Turnover. Theft. Sick time. These are just a few ways poor morale manifests itself in the workplace. Data shows that most employees leave a boss not a job. Data also shows that stealing office supplies is actually less costly to the company that stolen time. Water cooler talk, extra long lunches, and lengthy hallway conversations are examples of stolen company time. There’s a difference between hallway conversations that foster collaboration versus those that fuel the rumor mill. But how do you, or can you – the boss – tell the difference?
Some companies spend thousands of dollars to survey and test for employee morale. From an informal Survey Monkey to much more formal nationally recognized surveys, companies try to measure the engagement level of their employees on an ongoing basis. What’s important to note is that these are only tools. Best case they are a snapshot in time. Worst case they are the result of highly skeptical employees providing the responses they think “big brother” is expecting. Truth be told – and a truth many companies don’t want to acknowledge – is that most employees are highly suspicious of these “confidential surveys”. I’ve worked in more than half a dozen firms where these survey’s were used and employee sentiment is generally the same everywhere. This means that the results produced by these surveys are potentially flawed. It also suggests to employees that it’s easier for management to send a survey rather than engaging them directly.
If you really want to know what’s happening in your business be courageous and try doing these 3 things:
- Skip Level Meetings. These are meetings where the boss meets with employees one ot two levels down in the reporting structure. These meetings are meant to be informal. The goal is to establish trust and to work to let the employee know how much the leader cares about them and their team’s morale.
- Town Hall Lunch & Learns. Keep groups small, no larger than 20 employees. The speaking executive or manager should present a short “State of the Union.” At the end of the presentation turn it over to the employees for questions. If there are no questions the executive should work to engage the audience by asking for their opinions and why they feel the way they do.
- Management by Walking Around. Abraham Lincoln was perhaps the first leader to practice this tactic. It provides the leader with direct insight into the day-to-day workings of a business. It also allows the leader to be seen as engaged and “in the fight” alongside their employees.
Whether you decide to try one, or all three, the key is to be authentic. Employees know when you’re running through the motions. They can spot inauthentic leaders a mile a way. If you really don’t care, nor are willing to take action to address concerns you may hear, you’re better off not doing any of these things. Of course if that’s the case you already know just how unhappy your employees already are. Remember they’re only modeling what they see from their leaders. Care deeply, act deliberately.