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6 Workplace Morale-killers to Avoid

6 Workplace Issues That Will Kill Employee Happiness

  • An Unclean Work Environment
  • Harassment
  • No Advancement Opportunity
  • Ignoring Employees
  • Inflexible Management
  • Poor Attitude

Workplace Issues That Will Kill Employee HappinessOne of the keys to fostering a workplace that is productive, functional, and a place where people enjoy working is doing everything in your power to build good morale amongst employees.

This is a process that takes time, to be sure, but can pay dividends in the short-term and the long run as well.

On the one hand, there are many things you can add to the workplace environment that can boost morale – adopting a positive attitude, being open and willing to listen to employees, and taking time to recognize the accomplishments of employees from time to time.

In addition to adding morale boosters, you can also improve morale through subtraction. To be sure, workplaces of all kinds are rife with morale killers, and the more of them you eliminate, the happier employees will be.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a business owner or manager, a supervisor of some sort or an organizational psychologist. People at all levels in the organizational hierarchy can do things to identify and eliminate things in the workplace that drag employees’ attitudes down.

Below are six common morale killers to keep an eye out for in your workplace.

An Unclean Work Environment

An Unclean Work EnvironmentEmployees don’t want to come to work in an unclean environment. Yet, it’s one of the most common morale killers.

This is a problem in all kinds of places of work, from the service industry to blue-collar industries to business and finance. And these problems run the gamut from big to small.

Imagine for a moment that you come to work and have to enter the office through a dingy, dirty entryway. Maybe leaves are piled up in the corner and the windows are water spotted. Perhaps the doorknob is smudged and could use a good disinfecting. These are small issues, but you can also understand why being greeted by an unclean entryway might set you up for a less than positive attitude at work.

A more significant problem might be employee restrooms that are unkempt, dirty, or that haven’t been resupplied with items like toilet tissue or hand towels. Not only is it a health issue to have dirty restrooms, but employees that don’t have a sanitary place to use the restroom can understandably have low morale.

Obviously, a solution to issues like this is to have a custodial staff that looks after the workplace to ensure that it’s clean. But you can also involve other employees in the process. Encouraging employees to clean up after themselves – like wiping down the microwave in the break room after using it – is an easy way to get ahead of common problems. It also helps if everyone buys into the need to have a clean, well-kept work environment. After all, if everyone is responsible for cleaning up the messes they make, there’s a greater chance that the workplace remains neat and tidy.

Of course, sometimes workplaces just need a good professional cleaning, too. While there is much greater expense involved in having professional cleaners come in, the resulting boost to morale from working in a clean, organized environment is well worth the cleaning expense.

From a long-term perspective, it’s important to keep an eye on things like the appearance and functionality of office items like desk chairs or carpeting. Paint might need to be refreshed and lighting might need to be replaced. Items like squeaky doors should be attended to as well. 

Looks certainly aren’t everything, but the better a workspace looks, the better it will feel, and the better employees will feel about working in that environment.

Harassment

Unfortunately, harassment is a significant issue in many organizations. Harassment can take many different forms, from sexual harassment to bullying between coworkers to bullying of employees by their employers.

Whatever form it takes, harassment is completely unacceptable in the workplace. If left unchecked, it can not only lead to diminished morale, but it could turn into a significant legal issue if employees’ rights aren’t being respected and protected. What’s more, permitting harassment or shielding harassers from consequences will earn any business a bad reputation among other professionals and customers alike.

So, to ensure that your workplace is free of harassment, be sure to have steps outlined in the employee handbook for dealing with harassment. When employees are hired, they should undergo training for recognizing harassment and be informed of the policies and procedures to follow to report it.

Likewise, the organization should have action plans in place for dealing with harassment. These plans should be clearly articulated to all employees so everyone knows what to expect if they are victims of harassment or if they have been accused of being a harasser.

At the end of the day, while harassment can certainly play a part in low employee morale, it is a much bigger issue than that. It’s important to deal with such issues in a very sensitive way so employees that have been harassed feel heard and supported.

No Advancement Opportunities

No Advancement OpportunitiesIt’s hard to imagine that anyone wants to work in a dead-end job. Some people might feel as though they have to work in a job like that, just to make money to put food on the table. But most people would agree that a job in which there are opportunities to advance is much more preferable.

Obviously, there are some workplaces where advancement is much easier than in others. For example, if you work in the service industry, you can much more easily “climb the ladder” than if you’re a medical professional. In the former situation, you might find that job experience is all you need to move into a higher position with more responsibilities. But in the latter situation, advancing your career usually means a significant time and money investment in getting more education.

However, simply knowing that advancement possibilities exist is often enough to boost morale. For example, if you work in a restaurant that offers advancement opportunities to employees after a year of employment, you’ll be much more likely to stick around for a year. As another example, if you’re a certified nursing assistant that really loves your job, knowing that you could get a job as an R.N. with additional schooling might be encouraging enough to go back to school.

