Morale Is In The Toilet

Originally published November 29, 2017 by The Montrose Daily Press

Broken morale within a workplace is like an aggressive cancer. As terrible attitudes, absenteeism, conflict, and general grumpiness develop in a workplace, leaders often interpret their staff as lazy and unappreciative. Instead, we can flip those negative behaviors as symptoms of a greater problem: poor morale.

Improved morale won’t come with new “employee engagement” programs, huge bonuses or motivational posters. Though these things are certainly great support pieces in the whole, if your morale is in the drain, you need to examine the basics.

Ask yourself these four questions before doing anything else:

1. Do you regularly set expectations for your staff you less than regularly fulfill yourself?

As leaders, we might find ourselves mentally convinced we’ve “done our time.” Maybe you have staff who work the night shift or swing shift. As the boss, your duties are easily handled during daytime hours, but your organization relies on shiftwork to function. Why not try working a week of swing shift or night shift? Quietly and unassumingly show up at work during these off hours and work alongside your team.

Take an inventory of all the positions that fall beneath your leadership. Could you (and would you be willing to) perform each and every one of them? Has your staff ever seen you “down in the trenches” working the front line? If not, spend some time learning the basics of each of these positions. Take time to ask questions. Without causing a major interruption in workflow, consider asking your team to show you more about their duties. Come back every three months or so and spend time in their area.

Doing this not only gives you a greater understanding of what truly happens under your purview on a daily basis, but it shows your staff you are not too good to work alongside of them. Additionally, time spent with your team can go a long ways in creating empathy, understanding and grace in both directions.

2. Are there inappropriate relationships in your workplace?

If you allow immediate family or people involved in an intimate relationship to exist within a single chain of command, you can bet there are morale issues as a result. Additionally, the higher in the chain of command one of those staff resides, the more resent will breed. True or not, your staff will assume there is inappropriate information sharing, preferential treatment and abuse of work time.

If you have a small family business, these situations may be unavoidable. In these cases, it is important family members be held to the same or higher performance standards. Limit closed door discussions, long lunches or anything else that might give the impression that the family relationship is awarded preference over performance.

Finally, if you are aware of two staff members engaging in an inappropriate romantic relationship and you do nothing, morale will suffer. This is not the set of “Gray’s Anatomy” and perception is reality. Each situation is different, and there is no cut and dry way of handling any one of them. Sometimes, this involves letting someone go, reassigning them or asking both parties to sign documents protecting the organization from sexual harassment accusations.

As employers, we should not pass judgement over the choices made in the personal life of staff. We do, however, need to draw the line when those choices affect productivity, appropriate use of work time and resources and integrity.

3. Does your workplace promote a backstabbing and blood thirsty culture?

Let’s say one of your middle managers is moving to Texas in a month and everyone knows her position is coming open. Does your organization suddenly turn into a warzone of “ambitious” people backstabbing one another as they vie for the top?

Although it doesn’t happen overnight, you can encourage a culture where the success of one does not diminish the success of others. You can make it clear you will not promote people who step on other people to get to the top. This might come attached to some very difficult decisions. There may be a person who is perfect in every other way for a position, but as you think back, you begin to notice a pattern: This person not once, but twice “ratted out” another staff member who just so happened to be in competition for the same promotion. You do not want that type of “fox” in your henhouse.

Hiring the fox will diminish morale and send a message that your organization does not reward those who do the right thing, but rather those who do whatever it takes, even if that includes hurting others to get there.

4. Do you implement kneejerk policies? We’ve touched on this in previous columns. If you find yourself sending out an “all staff” email every time someone screws up, this may apply to you. If you do not address issues at the source and instead implement a blanket policy to everyone, morale will suffer. Do not take away everyone’s cell phone or wellness benefits because one person cannot handle it.

If you want to boost morale, you should look for ways to increase privilege and show trust with your staff. If someone abuses that, as a leader it is your job to have a conversation with them individually.

If morale is suffering within an organization, its staff may not view leadership decisions or practices as fair or just. The four questions outlined in this column are not easy ones to consider. And since there is no golden pot of morale at the end of the workplace rainbow, it is up to us as leaders to cultivate it (morale) with humility, hard choices and discipline.

Chelsea Rosty is the executive director of the Montrose Chamber of Commerce and director of Business Innovation, City of Montrose. Reach her at