23 Ways to Improve Employee Morale in the Workplace

33 min read

Sales organizations can't run effectively if they're sales reps are unhappy. In fact, morale has a huge impact on the success of a sales team. When it tanks, sales performance often follows suit. Therefore, sales managers must identify unhappy reps, uncover the cause, and implement a strategy to improve employee morale ASAP.

Low sales team morale can happen for multiple reasons. In fact, believe it or not, your sales territories can cause low morale if they are not designed to provide maximum sales coverage and balanced opportunities for each rep. Commission payout errors can also result in diminished team morale. Simply put, reps who are paid incorrectly or feel their territories are unfair aren't motivated to do their job.

Other times, however, poor morale results from things outside reps' sales commission structures. This can be anything from changes in leadership or team structure to evolving culture or having a rough quarter. In these instances, managers must find creative ways to improve employee morale and keep reps on track to reach their goals.

Improve Employee Morale with Monetary Incentives

Incentives drive behavior, and sometimes, your sales team needs a little motivation to push them to perform and improve morale. In sales, this is more often than not, a financial reward. Consider adding a financial reward to motivate reps, such as:

  • SPIFs: Also known as special performance incentive funds, SPIFs are short-term incentives that encourage reps to sell a specific product/service, contract terms, etc. Each time they do so, they earn a financial reward.
  • MBOs: Management by Objectives (MBOs) help motivate reps outside of their primary compensation plan. This helps you keep reps on track and motivated by measuring and rewarding on metrics other than deals closed.
  • Bonuses: Every employee loves a bonus, plain and simple. There's nothing like a pat on the back for a job well done. And it's even better in the form of a bonus check.

Improve Employee Morale through Sales Coaching

A change in coaching and management can also help improve employee morale. Sometimes teams need a change of environment, culture, or mindset to spark motivation. To help, here are some ideas to help boost positivity in the workplace and improve employee morale:

  1. Encourage Team Innovation
  2. Use Email Appropriately
  3. Don't Be a Morale Extinguisher
  4. Fix Problems, Don't Cover Them with Bandaids
  5. Truly Team Build on Team-build Outings
  6. Explore Non-Cash Rewards
  7. Circle Back After Big Projects
  8. Treat People Like People
  9. Showcase Your Trophies
  10. Invest in Employee Training
  11. Be Transparent with Promotions
  12. Offer PTO & Let People Use It
  13. Keep the Office Environment Fun
  14. Get out and Volunteer as a Team
  15. Be Stingy with Meeting Time
  16. Set SMART Goals & Follow up
  17. Don't Sugar Coat Performance Feedback
  18. Be an Advocate for Career Advancements
  19. Redefine the Work Week
  20. Be Competitive with Compensation
  21. Set a Good Example
  22. Embrace Spontaneity with Little Perks
  23. Encourage and Gamify Wellness

1. Encourage Team Innovation

Have you ever seen the show Shark Tank? The excitement and passion an entrepreneur has for an idea can be inspiring. Seeing others succeed is gives you the belief that you too can take a project from imagination to tangibility.

How to do it: 

Give employees opportunities to be creative and propose ideas that may not be directly related to their role. This creates an open environment for innovation and idea sharing that can motivate reps. The end result may even inspire a great project for your organization to pursue.

For example, you could host an internal Shark Tank competition to encourage employee ideas for change within the company:

  • 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

Here is an example of one company putting on their internal Shark Tank: PCInnovAtion implements a “15% Time Policy,” which allows employees to use up to 15 percent of their time to generate innovative ideas!

2. Use Email Appropriately

Don't be confused—email is a very important communication tool for your sales tea, and your entire organization. And, when used in moderation, publicly recognizing achievements through is one of the top ways of improving employee morale and efficiency (you’ll see below)!

But, email alerts can easily become a distraction, and sometimes annoyance, leading to less time for actual work. It's important to set boundaries for what communication platform is used depending on the message. For example, you may send important team announcements out via email. Your late arrival after a dentist appointment probably doesn't need a formal email.

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.

3. Don't be a Morale Extinguisher

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.

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: 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. 

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 anyone 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. Fix Problems, Don't Cover Them with Bandaids

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 rather than later does wonders for team motivation and morale. 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 best route is to approach any individual or performance issues professionally.

