Subtle Signals That Affect Morale

Assessing the cause of a decline in staff morale can be simple. For example, your firm may have recently announced layoffs or has had so much work that employees have been asked to stay late on a regular basis.

However, just as often, it can be difficult to put your finger on why your team isn’t performing at its best. On these occasions, it’s important to consider the more subtle causes of declining morale—and whether you’re contributing to it. Following are some tips to help foster a more upbeat, open and, ultimately, productive workplace.

Don’t be a Hermit. Even if you have three big deadlines looming, try keeping your door open for at least part of the day. A closed door signals to others that you’re unavailable; worse, in times of change or uncertainty, holding meetings behind closed doors can cause uneasiness among staff members. It may seem far-fetched for a closed door to precipitate paranoid thoughts among your employees, but it can cause staff members to worry about potential layoffs or mistakenly think you’re unhappy with their work.

Don’t be a Grump. You woke up, made your coffee and promptly spilled it all over yourself; now you’re late to work and have a two-inch burn on your arm. Try not to take out your frustrations on your co-workers. Growling a "hello" and shutting yourself into your office will likely cause workers to wonder if they did something to upset you. Instead, rise above your unfortunate beginning. Your efforts will keep everyone’s morale up and, in turn, may even enhance your own mood.

Similarly, when you’re under stress and a staff member approaches you with a question or concern, don’t "bark" at him or her. The person on the receiving end has no idea why you responded in that way and is likely to take it personally. If you’re short with someone, take the time to explain why and apologize. You might avoid the situation in the future by letting staff know when and how (e-mail or in person, for example) to best communicate with you when the pressure is on.

Don’t be a Whiner. Even if you’ve been working 12-hour days and weekends in order to complete a project on time, don’t complain to your staff. It’s one thing to say you’re a bit tired from working so hard. It’s another to complain about how the company doesn’t pay you enough for your efforts. When a manager is discontent, employees can easily become so as well. Instead of spreading negativity, demonstrate diplomacy when faced with difficult deadlines and the resulting long hours. Work often ebbs and flows, and your positive attitude will set a stellar example for employees when they’re asked to go above and beyond.

Don’t be a Drama Queen (or King). Your boyfriend has told you he wants to "cool things down," and you’re still reeling from the discussion when you arrive to work. If you’re close to your staff members, you might think it’s OK to ask some of them for opinions on the matter. It’s best to resist the temptation, however. Your personal life is just that: personal. Let friends and family outside of work be the ones to advise you on the situation. Asking employees to listen to your personal trials and tribulations may not only make them uncomfortable, but also make you appear less professional.

Keep in mind that many of the "don’ts" discussed above have to do with simply communicating more effectively with your employees on a day-to-day basis—and setting a good example for them to follow. By paying attention to the smaller signals that you send, you’ll help create a more positive environment for both you and your staff.

The Creative Group is a specialized staffing service placing creative, advertising, marketing and Web professionals on a project basis with a variety of firms.