You built your company from scratch. It was difficult, but you did it. You overcame obstacles and achieved small victories until you had a success breakout. After that you rode the wave of momentum and your business got bigger and better.
But over the past few months, you’ve noticed a slump in business. Sales have declined. Customers complain more. Refunds are on the rise. People call in sick. More employees are quitting. It also seems to take longer and appears to cost more to launch new initiatives.
Puzzled, you walk around the office, asking questions. You get lethargic answers and lame excuses. You get a poor response to your queries. Then it hits you, morale is low.
Looking around the office with this new perspective, you now see it with new eyes.
Apathy, like a cloud of smog, hovers around the cubicles. People don’t work well with each other. They bicker and complain more than try to work things out. They don’t talk to each other much, either. Nobody shows any initiative. Attitude is bad, and performance even worse.
What can you do to turn things around?
Here are 5 suggestions:
1. Recognize individual achievements. People wilt when their best work goes unrecognized and unappreciated. They lose their drive and ambition. The spark of initiative fades out of their eyes. Offering raises, promotions, and benefits is one way of rewarding consistent hard work. But other ways exist, too. For instance, personally congratulating someone in public for their contribution does wonders.
2. Make the office less boring. Many high-tech businesses have grasped the idea of creating a less somber office environment. People may be allowed to remodel their cubicles to display their idiosyncratic preferences. Or they may be allowed to create their own schedule. An article in New York Times describes how Google does it: “Google lets many of its hundreds of software engineers, the core of its intellectual capital, design their own desks or work stations out of what resemble oversize Tinker Toys. Some have standing desks, a few even have attached treadmills so they can walk while working. Employees express themselves by scribbling on walls. The result looks a little chaotic, like some kind of high-tech refugee camp, but Google says that’s how the engineers like it.”
3. Make break rooms more fun. The idea of a break room is to get away from work for a short while to refresh the mind. Simple changes can have profound effects. Aramark Refreshments suggest refreshment with ice: “Ice machines are a growing treat for employees. Iced tea and coffee help make your workplace more friendly and productive. When employees feel more satisfied with their options, they work harder and more efficiently. And you finish first.” Another popular idea is to have a space for fun and games—video games, pool tables, dart boards.
4. Allow people to do their own thing one day a month. High paced work often forces people to fall behind in their personal projects. Imagine, then, allocating one day a month for people to do their own personal project. This can be anything people want. Perhaps, it’s catching up on their blog, doing their taxes, or planning their vacation. One day to come to the office and work on your own project! The idea of a paid day off has lost its novelty. People often don’t know what to do on this extra day off. But the idea of coming to the office and getting paid to do their own thing appears to fascinate people.
5. Spice things up a little. While predictability is a human need, so is variety. When things get too predictable, they also get boring. How can you make your office less boring? You can change things around a little. Match people with different teams to learn new skills. Change the wall décor once a month to a different nature scene. Focus on task completion rather than how many hours they work. When you think about it, there are many ways to make work more interesting by spicing things up a little.
A Positive Work Environment
Most businesses think of raising morale as offering bonuses, spiffs, perks, rewards, and awards. While these have their place, money and status is not the only reason why people work. They are also looking for a place where they can feel more positive about themselves and their career.
As a business owner, there are many ways to create a positive work environment:
• You can train managers to be more like counselors than school teachers.
• You can create a cash incentive program for the best ideas that will improve your business.
• You can offer mentorships to help people get up to speed in the skills they need to learn to do their work better.
• You can pay for employee’s certification programs to enhance their work skills.
• You can reserve one day a month for a company picnics. It gives people a chance to know each other outside the formality of work.
• You can organize work into teams to break feelings of isolation and to promote camaraderie, feedback loops, more productivity, and better performance. You can even have team competitions.
When people are happier at their work, they will do better work. Figure out what works to raise morale in your business.