23 Ideas for Improving Employee Morale in the Workplace

41 min read

I need to brag a little. Not about accomplishments or status, but the fact that I love what I do, and I love who I do it for. Personal morale is high, and it feels good. Not that I expect you to care, really. I simply want to make it known that a job you enjoy doing does exist. It’s not a myth. In fact, there are many others like me. It’s attainable. And while you don’t care about me, you care about yourself, and you should care about the team around you. So when you hear something like 50% of the workforce is disengaged, and another 18% is actively disengaged (meaning they are consciously causing problems at their company due to low morale), there’s a good chance that you or someone on your team isn’t quite in the mood to brag at the moment.

What I’m sharing here is that building employee motivation and morale in the workplace is possible. It’s not just a matter of getting people to be happier at work, but also confident and enthusiastic, and even to the point where they look forward to going into the office (most days). I’ve been happy with every position I’ve held, but when it clicks, you realize what you had was good, but what you have is near-perfect.

That’s not to say when you have high morale in the workplace, there aren’t ups and downs—there are still plenty. And I’m certainly not immune to Mondays. That’s life. And of course, while you want your team feeling good, you also want them operating at peak efficiency. It's impossible for employees to be as good as they can be when there isn't the motivation to do so because of poor morale.

So, for those in management, try your best to really think about whether or not you’re implementing these activities as morale boosters. Many of you might think you are, but you aren’t. And worse, many of you might say you are, but you aren’t. For everyone else, think about whether or not your company is living up to the standard they should be. If not, push for change.

Some office morale ideas to help boost positivity in the workplace (and keep it high):

  1. Encourage Innovation (Duh)
  2. Don't Abuse Email
  3. Don't Be a Morale Extinguisher
  4. Rip Off the Band-Aid
  5. Team-Build When You "Team-Build"
  6. Explore Non-Cash Rewards
  7. Circle Back After Big Projects
  8. Treat People Like People
  9. Showcase Your Trophies
  10. Invest in Training
  11. Be Transparent with Promotions
  12. Offer PTO & Let People Use It
  13. Embrace Your Inner-Child
  14. Volunteer
  15. Be Stingy with Meeting Time
  16. Set SMART Goals & Follow-Up
  17. Don't Sugar Coat
  18. Shuffle Roles
  19. Redefine the Work Week
  20. Be Competitive with Compensation
  21. Be the Best Example
  22. Embrace Spontaneity
  23. Gamify Wellness

1. Encourage innovation, and don’t just sit on new ideas. The people you hired to do their job just might actually have valuable input. Do you watch Shark Tank? Great show. What makes it awesome? Seeing the excitement an entrepreneur has for an idea, the follow-through in making it their reality, and then the genuine look of “I did it!” when that idea is invested in. Seeing others succeed is inspiring, giving you the belief that you too can take a project from imagination to tangibility. Now, imagine a Shark Tank-esque way of soliciting employee ideas for change within the company—whether that’s a new product offering or an entirely new process or way of doing things. Talk about empowerment. How to do it: In the midst of projects and deadlines, I know it might be tough to dedicate time and energy to something outside the “norm.” But it’s really not as difficult as it might seem, and the benefits are plentiful. A previous company of mine went about it like this:

  • Gauge interest in the idea with company-wide communication.
  • Set the rules, pick a date a few months out, and assemble your judging panel.
  • Open a Google sheet and ask employees to sign-up and state project details.
  • Choose participants (you might need multiple “tanks” based on interest).
  • Host the event, inviting the entire company (most will probably show up).
  • Allow the audience and judges to make comments and ask questions.
  • Choose an idea from what was presented, and off you go.

office shark tank When selecting presenters and proposed ideas, be ready to allocate resources to at least one of them. The last thing you want is to go through all of this, only to leave your people with “Thanks! We will get back to you.” So deflating. In the end, just letting your people know there is an outlet for their ideas (other than an anonymous suggestion box) is uplifting. In such a scenario, knowing the outlet was there just made you think differently about what you would change if you had the chance. Here is an example of another company putting on their “internal Shark Tank.” And yes, there is such thing as idea management software if you wanted a better way to track ideas regularly. If not a “Shark Tank,” consider setting aside time for innovation in any capacity. A company called PCInnovAtion implements a “15% Time Policy,” which allows employees to use up to 15 percent of their time to generate innovative ideas. That’s cool. 2. Email is great, but every little thing doesn’t require an email, and do your best communicate via other means, too. I was at a point in my work life, at multiple companies, where every “I’m going to the dentist” email or “Woo hoo! So and so; good job on doing your job!” message disrupted me more than email ever should. Don’t get me wrong. It’s important to let others know when you’ll be out of pocket. And, publicly recognizing achievements is one of the top ways of improving employee morale and efficiency (you’ll see below)! But, email alerts can easily become frustrating, leading to less time for actual work. In fact, an argument can be made that 70% of your time at work is wasted, and I’d bet email plays a big role in such a staggering stat. There is certainly a better way. How to do it: At Xactly, we use email, of course. But, we also utilize other means of communication. A Slack channel for the marketing team specifically, another channel for fun and random messaging, etc. Slack is also where we give each other virtual high-fives, tell team members we will be out of the office, and communicate weekly priorities (and coordinate important events like Halloween, as shown below), without clogging up inboxes.

