The Long Win: How to Improve Employee Morale

By Daniel Matthews

It’s easy to miss what’s right in front of you.

A business is an investment. You want it to succeed. You pour everything you can into it.

But while you’re ensuring your return-on-investment makes the venture worthwhile, it’s easy to forget one fundamental truth: Employees aren’t an investment—they’re people.

Is this what’s wrong with modern business?

The mistake is oh-so-common.

Because hiring, training, and keeping employees is an expenditure, they become numbers.

Even the term human resources implies people are little more than things.

A resource is something you use to achieve a goal.

People become a means to an end. The end is profits.

But people are not the means. They are the end.

Profits are merely the means by which we afford to live and thrive.

The crux of the situation is this: You need a good ROI so the people in your organization can afford to thrive.

In order to hit tis, the people in your organization must have high morale.

The ROI of High Employee Morale

Morale is the confidence, enthusiasm, and discipline of a person or group.

Two statistics jump out from a Marketing Innovators white paper:

  • Companies with high employee morale outperform industry counterparts by about 20 percent.
  • Emphasizing high employee morale, satisfaction, and engagement yields a 47 percent increase in market value.

If employees have high morale, they’re engaged at work.

But 70 percent of U.S. employees are unengaged.

Companies with highly engaged employees enjoy 147 percent higher earnings per share than companies with the normal level of (low) engagement.

Are you interested in improving your employees’ morale and engagement?

According to research from Washington State University, there are four factors that drive employee motivation:

  1. Desire to acquire;
  2. Desire to bond;
  3. Desire to defend; and
  4. Desire to understand.

Desire to Acquire

Employees will respond if you give them a challenge and a reason to do so.

The research says 86 percent of employers recognize this and have incentive programs.

Why, then, are 70 percent of employees unengaged?

It could be that businesses are offering the wrong kinds of incentives.

If the goal is to hit the numbers to get a monetary reward, employees won’t be motivated unless the reward continues to increase.

They get used to the regular reward as if it’s part of their paycheck.

Gamification, on the other hand, recognizes our innate desire to compete and hit checkpoints, upping the ante each time.

There are multiple gamification software options.

But if software isn’t within the scope of your business, gamify the experience in other ways.

Set up friendly competitions and establish achievable goals for individuals so they strive to beat their previous numbers.

Give them instant feedback.

Make work fun by establishing all sorts of checkpoints and levels, even if they’re minuscule improvements. Include rewards and tokens of appreciation.

Desire to Bond  

In a study from the Mayo Clinic on weight loss, people lost more weight when they were in a group.

Because we’re social beings, other people oftentimes motivate us better than we can do ourselves.

Give employees plenty of chances to nurture relationships at company get-togethers and volunteer programs.

Acknowledge friendships in your interactions.

Laugh with them, chat with them, have a drink with them after work.

They’ll associate the meaning inherent in friendship with your company.

Desire to Defend

If employees feel like they’re part of a family, they will defend your business to the death.

This isn’t just about bonding; it’s about ownership.

A sense of ownership comes with responsibility and trust from the leader.

Here’s the good thing: If you gamify work and bond with employees the desire to defend, the loyalty will follow.

That’s because gamification steadily increases levels of responsibility.

Bonding prioritizes good communication.

Desire to Understand

When you prioritize communication and bonding, you create understanding.

The Appnovation co-op program provides a good example.

The office layout is “open and free.”

Co-workers are in close proximity to one another and everyone is “casual, friendly, and welcoming.”

Although the co-op employee doesn’t understand all the intimate details of the business right away, the open environment and his interactions with others give him a sense of understanding.

USC Dornsife points out that companies such as Mozilla, Facebook, and Google have adopted an “alternative” workspace model to increase productivity.

This is a model in which “employees are able to decide how and where they would like to work.”

Think about setting up an open and free workspace.

Model transparent, casual communication within the space and you’ll create a culture of understanding.

Consider a Shortened Work Week

A shortened work week asks employees to work smarter and harder.

It also gives them more personal time, therefore increases employee morale.

Who doesn’t want more of that?

Business Insider points out that a shorter work week could achieve the following:

  • Make people healthier by cutting stress, thereby improving morale;
  • Help employees focus;
  • Improve productivity through empowerment (and more sleep);
  • Waste less time; and
  • Help us compete with economies (such as Germany) that have fewer people, work less, but produce more.

Germany is the 17th biggest nation, but has the fourth largest economy.

A shorter work week also creates a healthy sense of urgency.

The Germans work 1,436 hours a year compared to our 1,804.

Per capita, the country rivals our productivity, and they mandate six weeks of vacation time annually.

In Sweden, they’re experimenting with six hour work days.

A startup called Brath “produces as much if not more than its competitors” and they claim it’s because of concentrated creativity.

Brath’s six hour day, and the accompanying morale boost, attracts better employees and helps the company keep them.

Prioritize Communication

The Marketing Innovators paper I cited earlier made this key finding:

Communication was identified as the single key organizational characteristic for explaining employee satisfaction; employee satisfaction is a key antecedent to employee engagement, and companies with engaged employees have customers who use their products more often, resulting in greater profitability.

Increase profitability through open and frequent communication.

Do you have introverted employees?

Draw them out with open communication.

Ask them questions.

They’ll feel you value their opinion even though they don’t express it that often.

The Bottom Line

What’s great about improving employee morale to increase ROI?

It’s a simple idea, and simple ideas are the best.

You’ve got your concept, you’ve got your people.

What more do you need?

image credit: shutterstock

Daniel Matthews

Daniel Matthews is a writer, part-time social worker, and musician who loves to explore topics ranging from technology to business culture and psychology. He has written for Social Media Today, Triple Pundit, Smart Data Collective, and YFS Magazine, among others. He is currently working on a book of poems.

View all posts by Daniel Matthews