Morale crushers in the workplace

Agility Corporate productivity expert Lizette Bester encourages women to optimise their health this Women’s Month.

Poor staff morale comes at a high price

The relationship between staff morale, productivity and the ultimate success of a business is clearly documented in the corporate success stories of companies such as Apple, Google, Amazon, Walt Disney and Starbucks – all of whom were ranked highly in their respective industries in Fortune Magazine’s World’s Most Admired Companies for 2016. “There is a single golden thread that runs through each of these companies and that is that they understand all too well that it is people rather than profits that build successful companies,” says Lizette Bester, Executive at employee risk management company, Agility Corporate.

“Given the poor state of the economy, busy work schedules and the fact that most companies are to some extent understaffed, it is easier than ever before to come across as a company that believes its workforce should feel grateful for employment, irrespective of whether they find their work fulfilling.

“In our experience, staff who lack job satisfaction may keep their noses to the grindstone, but are unlikely to be inspired to go above and beyond the bare minimum of what is expected of them.

“It is unfortunate that few businesses are paying sufficient attention to whether employees are performing at optimal level and whether or not they are fulfilling their true potential in the workplace.”

Bester adds that issues causing dissatisfaction among employees are more often than not overlooked, generally at the expense of productivity and ultimately at great cost to the success of the business. “Ask any executive why staff members have left the company and they would most likely attribute it to ‘more money’. The same reason is used to explain poor staff morale and general discontent among staff members.”

“Exit interviews the world over, however, tell a very different story,” notes Bester. She lists the main reasons for poor staff morale, resignations and a general lack of productivity as being: boredom and a general lack of challenge, lack of financial stability of their employer, unhappy corporate culture, poor treatment of staff, poor communication and unclear expectations.

“Staff need to feel that their contribution to the business is valuable, and that they are developing their skills and feeling a sense of challenge in their work. In order to achieve this, it is a good idea for managers to get to know the capabilities of everyone in the workforce and to encourage them to take on gradually increasing responsibility as they grow within their role in a company.

“Not only does this help individuals to feel more engaged and boost their morale through increased responsibility, it also conveys the message that there is room for growth within the company.

“This should be reinforced with discussions about career planning with individual staff members, clearly articulating medium- and long-term goals and what the employee needs to do from their side in order to climb higher on the corporate ladder. This being said, some staff members’ ambition may not lie in higher positions, but in more challenging work or moving sideways within a company to take on a fresh set of responsibilities.

“Such conversations help employees to gain a greater sense of connection with the company, and they are more likely to extend themselves, show greater pride in their work and strive to earn greater responsibility,” Bester adds.

“This needs to be carefully balanced, however, so that staff members do not feel like they are unable to accomplish their existing goals before having new responsibilities ‘thrust’ upon them. Emphasis needs to be placed on the importance of communicating clearly with staff to ensure that such new challenges are embraced and seen as inspiring, rather than daunting and demoralising.”

“Once companies start to see the benefits of improved staff morale, employees should feel that their hard work is being acknowledged and rewarded. There are other ways of achieving this than through financial means, and companies can explore creative ways to reward staff without necessarily spending money.

“What kind of incentives can companies provide that will be equally, if not more, appreciated by staff than financial reward for their hard work? Again, communication and the relationship with employees is central to recognising cost effective opportunities for boosting staff morale.

“One common bugbear of office workers, for example, is time spent commuting to and from work. The recently-released TomTom Traffic Index rates Johannesburg the 77th and Cape Town the 47th most congested cities measured in the world.  The study suggests that the average commuter spends an extra 35 minutes per day in traffic in Johannesburg, and an extra 40 minutes per day in Cape Town, relative to non-peak travel times.

“Staff members who arrive at work stressed from negotiating gridlocked traffic may very well appreciate a flexi-time or staggered-starting time arrangement that would allow them to avoid rush hour traffic, either by starting their work day earlier or later than usual office hours.

“In the example of the average Cape Town commuter, an employee who does not have to travel in the rush hours gains an extra 40 minutes of free time without impacting on the amount of time they spend at work,” Bester adds.

“Those 40 minutes might be spent on exercise, for example, and this is not only beneficial in terms of physical wellbeing and stress reduction, but also has the effect of being mentally invigorating. Such workers are likely to be more productive during their working hours and take less sick leave, which naturally benefits the company’s bottom line.

“In order for flexi-time to be a mutually beneficial arrangement for employer and employee alike, however, staff members must be able to demonstrate that they can manage their time effectively,” she observes.

“Whatever the working time arrangement, staff must achieve at least the same quota of work that they are required to get through in a conventional working day. Those who cannot manage their responsibilities when offered some flexibility are, in any case, most likely not the kind of employees who it would be beneficial to retain in the long run.

“The kind of people any business would want in its staff complement are those who are able to find the most efficient route to achieve its goals. Those who capitalise on the benefits of flexibility by taking on additional responsibility will add value in their contribution to the company. Businesses that are serious about improving productivity and retaining quality staff would therefore be well advised to look at creative ways of working with employees to reduce unproductive stress and improve morale,” Bester concluded.