25 January 2013

Keeping office morale up as budgets go down

The latest Workplace Employment Relations Study has revealed 90% of workplaces have been adversely affected by the recession. As budgets are squeezed and workers are pressured into providing more for less, keeping morale high could be the key to cutting the fat without touching the muscles.

Despite budgets being under continual pressure, a spate of new data suggests UK firms are doing all they can to keep hold of their employees. Research from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research showed that even though the workplace has been impacted by the economic downturn, only 14% made compulsory redundancies and a number of aspects of working life have actually improved since the survey was last conducted in 2004.

Employment statistics for the end of the year compiled by the Office of National Statistics also showed some surprising results, with the number of Britons claiming unemployment benefit falling to the lowest level since mid-2011. The trends clearly show that although the UK is flirting with recession, businesses and workers are showing strong resilience and a desire to remain in work.

Why morale?

David Brent fixated on office morale as a way of disguising his managerial ineptitude, humorously crossing business and social life in an attempt to be popular in The Office. But there were a few nuggets of information that proved useful for business, taken with a pinch of salt of course.

“Trust, encouragement, reward, loyalty… satisfaction. Trust people and they’ll be true to you. Treat them greatly, and they will show themselves to be great.”

Low levels of office morale can lead to a dip in productivity and the quality of work being produced. It can also lower staff retention and create bad vibes about the company that are easily spread in such a closed environment.

Steps to improving work life

The Workplace Employment Relations Study found that the aspects of working life to have improved since the last survey were all areas that cost relatively little, if anything at all. For example:

  • Communicating with employees. Managers are holding more team briefings and keeping their staff informed about the changes at work.
  • Offering training. Training is being extended both in and out of the workplace, increasing the employees passion for their job.
  • Giving more autonomy. Employees are being afforded more autonomy in their roles, given more control over what they do and in what sort of time frames.

Other things manager/ owner/ team leaders can do to improve office morale is:

  • Open door policies. Implementing and promoting an open door policy can put a cap on any tensions before they get out of control. If workers know they can voice their concerns and opinions they will be less inclined to turn elsewhere when disputes arise.
  • Employee evaluation. In a climate where salary increases are all but extinct it is important to constantly evaluate performance to recognise those who are going the extra mile. Sometimes all it takes is acknowledgment to result in a worker feeling content.
  • Relaxing workplace policies. Managers have several tools at their disposal today which can keep the workplace more relaxed. Operating bring your own device (BYOD) policies and flexible working conditions will help employees feel more relaxed in their job, and considering dress down days and informal activities can also liven up the office.

Doing all you can

Of course, the responsibility of maintaining healthy working lives doesn’t rest solely on the shoulders of the manager, and there are several adjustments the employees themselves should be looking to make. A good night’s sleep, healthy working hours and a good social life can help keep a mind off work, and these aspects should be encouraged by management.

But as your budget gets slashed remember there are things that can still be done to improve office morale, and you may be surprised to see how receptive employees are to bonuses that are not money orientated.