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5 Simple Ways to Manage Employee Morale During Company Change

Budget cuts and hiring freezes are likely to affect employee morale and overall workplace productivity. So are social and personal tensions. How are you responding?
5 Simple Ways to Manage Employee Morale During Company Change
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The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) is a government agency that oversees international broadcasting operations. What's interesting about the BBG is that the agency has been at or near the bottom in the “Best Places to Work in the Federal Government” ratings since 2007, thanks to low employee morale.

Related: Seven Ways to Boost Employee Morale

The agency has finally started to take action, hosting employee morale-boosting events like after-work gatherings, bake-offs and raffles. These are just a few efforts, though: It still has a lot more work to do.

That work needs to entail change that comes from leadership and covers all areas of the organization. And one major component to work on is trust.

The 2016 Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement report from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that 55 percent of employees surveyed rated trust between employees and senior management as very important to their job satisfaction, but only 27 percent said that they were satisfied with this kind of trust at their organization.

In fact, trust is crucial to running a successful organization, especially during workplace changes. Outside forces that dynamically change policies, procedures, finances and even job security may also drastically change the climate of the workplace for employees. Those stressors come in many forms and affect each person differently.

For example, budget cuts and hiring freezes are likely to affect employee morale and overall workplace productivity. Social and personal tensions can strain co-worker relations, causing turbulence in projects that require teamwork.

Good managers need to understand, then, how these factors impact employees, and to find ways to combat them to boost the overall mood of their teams and maintain good performance.

Here are several ways to manage employee morale during significant changes at your company:

1. Keep communication open.

Transparency is always a best practice, but it is especially beneficial during major changes in the workplace. When management doesn’t openly address big company news, employees feel left in the dark.

Related: Ignoring Employee Morale Will Cost You. Here's the Solution.

This is where gossip can get creative and out of hand. The staff may start to fill in the blanks with negative falsehoods and spread rumors.

To combat this, host open discussions to invite questions. Present upcoming changes and show employees how they’re involved in the company’s changes. These discussions should be regularly scheduled. And they should be designed as an open dialogue between all levels of leadership and employees.

2. Remind them they’re valued.

One of the biggest mistakes managers make is overlooking the power of recognition. A September 2016 Leadership IQ study found that most employees participating weren't sure if they were doing a good job.

Employees' morale hinges on whether or not they feel valued by their employers. Managers need to design an employee recognition program that is ongoing and consistent, even as changes arise.

Importantly, don’t leave the staff guessing. If they don’t know where they stand just as a lot of changes start to occur, they might assume worst-case scenarios. For example, when a hiring freeze is implemented, employees may assume that downsizing will follow. Make sure they know that they are meeting expectations and that their jobs are secure.

3. Emphasize the importance of fun.

Major changes can remind employees that a lot of aspects in their career are out of their control. All the more reason why, when an organization is forced to downsize, that the leadership should focus on showing its dedication to the employees.

Do this by surprising teams with half-days or long weekends off. Call an impromptu meeting on a Friday and share all the successes and accomplishments employees have recently earned. Then reveal that employees' "next project" is to take a long weekend off.

Schedule walking meetings at fun places, like a doughnut shop or a local brewery, or take a hike through the mountains. Getting out of the office is exciting, and it helps build employee morale and a strong team bond. These fun surprises will demonstrate that, despite recent changes, management remains loyal to its current staff.  

4. Work on team-building.

Tensions will arise during times of change, so it’s important to keep employees close with one other and with management. Leadership should invest in ways to develop unity among the members of a team under pressure.

Sign employees up for an "escape" room or create a fun themed one in the office. Encourage collaboration by hosting games in the office. For example, you could break the workforce into teams to build and race derby cars for a corporate-sponsored charity event. This encourages creative problem-solving and teamwork for a greater cause.

Your staff should also be encouraged to share who they are individually, and to let their personalities shine. Start an "about me" wall, where employees recount stories on sticky notes and place them under categories on a white board. These topics could be “my first day,” “personal hobbies,” “most proud moment” or “biggest work project.”

Have your team read them together and discuss their personal experiences. Employees need to relate to one another to stay unified during turbulent times of change, and these exercises are perfect for facilitating that connection.

5. Create more positive workplace energy.

The design of the workplace has an impact on employee morale as well. Don’t just hang motivational posters and add fake plants. Employees need to feel comfortable where they work, especially when there’s a lot of stress about upcoming big changes.

Offer some fun perks, like a healthy snack bar and a relaxation room, to make the office more comfortable. Play uplifting music throughout the day to keep employees positive and motivated.

Related: 4 Ways to Personalize the Employee Experience

Give the staff a gong or bell to ring for achievements, like a customer compliment or a big sale. This kind of fun, peer-to-peer recognition is contagious. Once your staffers focus on the positives and stay dedicated to doing their best, they will be less worried about the external pressures unfolding, and more inclined to focus on how they can contribute to company growth.

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