How to improve staff morale: 9 science-backed ways

A woman holding a star to symbolize her happy staff morale

Are we in the midst of an employee morale crisis? A 2020 survey of HR professionals found two in three were struggling with maintaining employee morale1, which makes sense given the current socioeconomic context.

As inflation remains high, savings rates drop and salaries aren't rising fast enough to make up for it, many people feel economically squeezed. Add to that the high burnout rate, and you've got a recipe for negative feelings about one's job.

Happy employees don't just happen; they're the result of your workplace culture and the tools and support mechanisms ingrained in your day-to-day.

If you're interested in how to improve staff morale, we'll dive into the proven, research-based ways to do just that. Plus, we'll show you how Fingerprint for Success (F4S) can enhance your efforts.

Table of contents
What is employee morale?
How to improve staff morale: 9 effective ideas
Benefits of high employee morale
Effects of low company morale
What causes low employee morale
A huge morale boost won't happen overnight – but F4S can help

What is employee morale?

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines morale as "the mental and emotional condition (as of enthusiasm, confidence, or loyalty) of an individual or group with regard to the function or tasks at hand”.

Employee morale, then, is how your employees feel about their job and employer.

How does it differ from employee engagement?

Gallup, the American analytics company that has been measuring engagement since 2000, defines employee engagement as "the involvement and enthusiasm of employees in their work and workplace”.2 Though the two concepts are different, employee morale and employee engagement influence one another8.

Think of it this way: Morale is more about one's enthusiasm or confidence, while engagement is more about one's involvement or participation.

While they are two distinct aspects, they interplay with one another. You won't have positive employee morale if you have low engagement. And similarly, you won't have highly engaged employees with low staff morale.

How to improve staff morale: 9 effective ideas

What can you do to have a positive impact on employee morale in your organization? Let's go over some concrete methods you can apply today to encourage positive morale (these tactics work both for in-office and remote teams).

1. Define your company values and align them to your company culture

Company values are what your organization stands for, and by aligning your employees and their work to those values, you can strengthen positive morale. This is especially true for younger generations of workers.

LinkedIn found that 80% of Gen Z employees want to work for a company that aligns more with their values, compared with 59% of Millennials and 47% of Baby Boomers10.

Most people leaders understand the importance of team culture, but the problem is, there hasn't been an easy, scientific way to measure it. That's where F4S can help you. Our performance platform maps your team culture based on an evidence-based assessment that pinpoints the 48 traits that influence each individual's work and communication styles. Then, we contextualize and visualize this data in the dashboard so you can easily see your team culture and leverage it for optimal performance.

2. Develop a communication strategy

Make your expectations clear to your employees

Whether it's good or bad, constructive feedback is highly desired by your staff. According to Gallup, staff who "strongly agree" that they got "meaningful feedback" in the past week are nearly four times more likely to be engaged than those who did not report the same9.

When your staff knows what's expected of them, this can boost their morale because they now have the confidence to know how to meet your expectations.

Welcome feedback from employees

Do you create a safe place for your employees to provide you and your organization with critical feedback? James Detert, writing for the Harvard Business Review, points to several studies in which he and his colleagues found better performance and higher retention at organizations where employees felt safe to speak their minds3. This is all part of psychological safety, and it's a key ingredient for thriving workplaces.

You can encourage employee feedback by first making it clear to your staff that they won't be punished for being honest, and then creating mechanisms to collect their feedback, whether that's through surveys, Slack channels, or one-on-ones with managers.

Use the right communication tools

If you want to fix poor communication and create a more harmonious workplace, use F4S alongside the right collaboration tools. F4S shines a light on your employees' unique communication styles, equipping you with tips on how to convey information to each individual in a way that motivates them.

We'll then show you how you can supplement this knowledge with tools like Slack, Trello, or Miro to optimize communication and work performance. Healthy communication and strong collaboration are morale boosters that will make a huge difference in your teams.

3. Encourage employee growth and development

If your people don't see a future with your company, that's sure to have a negative impact on employee retention. In fact, a 2022 McKinsey report found that "a lack of career development" is a major reason employees quit4.

Use coaching to develop employee soft skills

Give your employees development opportunities by encouraging them to use F4S to develop their soft skills and meet their career goals.

Just have them take the F4S assessment, which will then grant them access to a detailed report on how they score across 48 work motivation traits.

