We have lousy morale at our company. Our senior leaders like to say the problem started during the pandemic, but that’s just a lie they tell themselves. The problem started long before that, when they got so focused on the money they were making and the bonuses they were getting, they forgot employees mattered.
Their bubble burst when the pandemic ended. They didn’t expect employee resistance to having to return to on-site work. It shocked them when so many employees jumped ship to better-paying jobs elsewhere. Our company lost substantial numbers of long-term employees that possessed old-style work ethic and years of experience. We’ve had to pay higher wages to attract new employees and they don’t produce the same amount of work nor finished products of the same quality.
I’m the HR (human resources) manager and the CEO and his leadership team expect me to put on a “rah-rah” team-building event to get morale back up. The idea turns me off and I doubt our employees would benefit from or embrace a “team building” session. Can you help me out before I spend four hours humiliating myself trying to create ‘rah-rah’?
Phony rah-rah turns everyone off when the underlying cause of the problem—leaders that fail to value employees—remains.
Your company and leadership team, however, aren’t alone; and even leadership teams that treat employees well face difficult morale challenges.
A Gallup poll released on June 13th , https://www.gallup.com/workplace/349484/state-of-the-global-workplace-2022-report.aspx, revealed that employees are historically stressed, disengaged with their jobs, and increasingly fight with their managers and employers. According to the survey’s results, 59% of all U.S. employers are not “engaged” in their jobs and put forth only minimal effort to get by. Another 18% of employees describe themselves as actively disengaged.
The Wall Street Journal notes that employee engagement among U.S. employees has declined for the second year in a row, with a growing share of the workforce resentful their needs aren’t being met by their employers, https://www.wsj.com/articles/first-it-was-quiet-quitting-now-workers-are-facing-off-with-their-bosses-5bb63cea. Despite the looming recession and fear of layoffs, 51% of surveyed employees report they’re actively looking for new jobs.
Like you, I’ve been called in to conduct team-building sessions aimed at morale. Here’s how to succeed. First, don’t call the session “team building,” rename it a facilitated work session between leaders and employees and employees and their coworkers.
Second, tell the leaders they have an important role during the session—to listen and respond to the common themes they hear—at the end of the session. Employees want to know they work for leaders and managers that listen and care—that’s where the real team building occurs.
Third, focus on real topics, for example, who are your company’s stakeholders, i.e., who has a stake in your company succeeding. If you guessed the leaders and employees, you guessed correctly. Delve deeper into this topic with the two further questions your employees can answer in small groups:
What are the criteria by which each group of stakeholders assess the company an “A”?
What do we need to do to achieve that “A”?
Your company’s leaders need to listen to how their employees answer these questions.
Fourth, build the team—but not with gamey activities. Employees want to know they work with supportive teammates. I detailed my favorite exercise, “pie,” in chapter 6 of Managing for Accountability, https://bit.ly/3T3vww8. On winning teams, each member understands what other team members are doing and why, so that all team members can effectively communicate, coordinate, collaborate, and support each other.
“Pie” begins with each team member outlining their main goals and priorities to other team members. Next, each team member explains how and why they depend on other team members for support to accomplish their missions. This builds a concrete sense of interconnectedness and mutual dependency. The final step of “pie” asks that each member or work group tell the others, “here’s what I wish my team members and those we work for would understand.”
If you work for a large company, replace “team member” in the description with “work group.” In chapter six, you’ll learn how employees of three companies responded to the three steps of this exercise, and a fourth step that would take an article in itself to describe, and what their company leaders gained as a result.
If your company’s leaders take this team building seriously—by taking in what their employees say and positively responding to it, you’ll create “rah” and morale will increase.
(c) 2023 Lynne Curry
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