When employee morale is running high, it can seem like there’s nothing your team can’t accomplish. Your workers are super-productive, they have a positive outlook and their work quality is stellar. But when employee morale is low, work output and outcomes can suffer, and trying to motivate your team can feel like pushing boulders uphill.

Low morale in the workplace isn’t necessarily a byproduct of a lackluster or toxic office environment. Unexpected, dramatic change is often a factor when there's a downturn in employee morale. Take the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, which has been extremely disruptive for businesses and their workers. Many companies had to turn their workforces into all-remote teams with little notice — and without a clear timeline for when previous business practices might resume.

Workers may also be juggling personal demands, like caring for family members, which can make it even harder to stay engaged in, and upbeat about, work.

For managers, bolstering employees’ confidence and mood can be a daunting task, especially if you are managing a remote team. However, it’s critical to meet the challenge of low employee morale, because it can cause top talent to leave at any time.

Strategies to keep up morale

How do you know if employee morale is sliding? Here’s a quick look at three telltale signs to watch for in your team members — along with some simple strategies for counteracting these issues.

1. A persistent, negative attitude

Sometimes, it’s hard for employees to conceal a foul mood after they’ve had a bad day at work. And even normal levels of work-related stress can give rise to frustration and discouragement. These are typical reactions to temporary problems. But a persistent, negative attitude — especially from someone who has otherwise been a positive force in your workplace — is a big red flag signaling severely deflated morale. A lack of willingness to cooperate with teammates or commit to new assignments is another clear warning sign of trouble.

How to address it: The first step is to identify what the problem is, whether it's simple or complex. Set up a time to talk one-to-one with your staff member. If you’re working remotely, schedule a video call so that the discussion is face-to-face. Ask your employee if the problem weighing them down is work-related or personal. If it’s the first, you can then suggest strategies for mitigating the issue. If it’s the latter, encourage your employee to take the time necessary to address the problem. Then make arrangements to ensure their responsibilities are covered in the interim.

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2. Poor work performance and quality

Missed deadlines, a high number of mistakes, or a decline in service levels can all be side effects of low morale in the workplace. Early signals that work performance and quality may be at risk include employees’ waning enthusiasm for or interest in their assignments.

Boredom is often a factor in a lack of initiative that can lead to poor work outcomes and dent morale. Your employees may be eager for new challenges. Or, on the other side of the coin, they may be feeling overwhelmed. If they’re feeling distracted and unmotivated, they might be struggling to meet their usual work standards.

How to address it: Foster an environment in which employees know they are expected to take the initiative, solve problems and demonstrate leadership. This is a vision you need to communicate clearly to your staff, because it is not likely to happen without you setting an example and providing guidance.

Have regular one-to-one meetings with your team members to gauge how they feel about the type and amount of work they are being asked to manage. Do they feel burdened by their workload? Or do they feel their assignments aren’t making the best use of their skills? Once you know what your employees need to be successful, and which projects appeal to them most, you can make adjustments.

Employee recognition is another way to keep productivity and employee morale high. Offer your staff members timely praise and low-cost awards, and, if possible, give them bonuses for their achievements. It’s easy to forget to express appreciation to your employees when stress and workloads are running high. But such recognition can go a long way toward raising the needle on morale in the workplace.

3. An overactive rumor mill

Communication is essential for successful staff management — and for bolstering employee morale during times of change. If you do not take a proactive, thoughtful and strategic approach to sharing information with your staff, you risk letting the rumor mill run wild. Don’t think that misinformation won’t run rampant in a remote work environment. In fact, it could spread even faster. And, before you know it, employee morale has taken a hit.

How to address it: Be quick to share updates with your team members, and make sure all employees who need to be in the loop on key announcements hear from you firsthand. Also, be honest with your workers about any changes that may impact their roles or the company. Armed with timely and accurate information, employees will be less inclined to fill in the blanks with their imagination. To help keep communication flowing, institute an open-door policy. Let staff members know they can approach you at any time to ask questions or express their concerns.

It’s important for managers to monitor the level of morale in the workplace. Addressing problems promptly and effectively will help your workers maintain a positive outlook and remain as productive as possible. The attention you give to buoying employee morale can help you fortify relationships with your staff and improve retention, too.