Then, we use Asana for any specific project communications. This allows email to be used primarily for all-company and external communication, and any other major topics that need to be circulated. This helps cut down the need to constantly check email, knowing you’ll be notified if something important comes across. Learn more about how we waste time on email.

slack communication screenshot 3. Worse than not boosting morale is being a morale extinguisher. Publicly recognize employees or staff for hitting their goals or being outstanding employees; if not, you might be on your way to smothering such great behavior. So much of morale is rooted in expectations. If an employee does a good job and is a great team member, it’s human nature for them to expect some sort of positive feedback, right? So, when it doesn’t happen, think of where that might lead them (hint, a path of negativity). The questions of “Why do I work so hard?” start to come into play fast and furious, and it’s not a good thing. You’ll find this specific tip of publicly recognizing staff on most lists, which if anything, signifies its importance. It almost doesn’t need to be said because it’s not so much a tip as it is a must-have. Did you know that when organizations have a strategic recognition program they report a mean employee turnover rate that is 23.4% lower than retention at companies without any recognition program. That’s significant. How to do it: At Xactly, we use quarterly "All Hands Meetings" as the time to recognize employees who have shown outstanding contribution to the organization. While recipients enjoy the accompanying gift card, it’s the recognition in front of peers and executives that leaves a lasting, positive impact and the motivation to do more.

You have to be careful, though. Ensure you’re recognizing the right people in order to avoid taking a hit with morale. It’s much worse to recognize the wrong person for the wrong reason than to not recognize any one at all. In a perfect world, you’re putting the spotlight on those who deserve it, and when that happens, other employees celebrate with that person – not turn their nose-up in response – and even strive to do better themselves so they make it to the winner’s circle the next time around.

4. If you put a band-aid on a bad situation, and that situation just isn’t healing in the manner you’d like, it’s time to rip off the band-aid and try something different. I love the saying “addition by subtraction.” When you have a problem team member, it can really wreak havoc across the organization, no matter how closely this person works with others. The longer the behavior continues, the more it festers, the more people talk, and the more problems arise. Recognizing a problem and taking action sooner than later does wonders for team motivation and morale—and the bottom line given that disengaged employees cost the U.S. between 450 and 550 billion dollars every single year. Bummer.

How to do it: Being a touchy subject, it’s really something you have to feel out for yourself. The only thing I can offer is that I can almost guarantee you’ll be saying “why didn’t we do that earlier” once you begin to experience the positive relief.

5. Team-building should be more than a free day out of the office. An oldie but goodie, and still something every organization should consider on a regular basis. Team-building can take many forms, and can be anything from a full day out of the office to a monthly hour-long lunch and learn. However, it’s not just the act of giving a “break” to your team by doing something fun. By interacting with coworkers you might only see in passing or when a deadline is near, you open the channels of communication when everyone returns to the office. You make “hellos” and “goodbyes” more commonplace, and you instill confidence for your team to give constructive feedback, and the mindset to receive it. How to do it (right): It seems basic, but to really get the most out of teambuilding, try as best as possible to:

  • Include everyone on the team, not just a select few.
  • Crowd-source ideas for outings to earn maximum buy-in.
  • Don’t cancel or change plans if you can avoid it.
  • Be sure to revisit the lessons learned every now and then.

6. Money is a good motivator, but you might even get more out of rewards of the non-cash variety.

Because non-cash rewards need to be consumed, they offer a tangible experience that is simply missing with cash rewards. employee incentives capture Non-cash rewards are great for boosting employee morale because they allow employees to be rewarded for their hard work, yes, but also because employees can physically experience their reward (in the form of a trip, concert, or other non-cash employee perks). They then return to the workplace rejuvenated and ready to tackle the next challenge. If you strictly stick to cash, you might see most people using their “rewards” to pay a bill or pad their savings; good things, but not very exciting.