F4S dashboard shows motivations to help improve staff morale
F4S dashboard

From there, they can get personalized online coaching from AI Coach Marlee on subjects such as increasing emotional intelligence, boosting their attention to detail, and improving team building.

Train your managers to become better coaches

In this market, L&D budgets are shrinking, but there are affordable (and even free!) ways to help managers become better coaches. Coaching begins with understanding an employee's goals, strengths, and blind spots. You can do this by starting with the free F4S assessment, which will evaluate an employee's unique affinities and give you a wealth of data to work with when coaching them.

Further, your managers can do their own coaching with Coach Marlee to better understand how to step into their personal power and become more effective leaders for their direct reports.

4. Make employee recognition a habit

Whether you create a formal recognition program or just make it a point to say thank you more often, showing employee appreciation will help boost the levels of employee morale in your workplace.

And these interventions don't have to be costly or grand. A recent study by the Happier, Healthier Professionals (HHP) research program in the UK found that doing small things, such as having senior leaders write personal letters to staff or giving staff access to free coffee and tea, boosted social workers' sense of feeling valued5.

5. Employee engagement ideas

Does team building work? It can! One study based on 60 correlations found that team building has a positive effect on team outcomes6. It’s all about knowing how to do it effectively. Here are a few ideas to develop strong morale among employees:

Have your team participate in a coaching program together

Want to boost the level of morale on a specific team?

Start by creating a F4S account and then create a team. Invite your team members to take the free assessment. Everyone on your team will see their motivations on a scale and understand which tasks at work energize them and which ones can be draining.

You’ll also get an overview of your team culture—what’s important to them and what motivates them. Other insights include how team members differ in their approach and what brings enjoyment and flow—and that’s just the beginning.

Accelerate understanding between teams

Breadth

An illustration of a woman holding a circle object on her hand.

Motivated by macro big picture thinking, these teammates value moving quickly to connect dots between abstract ideas to 'get the gist' of things.

Chart showing rage from Average, High and Ver High.

vs

Depth

An illustration of a woman holding and using a protractor on her right hand.

These teammates value being concrete and specific, getting into details to understand the steps or tasks required.

Chart showing rage from Average, High and Ver High.

See the different work styles in your team

Take the free assessment & set up your team

Then take our online Team Building program with Coach Marlee (it's free!), where they'll learn how to leverage each others’ strengths, overcome blind spots and connect better as a group. As one participant put it: "The Team Building program helped us resolve long-standing friction and misunderstandings in the team. Great experience for everyone involved!“

Invite employees to share skills

Here at F4S, our CEO Michelle Duval invites anyone from the team to host their own ‘masterclass’ to share their skills with the rest of the organization. For example, our CFO ran a masterclass on how to build personal wealth, and our Head of Ops ran one on how to create a work blueprint for a healthier work-life balance.

Sharing skills has been a great way to learn about our colleagues and bond as a team. Plus, it demonstrates how our company leaders genuinely care about every individual, beyond just profit and KPIs.

Encourage employee-led initiatives

Is someone on your team itching to start a bowling league? Does someone else want to spearhead a running group? Encourage your employees to pursue their passions alongside their teammates as a way to show you care about their interests and to help them bond as a team.

6. Promote work-life balance among employees

Better work-life balance promotes better job performance7  but with remote work on the rise, work and personal matters tend to meld into one. So how can you help encourage work-life balance? Here are some ideas:

  • Encourage employees to take a real lunch break. No more eating at the desk while they fire off emails. Let employees know that you actually want them to clock out and eat their meal in peace.
  • Have a no-work-after-hours policy. When employees go home or log off for the day, make sure they actually physically and mentally clock out. Make it clear that they aren't supposed to send emails, answer calls, or finish up any work once they're at home.
  • Explore flexible work schedules. Whether you create a hybrid work environment or allow employees to set their own work hours – flexible schedules can help promote a healthy work-life balance. For example, one Michigan company (Southwest Counseling Solutions) switched to a four-day workweek (Monday through Thursday) and saw a boost in morale and productivity11.

7. Take a human approach to the employee experience

It's simple in theory but uncommon in practice: Treat your people like people and not machines. How? Here at F4S, our team has a policy where we openly discuss personal life events, such as when one of our engineers celebrates his recent graduation. And bad news is never taboo. If someone is grieving or not feeling mentally well, we want to hear about it. We even have Slack channels dedicated to talking about non-work info.

And all of this has great benefits: This human relations theory approach leads to greater retention, productivity, and engagement.

