Employee Morale Sucks, Now What?
It’s official. According to two new surveys by Gallop and Harris Interactive, employee morale sucks – as if you needed proof. It’s not as if you’ve been up in some corner office on the top floor of an ivory tower wearing rose colored glasses and developing “do more with less” staffing strategies. You work in HR or operations, so you’ve seen this employee malaise firsthand. And while you know there are employers who pay just enough to retain talent and employees who do just enough to avoid being fired, that isn't your organization or its employees. You realize that economic conditions are forcing workers everywhere, even government employees once assured lifetime employment and insulated from corporate greed, to deal with issues like distrust, low morale, and furloughs. And intuitively you know it doesn’t have to be this way. Now what?
Perhaps the most impactful thing you can do to increase employee morale while reducing the risk of ethics violations and deviance (both of which are associated with disgruntled employees) is to establish and maintain a healthy psychological contract with your employees. A psychological contract is simply a set of perceptions about what employers owe their employees, as well as what employees owe employers. And these perceptions have significant implications for employee satisfaction and morale.
An ideal psychological contract is one in which what an employee wishes to contribute is exactly what the employer wishes to receive, and vice versa. There is alignment between employee talents and passions and the work required by the organization. The organization provides meaningful rewards to employees who demonstrate desired behaviors and holds employees accountable when they engage in negative behaviors. There is justice, equity, and reciprocation - and all is good.
But as equity between what employees want and what employers provide decreases (long hours, low pay, limited advancement, no training, weak leadership, etc. etc. etc.), employees feel short-changed and become less likely to exhibit constructive behavior and more likely to engage in deviant behavior.
There are three main facets of the psychological contract that affect employee morale: organizational issues, job issues, and leader issues. Organizational issues include compensation, benefits, and career opportunities. Job issues encompass work schedules, challenging work, and training and development opportunities. Leader issues include the trustworthiness, ability
to inspire, and flexibility of leadership.
If you’re an HR director or leader facing low employee morale, consider whether the compensation, schedules, training, advancement opportunities, and leadership you provide is aligned with employee expectations and fair considering what you demand of employees every day. Better yet, ask your employees!