How to do it: The number one thing is to make sure you personalize the rewards for the recipient. Doing so simply lets your employees know that you’re aware of their individual contributions, and that you’re interested in not only keeping them performing at high levels, but that they’re happy and fulfilled as well.

7. The last task in any major project should be circling back at the end in order to debrief and talk about results. One of the most frustrating things I’ve ever experienced is going through a project or task, not having it go as planned for whatever reason, and not being able to pass that feedback along before the next task is started…only to experience the same issue yet again, and so on.   Debriefing will allow you to recap while items are top of mind, and allows people to voice any concerns instead of burying frustration until it’s detrimental. In addition, don’t be afraid to circle back on past projects. Is the outcome what you had expected? How to do it: Some of the most successful circle backs I have had were collaborative, incorporating an activity like soliciting sticky notes from your team that each state one thing that worked, and one thing that can be improved upon, and so on.

When giving feedback, it is usually most effective when given following manner: “Barbara (specific person), making edits at the last-minute (specific behavior) makes things difficult because it opens up the door for error (specific reason).

8. Treat people like people. Period. End of story. This is probably the biggest no-brainer on the list, but it doesn’t hurt as a reminder for all of us. We all have our own lives and unique sets of circumstances. We all have problems, issues, and mentioned above, bad days. Things go right, sometimes they go wrong. When things don’t go as planned or when mistakes are made, take it as an opportunity to give feedback and form it into a learning experience. How to do it: Treat people like people. When in doubt, put yourself in their shoes to truly understand how they might respond to the feedback you’re giving, whether it’s positive or negative.

9. Show your people off to upper management and cast the spotlight their way; let their actions communicate departmental success.

One thing that has stuck with me over the years has been a former boss saying one of her biggest responsibilities was making me look good as an employee. That meant her going out of her way to make my achievements visible. It also meant her standing up for the team when it came to inner-office politics. How to do it: Lifting your people up could be as simple as something you include in everyday conversation with others, or it can be as an informal email on “Hey, look at this.” If there is a time where the executive team gets together for departmental status updates, make it a point to always include reporting team wins on the agenda.

One easy thing to remember is to attach people’s names to victories when it makes sense. For instance, instead of “web traffic increased 10% this week,” maybe phrase it as “Jordan's new blog post on how to motivate millennials in the workplace helped web traffic increase 10% this week.”

10. Provide on-going training because it makes your people better and more confident. It’s easy to get stuck in a rut on the job. Some like to call it routine, but whenever I find myself falling into “routine,” I think of it as lack of inspiration. With complacency setting in, I try my best to pick up a new book, read a new blog, or take advantage of an out-of-office training or conference. Of course, that’s only possible if there is budget to do so.

How to do it: One thing I enjoyed was when an employer would give each employee or department a budget pool to be used for such learning events. If the marketing department has $10K to dedicate to training, each of the five employees could decide what they wanted to do with their $2K. I’m always the most inspired to do more when I hear of others’ successes. Not to mention the opportunities to build your network and establish relationships that will help you personally, along with the business at some point down the line.

11. Be transparent when it comes to promotions, and even more importantly, educate your people on what it takes to move up the ladder. This is one of the better activities on the list. Many of us have gone through years of working hard and not knowing when a promotion is coming, or what opportunity even exists for you to advance in your career at your current company. “Forcing” your people to just assume they’ll be promoted if they work hard and stay out of trouble doesn’t do much for job satisfaction.

How to do it: A previous employer of mine listened to such complaints regarding promotions and lack of clarity, and importantly, did something about it. They hired a compensation expert to work with them on every single employed position, figuring out industry and position salary averages, and then establishing tracks for advancement. This information was documented, clearly plotting out what an employee needed to do to “level up,” and then presented in one-on-one meetings between employees and their managers. I’ve found the more transparent a company can be with things of this nature, the better.

12. Offer adequate vacation, and don’t hold it against employees when they take days off. Let’s face it. Even when you absolutely love what you do, you still look forward to vacation, and you still need to take a day here and there for whatever reason. While you as an employer probably offer vacation time, you might be guilty of making your people feel shame when it’s used, or, you might even make them regret using it if things blow up “coincidentally” while they are away.

How to do it: We have an unlimited PTO policy here at Xactly, or “flexible time off.” I have friends in other companies who are constantly stressing over vacation days, sick time, etc., and rightly so. We want balance in our lives but we still need to get paid to live. FTO eliminates that issue. And, I’ve never heard of one instance of an employee taking advantage of it. It just doesn’t happen. That said, there are pros and cons of unlimited PTO, which you should consider before implementation.