8. Incorporate gratitude practices into the flow of work

Gratitude boosts resilience, and resilience is what helps one bounce back after stressful life events. At F4S, our leadership team encourages and invites everyone to share what they're thankful for (both personal and professional) in all staff meetings and stand-ups. By building a gratitude ritual into our work routine, we actively boost office morale.

9. Promote workplace diversity and inclusion

What does DEI mean to your organization? Understanding its importance and then finding ways to operationalize it will do wonders for your company culture as well as give a morale boost. Your employees care about this, especially if they're a younger generation. A recent Monster survey found that 83% of Gen Z job candidates are looking for an employer that shows they're committed to diversity and inclusion12.

But how can you put this into practice?

Practice inclusive leadership

Researchers published a study in the Human Resource Management Review that outlined four key aspects of inclusive leadership13:

  1. Fostering employee uniqueness
  2. Strengthening belongingness within a team
  3. Supporting organizational efforts
  4. Showing appreciation

One way you can foster employee uniqueness is through the F4S dashboard's ‘Differences’ tab. This maps out the diverse perspectives among a team, helping you celebrate the unique views each person brings to the table.

Use F4S to help build a cognitively diverse team

Cognitive diversity refers to the way people reason, think, and solve problems in unique ways. And yes, it creates stronger teams. However, getting used to collaborating with people who take a different perspective than you can feel uncomfortable at first – but that's not a bad thing.

You can use F4S, particularly the Culture Map feature, to identify potential friction points and learn how to overcome them so you can leverage each other's strengths.

Benefits of high employee morale

Boosts employee retention

When your staff feel confident and have positive associations to their job role and work environment, you'll have high employee satisfaction. Highly satisfied employees stick around. A 2020 study published in the International Journal of Economics, Commerce and Management found a positive link between job satisfaction and employee retention14.

Improves performance

A study published in Work and Occupations found that the higher the office morale, the higher the work effort15. This makes sense, as feeling confident in one's work can be a huge motivator for going above and beyond.

Encourages team bonding

High-morale employees are happy to be at work, so they're much more likely to want to bond as a team, including participating in team-building activities and sharing personal life anecdotes.

Effects of low company morale

Toxic work culture

Toxic workplaces come with a hefty price tag. A recent report on workplace culture revealed that the cost of turnover is about $223 billion over the past five years and almost one in five employees have quit due to poor culture in the past five years16.

Negative attitudes, high stress levels, a lack of recognition and rising employee burnout are all symptoms of a workplace that might be toxic. And these are all potential results of low company morale.

High employee turnover

As mentioned earlier, employees with low morale tend to leave workplaces, especially when there's a bad work culture. Low morale can contribute to high turnover rates.

Decreased productivity

If your teams don't feel confident and positive about their job and work environment, they're not going to go the extra mile to produce their best work.

Low employee engagement

Again, when office morale is low, you're likely to see plummeting employee engagement rates because staff won't feel motivated to participate in their job role or in team-building activities.

What causes low employee morale

Lack of appreciation

According to a 2022 Engagement and Retention Report from Achievers Workforce Institute, feeling valued and supported is a major driver of retention for more than half of employees – but 41% of employees don't feel valued in the workplace17.

Poor leadership

If company leaders don't communicate with staff and don't show genuine interest and care for them can contribute to low office morale.

Lack of growth opportunities

Remember what we touched on earlier: a lack of career development is a major driver of turnover. If you don't map out a clear plan for employee development and advancement, employees will have negative feelings about their work, as it can all start to feel like a dead end.

Layoff anxiety

Due to the rise in layoffs in the past year, layoff anxiety is high, especially among tech employees and remote workers18. This can contribute to low workplace morale, as staff are constantly wondering if they're the next to be let go.

Employee burnout

A 2022 Deloitte survey found that 77% of full-time workers in the US had experienced burnout at their job19. A lack of work-life balance can contribute to feelings of burnout, which is why finding ways to establish healthy boundaries in the workplace is critical to employee well-being.

A huge morale boost won't happen overnight – but F4S can help

If you're reading this article, it's a good sign that you understand the importance of high levels of employee morale. Having motivated employees who feel connected to each other and your organization will pay dividends in the long run. It won't happen overnight, but by implementing these evidence-based strategies, you'll see a marked difference in your staff.

The easiest place to start? The free F4S assessment. Based on more than 20 years of research, it'll lend you valuable insights into what motivates (and demotivates) your team, so you can start boosting morale today.