5. Truly Team Build on Team-Building Outings

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, working on fitness or watching tv together, to a monthly hour-long lunch and learn. Most importantly, team building should be more than a free day out of the office.

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 create the mindset to receive it.

How to do it (right): It seems basic, but to really get the most out of team building, 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.
  • Create a morale committee to boost motivation
  • Don’t cancel or change plans if you can avoid it.
  • Be sure to revisit the lessons learned every now and then.

6. Explore Non-Cash Incentives

Because non-cash rewards need to be consumed, they offer a tangible experience that is simply missing with cash rewards.

Non-cash rewards are a great way to improve employee morale because they allow employees to be rewarded for their hard work. But they also because employees can physically experience their reward (in the form of a trip, concert, or other non-cash employee perks).

Employees 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. Circle Back after Big Projects

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? Talk through metrics, what worked and what didn't, and devise a plan to improve next time around.

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

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 as mentioned above, bad days.  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. Showcase Your Trophies

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 can 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. Invest in Employee Training

One of the top reasons sales reps leave their job is because of inadequate training and lack of education opportunities. Furthering education is an important aspect in sales or any position in your organization. It's also important to consider your team's career goals and work to help them obtain the education and resources they need to move towards them.

How to do it: Dedicate a set portion of the team budget to education. Whether this be conferences or online training courses, the important thing is to invest in your team's education. The opportunities also build your network and establish relationships that will help employees personally, along with the business at some point down the line.

11. Be Transparent with Promotions

Transparency is key in any managerial role. Reps need to know what's expected of them and what to expect from you as their manager. It's important to be upfront and clear with your team about how they can progress in their career working underneath you.

How to do it: Provide clear guidelines for what's expected to move up and then what is expected after a promotion. The more guidance you can give employees, the better. You may consider hiring a compensation expert (like Xactly's strategic services team) to help. They can work on every single employed position, figuring out industry and position salary averages, and then establishing tracks for advancement.

12. Offer PTO & Let Employees Use it

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. As a manager or leader, never impose guilt on employees using their EARNED vacation time. Give employees the time to mentally recharge while they're away, so they're full of fresh ideas upon their return.

How to do it: Consider an unlimited PTO policy, or “flexible time off” policy. FTO eliminates that issue of finding a work-life balance for employees. Of course, it's important to have guidelines in place so employees don't abuse the policy, but in most cases, companies tend to see that employees take less time off than when they have a set amount of vacation time. That said, there are pros and cons of unlimited PTO, which you should consider before implementation.

13. Keep the Office Environment Fun

theme day collage

Especially 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. Get out and Volunteer as a Team

Volunteering improves morale mainly because science has shown that 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 Meeting Time

If you constantly find yourself 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;
  • where you are more prepared than the facilitator and thus find yourself carrying the meeting forward;
  • that constantly go off-track due to lack of an agenda or focus, or run too long for no reason at all’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: Start by looking at all of the meetings your team currently sits in regularly. Can any of those be combined, carried out in smaller side conversations, or eliminated completely?

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. This can be a great way to huddle your team for quick updates without taking up too much time in the day or opportunities to derail the conversation off-topic.

16. Set SMART Goals & Follow Up

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. Don't Sugar Coat Performance Feedback

Lack of appreciation kills employee morale. Praise employees for a job well done in a timely manner. Even something as simple as a "great job on this project" can improve employee morale, and help employees feel they are doing something impactful and worthwhile.

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. Be an Advocate for Career Advancements

Sometimes employees need a change of pace in their role. If possible, allow them to explore different roles and projects to find their niche. 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

Consider giving your employees more flexibility in their work week schedule, such as “half-day Fridays” or a 4-day work week, in addition to the traditional 5-dayer.

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

If 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. Set a Good Example

One of the biggest morale killers is 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 examine 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. Embrace Spontaneity with Little Perks

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 way to improve the morale of employees 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 and Gamify Wellness

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.

Keeping Morale High in the Long Term

Believe it or not, small changes—either through compensation or management—can have a big impact on your sales team morale. Sales managers help reps hit their number, but they also bear the weight to improve employee morale during hard times. With the right mindset, leaders can motivate their teams not only to reach their quota, but to perform beyond it. It all starts with the right motivational spark.