13. No matter how old we get, we all welcome office “theme days” for a break from reality now and then. theme day collageEspecially if you’re in a formal workplace setting, giving your people the chance to take part in a sports or college theme day would be probably be welcomed.

How to do it: The easiest, most fun thing would be to simply follow the calendar. Halloween and other holidays are obvious occasions through which to set up some sort of office theme day, but get into the spirit of the Super Bowl and other big events. Here at Xactly, we do a lot of friendly competition between departments, like with the Olympics, and challenging everyone to take their most spirited photo.

14. Volunteer because it’s the right thing to do, but you’ll boost morale in the process. I always feel a little funny about mentioning volunteering as a means of achieving “something else,” because in reality, we should all be giving more or of our time to help those in need, whatever the need is. Ok, that said, volunteering improves morale because doing good things makes you feel great. And, why not help out the local community while you’re at it?

How to do it: Start small, and make opportunities inviting by creating a range of access points for all to get involved, from holding a lot of responsibility to contributing to a lesser extent. For example, for a neighborhood clean-up, allow some people to spend their hours doing the actual cleaning, while others can volunteer their time by organizing trash disposal or perhaps putting lunch together.

15. Be stingy with your meeting time. And, give standing meetings a shot. One of my biggest work-life changing experiences was when I was confident enough to say no or decline meeting invites. I was able to do so because I was secure in my position and knew my boss would actually applaud me for it (if it made sense).employee meeting calculator If you constantly find yourself: a) in meetings that you can’t or don’t participate in not for your own lack of preparation but because the subject matter truly isn’t connected to your responsibilities; b) in meetings where you are more prepared than the facilitator and thus find yourself carrying the meeting forward, or c) in meetings that constantly go off-track due to lack of an agenda or focus, or run too long for no reason at all, it’s time to start being more selective when it comes to attending (and it’s time to stop forcing your staff to endure the same). How to do it: First, I’d suggest the topic of “wasting time in meetings” to come about as a company-wide issue; something people have talked about or brought up, and even tried to improve at some point. If you don’t want to wait for that to happen, try and encourage it to happen, bringing it up with your boss and then going from there. Once you’re in a position where meetings are still out of control with no end in sight, try to step out of the few you really don’t need to attend. Here are some guidelines on figuring out who to invite to your meeting (along with tips on declining a meeting invite). And, this handy meeting cost calculator above is a fun (and scary) way to see just how detrimental meetings can be.

Last, if your workplace struggles with meetings (which might be most of you), then give standing meetings a try. There was a time when I thought all meetings had to be at least 30 minutes long, just because that was the standard. But, once you break that mold, it actually is nice to have an option to have a quick, 15-minute standing meeting where you can quickly check-in on progress and project blockers.

16. Give your people something to shoot for, and utilize follow-up/check-ins to ensure goals are achieved. Achieving goals, hitting quota, and accomplishing even small daily tasks improve job satisfaction. Look for opportunities to set goals, and importantly, keep tabs via follow-up to ensure goals are reached. How to do it: By now, you’re probably familiar with SMART goals. They are really the only goals you should be setting. Weekly team meetings or one-on-ones provide a good opportunity to check in. Here is the essential guide for SMART goals. Learn about MBO programs, too.

17. Provide real-time feedback and don’t sugar coat negative feedback.

One HUGE employee morale killer is letting your employee do an amazing job with an assigned task, only to let their work go unnoticed, or, not letting them know you appreciate their work within a reasonable time frame.

How to do it: Just don’t let the moment pass you by. If someone does something well or hits a goal, give them kudos ASAP. Even waiting a day can be detrimental. Likewise, if you notice an action you wish to correct, waiting to bring it up at a later time leads employees to wonder what else you are storing away and haven’t opened up about.

  18. If someone isn’t happy in their role, maybe they can be utilized in a different department. If an employee is “stuck” without much opportunity, and they are someone you want to keep in the organization, allow them to consider joining another department. At a previous company, employees made the jump from one department to another quite frequently. It’s a testament to both the transparency of everyone’s responsibilities, along with the organization’s initiative to encourage employees to educate coworkers on what’s required of them in their role.

How to do it: Keep in tune with what your people enjoy doing—not only what they are good at, but what they would put at the top of their daily list if they had the choice. Constant check-ins and simply asking questions about tasks and responsibilities allows you to uncover what people enjoy doing and what they don’t. And, as mentioned, do your best to cross-educate roles on what a day in the life might look like.

