How to Boost Employee Morale and Motivation in Uncertain Times

I remember the morning clearly.

As I was talking through JotForm’s quarterly enterprise strategy with a few colleagues, something wasn’t clicking. Even through the screen, I could see: These people were tired. And not just bodily.

A few months earlier, I’d implemented a work-from-home policy. My team spent that entire spring adjusting to remote work, unclear what the near or distant future would hold.

The piece-meal approach worked for a while. The problem is, short-term responses aren’t designed to be sustainable. The lack of intentionality was beginning to take a toll on my team. Morale was draining, and fast. It was time to adopt a long-term strategy.

I asked myself: What would it look like to boost morale in the long-term, ultimately ensuring productivity and effectiveness through these wild times?

The answer was clear. If I wanted to ensure JotForm’s longevity, I had to first invest in my people.

There’s a time and a place to hone in on your bottom line. But hyper-focusing on strategic objectives at the expense of employee morale can have the opposite effect. If you want your business to grow, start with helping your individual team members thrive.

Looking for some long-term strategies for keeping your team motivated throughout the recent uncertain times? Here’s how I managed to boost the morale of our +300 employees over the past ye

Focus on the right things

When the global health crisis just started back in February 2020, many businesses feared for their longevity. It was easy for leaders to place unrealistic demands on employees, expecting them to somehow increase output while dealing with unprecedented stress.

Remember: Your team is dealing with the same strains you are. It’s natural to want the best for your organization, but without a foundation of health among your employees, you won’t get very far.

To illustrate the importance of adjusting priorities to ensure employees’ well-being, OneWorkplace created a remote-specific hierarchy of needs based on Maslow’s famous psychology research.

As you can see, health and safety are the foundation for output in any other area. Fulfilling one’s potential hinges on physical and mental well-being, which means it’s your responsibility to be as flexible as possible.

How this plays out looks different in every organization. Maybe you increase your organization’s PTO or adjust your health benefit plans, if needed. Perhaps you express more leniency with deadlines or participation in meetings.

The key is to take new, creative measures to make sure your people have the margin they need to take care of themselves. It might be an investment, but your organization will be better for it.

Take care of your own emotions

Your well being is one of your company’s greatest assets, but not only because it enables you to function more productively.

As a leader in your organization, you set the tone for the company’s culture. If you’re motivated, your employees will be, too. If you’re under significant stress, your strain will trickle down and affect the entire organization.

Neglecting to stay level-headed in the midst of change can even impact your organization’s bottom line. “Managers who get angry or withdraw when the pressure is on hurt team morale,” writes Gwen Moran in Fast Company, “and teams are more likely to miss deadlines, exceed their budgets, and fail to meet quality standards.”

Think of self-care as a critical strategy for taking care of your team. Practically, that means increasing your resilience, or your mind and body’s ability to adapt to stress. Take breaks when you feel yourself heading toward burnout. Schedule screen-free time slots, and be careful of your news intake. Don’t neglect to seek support from peers or, if needed, a mental health professional.

Your physical health plays a part in your ability to manage stress, too. So stay hydrated and eat a nutritious diet, practice mindfulness and meditation, and when possible, get some exercise. Even simple adjustments to your routine, like the occasional walk around the block or a nightly HeadSpace meditation, can make a big difference in your ability to manage stress.

Check in regularly

At JotForm, each of our teams has a designated leader. Typically, twice a month, each team member has a meeting with their team lead to catch up on questions and chat through struggles.

Due to the recent global challenges, we’ve increased these meetings to weekly, while also encouraging our employees to touch base with leaders as needed. Why is it so important for team morale to check in regularly?

One reason: Now more than ever, it’s important to prevent little problems from turning into major (stressful) roadblocks. When the team isn’t aligned and, motivation and morale are quickly sapped — which places unnecessary strain on everyone.

In addition to checking in on employee morale with JotForm surveys, we also use these catch-up meetings as an opportunity for employees to share feedback with company leaders. Like many organizations, we’re trying a lot of new things during these uncertain times. If any of our strategies aren’t working, we want to know.

The goal is to prevent additional stress by making changes to any approaches that aren’t working. But we also solicit feedback because we know employees who feel seen and heard have better morale and, in the long run, will be more productive.

Celebrate wins (even if they’re small)

Lowering the bar is a simple way to express you understand their stress. Of course, you don’t want to encourage poor performance. But it may not be realistic to expect anyone to exceed expectations until life becomes a bit more normal.

That said, when your employees go above and beyond, celebrate. Send a kind email or a quick Slack message noting someone’s effort, or better yet, share anecdotes about top contributors at morning stand-up meetings.

Publicly and privately recognizing employees for their contributions is a simple way to improve morale, and you’ll quickly gain a return on your investment. According to a recent survey, 40% of employees in America say they would put more energy into their work if they were recognized more frequently.

Plus, we all need positive things to focus on during an otherwise stressful time — and one person’s above-and-beyond work might inspire other employees to contribute in meaningful ways, too.

Reinforce your mission

When you can’t change stressful circumstances, try to take every opportunity to enhance your team’s collective ability to take that stress in stride.

An easy-but-impactful way to make that happen: Spend some time personally reflecting on why you started your business in the first place. Whose lives are you seeking to change, and how? What will the world look like if you’re successful?

Next, do your best to integrate your vision into everyday communication with your employees. Finding ways to reinforce your organization’s mission encourages big-picture thinking during a time that’s otherwise draining.

Further, by reminding your employees that their work has meaning and they’re part of something bigger than themselves, you’ll also foster organizational resilience. It’s a lot easier — for you and your entire team — to trudge through stress when you all feel a sense of purpose.

Things may feel tough now, but your efforts to keep employees feeling connected and motivated will soon bear fruit. Who knows the inspiring places you’ll end up when you choose to keep your focus on the big picture?

This article is originally published on Feb 01, 2021, and updated on Feb 23, 2021.
AUTHOR
Aytekin Tank is the Founder and CEO of JotForm. A developer by trade but a storyteller by heart, he writes about his journey as an entrepreneur and shares advice for other startups. He loves to hear from JotForm users. You can reach Aytekin from AytekinTank@JotForm.com

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