A way that employers can help with this issue is to prioritize hiring from within. When an employee leaves, transfers, or transitions to another position, give other employees a chance to interview for the job.

Another way to encourage employees to seek more advanced roles is to offer training opportunities and continuing education. Sometimes, organizations even pay employees to get additional training. It’s a win-win situation, really – employees gain additional knowledge and skills that they can then use to advance their career, all the while employers end up with more skilled workers.

In short, this is all about showing that the organization cares about the professional growth of its employees. If you invest time and energy into your employees, their morale will certainly improve.

Ignoring Employees

When employees are ignored, it creates a serious morale problem in an office. This can take many forms, such as employee ideas being dismissed, difficulty getting in contact with managers, praise being withheld, or employee problems going unaddressed.

In some cases, managers and other authority figures might purposefully ignore their employees, perhaps as a form of punishment for poor job performance or as a means of making their own job seem easier.

But by and large, employees are usually ignored inadvertently. Perhaps a manager simply doesn’t hear a question from an employee. Maybe a supervisor forgets to ask an employee their input about an important situation at work. But whatever the case, being ignored can lead to feelings of worthlessness among employees – and resentment towards the higher-ups.

This is a problem that is best resolved by striving to make the workplace one that’s inclusive. You might hold weekly staff meetings to elicit input from employees or perhaps you simply send out a company-wide email asking for ideas. 

Likewise, it’s necessary for people in supervisory roles to have an open door policy, that way if an employee feels like they’re being ignored, they feel comfortable discussing the issue. Fostering a workplace environment that values openness, honesty, and constructive feedback will minimize the opportunities for employees to be ignored while maximizing their ability to bring an issue like that to your attention. The more an employee feels heard, the better their morale will be.

Inflexible Management

Management in any good organization needs to be flexible on a variety of levels. This includes areas such as their employees’ schedules and willingness to make changes to the way the organization is run.

Workplaces and managers who refuse to consider change or are inflexible in their approach are very likely to alienate the employees who keep the business running. Employees are people too and need to be treated as such – afforded understanding when they get sick or need to take time off for personal reasons.

The pathway to improved flexibility is to be open to new ideas and to demonstrate a willingness to make changes. Likewise, when employees present you with suggestions or ideas, take the time to hear them out, discuss their ideas, and, if appropriate, take action on their suggestions.

On the other hand, if suggestions are made by employees that simply won’t work, take the time to explain to them why this is the case. Another alternative is to take parts of a suggestion and implement them while explaining clearly why other aspects of the idea can’t be implemented.

At the end of the day, most employees understand that some things simply cannot be changed. But you must also recognize that there is more than one way to do something. If you can be flexible, employees will be all the more willing to work for you and do so with a good attitude.

Poor Attitude

A final common workplace morale killer is perhaps the simplest one – a poor attitude.

As someone in a position of power in a business or organization, it’s critical that you set the tone for everyone else when it comes to attitude. If you come to work grumpy and unappreciative of others, your employees won’t see you as someone they enjoy working with, but instead someone to avoid.

This isn’t to say that you can’t have any off days where you just have a terrible attitude. Instead, this is about the macro view. Strive to have a good attitude more days than not. When you feel that you have a bad attitude, take measures to figure out why and deal with the issue. Additionally, when employees have a bad attitude, resist the urge to cop an attitude back or to punish them. Instead, work with them to figure out what the problem is.

This isn’t rocket science, so something as simple as a positive attitude can have a long-lasting effect on the morale in the workplace.

The Costs of Morale Killers

The Costs of Morale KillersThese and other morale killers can have effects on a business or organization far beyond being a breeding ground for low morale.

For example, a workplace with low morale is more likely to have employee turnover. Even the employees that tough it out in a low-morale environment can experience job dissatisfaction, low productivity, and have quarrels with their coworkers.

Beyond that, customers might pick up on the low morale of employees. Customers won’t want to return to a business in which the employees are apathetic about their jobs and not happy with the people with whom they work. So in addition to this being a human resources issue, it can quickly turn into a financial issue if the low workplace morale drives customers away.

No matter what kind of business or organization it is, having a good reputation is a key component of success. By busting through these morale killers and building a work environment that makes positivity a priority, you can dramatically change how employees feel and interact with one another.

The importance of employee morale in a business organization cannot be overstated. Happy employees are going to want to remain at the company, do their best work and speak well of the company to others. If you remember these critical workplace morale killers and strive to avoid them, you’ll be in good shape to have a happy work environment.

Sean Jackson

B.A. Social Studies Education | University of Wyoming

M.S. Counseling | University of Wyoming

B.S. Information Technology | University of Massachusetts

Updated November 2021

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