19. Redefine the work week, or at least try something new to see if it sticks. I’ve been lucky enough to experience “half-day Fridays” and a 4-day work week, in addition to the traditional 5-dayer. I really can’t say which I prefer, but the point is, each have their pros and cons, and each fit certain times of the year and business cycle better than others.

How to do it: If you’re a seasonal business, and have a “slower” period, consider a half-day Friday for your people during that time. Again, it all stems from what employees want. Maybe the 5-day week is perfect and maintains high morale in the workplace. You just need to ask in order to figure out (which also shows people you care).

20. Be competitive with compensation. employee compensation benchmarking screenshotIf your people are motivated by money, it will be an uphill battle to keep them happy if the compensation you’re offering isn’t competitive. In fact, it makes it nearly impossible to retain your top talent, and extremely difficult to recruit valuable new members.

How to do it: Well, you first need to know what motivates your employees. If it’s sales commission, you need to take the next step to really understand if your comp plans are competitive. Some resources that could help:

21. Say what you do. Do what you say. One of the biggest morale killers I’ve experienced in the past was hearing rah-rah speech after rah-rah speech about how things are changing, processes are improving, and roadblocks are being removed—only to have upper level management continually skirt the process. It’s the most frustrating thing for any employee to have to sit there and nod and smile and buy-in to what you’re selling, only for you to not hold everyone, including yourself, accountable. How to do it: Just realize that your employees put a lot of stock in what you say. And in turn, they’ll be examining your associated actions a lot more closely than before.

A tendency some might find themselves falling into is “over-managing” or, making it a point to hone in one specific action or activity they want changed. It’s perfectly fine to do so, but just know nothing determines the success or failure of the new initiative more than how you go about it yourself. If it’s a change of process, etc., you need to be sure you’re the poster child for such change through your actions.

22. Be spontaneous and try your best to catch employees off-guard. From that feeling you had in grade school when a substitute teacher walked through the door, to the joy in realizing you were going to get out of the office 3 hours early…who doesn’t love surprises? Being spontaneous is a great morale booster because the simple act of being spontaneous is enough to make people happy, with the actual result being a secondary benefit.

How to do it: Even if you let your people go only an hour early on a Friday, the fact that you decided to do something out of the ordinary for them goes along way. Of course, you need to avoid making it a regular occurrence to curb expectations, so be creative and different with how you go about being spontaneous.

23. Encourage office wellness and embrace gamification in doing so. Just like doing good makes people feel good, feeling good helps people be good at what they do. A healthy office is a productive office, so whatever you can do to promote wellness within the office, the better. How to do it: There are a number of ways to improve company wellness, so if you say you don’t know what to do or how to go about it, that’s your own fault, unfortunately. One of my favorite activities was a company gamifying wellness by attaching a point system and prizes in return for certain activities. For example:

  • Bike to the office = 5 points
  • Cook at home = 1 point
  • Run a mile = 2 points

At the end of the month, hold a raffle and award a prize. If you’re really serious, some companies are even providing wearables to track steps, and going the extra mile in meal planning and more. Believe it or not, I actually drafted this post as “50 ways to improve morale in the workplace.” And if I wasn’t afraid of a 20,000-word blog post, I probably could have made “75 ways.” Point is, there are many ways of going about improving morale on your team. Here are a few other, less formal yet still valuable tips and related questions to ask when trying to improve morale:

  • Can your team cross-train each other? Encourage employees to do so, and everyone will be better for it.
  • How are you handling birthdays? Don’t think of birthdays like “everybody has one, so what.” A small personalization on a big day goes a long way.
  • What words are your people associating with the workplace? Try and get away from only "work" by creating book clubs, bringing in yoga instructors, etc.
  • Are you giving employees the opportunity to show off their families? Allow employees to include their families during off-hour activities; not always, but occasionally.
  • Does your team like food? Of course! Put on office potlucks and chili cook-offs, which are always fun.
  • Do you provide office gear and "take-homes?" Invest in company swag to help employees take pride in where they work.
  • Are you celebrating milestones adequately? Ensure anniversary milestones don’t just signify the turning of the calendar.
  • Are you respecting your team's time? Abide by “normal” work hours and respect nights and weekends.
  • Do your employees have outlets for their needs? Transform a small meeting room into a nap area to help employees get through lunch comas or sleepless nights.
  • What else goes on outside office doors? Utilize the community around you as an asset in your journey to improving employee morale.

If you made it this far, best of luck! We’d love to hear your ideas for improving morale, and more importantly, the concrete experiences that have led to change in your office. Tweet @Xactly to let us know your favorite employee morale tips!