Boost your staff morale and increase team building

Start by inviting your team to take the assessment. Then bond over your team’s motivations and preferences and compare their results on our real-time dashboard. Use those insights to engage your team, create a healthy culture, and improve staff morale.

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1. (2020) 'Covid-19 Research: How the Pandemic Is Challenging and Changing Employers'. Available at: SHRM https://shrm.org/hr-today/trends-and-forecasting/research-and-surveys/Documents/SHRM%20CV19%20Research%20Presentation%20Release%202.pdf

2. 'What Is Employee Engagement and How Do You Improve It'. Available at: Gallup https://www.gallup.com/workplace/285674/improve-employee-engagement-workplace.aspx

3. Detert, J and Burris, E. (2016) 'Can Your Employees Really Speak Freely?'. Available at: Harvard Business Review https://hbr.org/2016/01/can-your-employees-really-speak-freely

4. De Smet, A, et al. (2022) 'The Great Attrition is making hiring harder. Are you searching the right talent pools?'. Available at: McKinsey & Company https://www.mckinsey.com/capabilities/people-and-organizational-performance/our-insights/the-great-attrition-is-making-hiring-harder-are-you-searching-the-right-talent-pools

5. (2021) 'Happier, Healthier Professionals: Small scale interventions to improve social worker well-being'. Available at: What Works for Children’s Social Care. https://whatworks-csc.org.uk/research-report/happier-healthier-professionals-small-scale-interventions-to-improve-social-worker-well-being/

6. Klein, C, et al. (2009) 'Does Team Building Work?. Available at: ResearchGate. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/220030881_Does_Team_Building_Work

7. Haider, S, et al. (2018) 'Moderated Mediation between Work Life Balance and Employee Job Performance: The Role of Psychological Wellbeing and Satisfaction with Coworkers'. Available at: Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology. https://journals.copmadrid.org/jwop/art/jwop2018a4

8. Bailey C, Madden A, Alfes K, et al. (2015) 'Evaluating the evidence on employee engagement and its potential benefits to NHS staff: a narrative synthesis of the literature.'. Available at: National Library of Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK299339/

9. McLain, D and Nelson, B. (2022) 'How Fast Feedback Fuels Performance'. Available at: Gallup. https://www.gallup.com/workplace/357764/fast-feedback-fuels-performance.aspx

10. Anders, G. (2022) 'Is Gen Z the boldest generation? Its job-hunt priorities are off the charts'. Available at: LinkedIn. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/gen-z-boldest-generation-its-job-hunt-priorities-off-charts-anders/?trackingId=pwWrCQQ1SiG9Yds3hH8gUg%3D%3D

11. McDonald, C. (2023) 'Detroit company implements 4 day workweek and sees improved productivity, employee morale'. Available at: ClickOnDetroit. https://www.clickondetroit.com/news/local/2023/05/10/detroit-company-implements-4-day-workweek-and-sees-improved-productivity-employee-morale/

12. 'What workforce diversity means for Gen Z'. Available at: Monster. https://hiring.monster.com/resources/workforce-management/diversity-in-the-workplace/workforce-diversity-for-millennials/

13. Korkmaz, A, et al. (2022) 'About and beyond leading uniqueness and belongingness: A systematic review of inclusive leadership research'. Available at: ScienceDirect. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S105348222200002X

14. Biason, R. (2020) 'The Effect of Job Satisfaction on Employee Retention'. Available at: ResearchGate. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/339974603_THE_EFFECT_OF_JOB_SATISFACTION_ON_EMPLOYEE_RETENTION

15. Weakliem, D, and Frenkel, S. (2006) 'Morale and Workplace Performance'. Available at: ResearchGate. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/258200282_Morale_and_Workplace_Performance

16. (2019) 'SHRM Reports Toxic Workplace Cultures Cost Billions'. Available at: SHRM. https://www.shrm.org/about-shrm/press-room/press-releases/pages/shrm-reports-toxic-workplace-cultures-cost-billions.aspx

17. (2022) '2022 Engagement and Retention Report'. Available at: Achievers Workforce Institute. https://www.achievers.com/resources/white-papers/workforce-institute-2022-engagement-and-retention-report/

18. Killham, E. (2022) 'New Research Reveals Growing Layoff Anxiety and Ways to Combat It'. Available at: Perceptyx. https://blog.perceptyx.com/new-research-reveals-growing-layoff-anxiety-and-ways-to-combat-it

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