom line, increasing production and decreasing cost. Of course, focusing exclusively on money can mean sacrificing time you could spend focusing on your people, and since it is your people who make it possible for you to accomplish your business goals, this is an unacceptable option. So how do you ensure that you maintain office morale, whether the business is thriving or barely surviving? Here are a few ideas borne from lessons I've learned along the way.
Empowering employees can lead not only to a happier workplace but a more productive and innovative workforce. There are a variety of ways to do this, and they can vary depending on the corporate structure or environment, but they all have the same effect: allowing employees to take some ownership over the success of the company.
So how do you make employees feel like the success of the company is, at least in part, up to them? I've seen a few ways work, and there are likely countless others.
- Have "Pitch Day" as often as is reasonable. Pitch Day is a day you set aside every month (or as much as you think makes sense) during which your office is open to all employees. You'd be surprised how much a half-hour of your time means to employees, many of whom would like to one day be in your position. Show them you care about their professional advancement, and they'll show you how much they care about the company.
- When the company performs well, don't celebrate the performance of the company, thank the people who comprise it. The company you work for does nothing on its own, but, professionally speaking, the company you keep can accomplish great things. When workers feel like they are part of the company's success, they thrive.
Encourage a Work/Life Balance
The longer I work, the more it seems like America might be taking a more European approach to work/life balance, and while this may just be wishful thinking, it's a very good thing. There are some companies now that not only require their employees to take a vacation but give their employees money to spend during it. Keeping employees happy often leads to them working harder. It's been shown time and time again. In order to keep your people focused on their work, allow them ample time to escape it.
Incentivize the Whole Team
When it comes to incentivizing work, you have to be careful. What you think might be a friendly sales competition can turn ugly fast. I once worked in an office that had a sales competition. What the winner received I don't remember, but what I do remember is the runner-up wasn't even close to her. The problem was that this meant we spent an entire quarter with one person figuring out a great sales technique, but it was in her best interest not to share that technique. By incentivizing performance, we were incentivizing secrecy. What I have seen work, though, and what would have worked in this instance, was to incentivize team (rather than individual) success. This way, if someone discovers a new tactic, it's in their best interest to share it with their co-workers. This, like all of the techniques for improved office morale I've come across, benefits not only your employees but your bottom line. Remember, incentives don't always have to be monetary.
Show Your Appreciation
This is probably the simplest thing on this list, but it's also the most effective. Especially when times are lean, it can be difficult to figure out a way to keep morale high. Maybe you can't incentivize monetarily (though I've seen simple "Employee of the Month"-type contests work when they're run well), but what you can always do is say "thank you." It's so simple that it can go overlooked. I've heard managers say that a paycheck is thanks enough: These managers are wrong. A paycheck is given in exchange for services, not out of the kindness of your heart. When someone gives you change at a restaurant, you don't thank them for being kind enough to do so; it is what is expected. Keeping employees happy can, at least in part, be accomplished with just a little gratitude for a job well done.