The Guarantee
June 11

Pain Point #1: Employee Morale

The biggest differentiator between a growth-oriented CEO and an execution-oriented CEO is the former focuses on growing the business where the latter focuses on the day-to-day operations. In today’s society, we cannot afford to just be execution-oriented. The greatest growth-oriented CEOs are strategic by nature. They also know how important it is to leverage the expertise of others in overcoming the big strategic issues and obstacles to growth they are battling daily.

As we come out of this pandemic and get back to a place of normalcy, we need to be aware that the same ole tricks may not cut it. If we look around, a lot of businesses have already closed their doors for good. So what is helping those that are thriving in today’s economy?

RedRover is here to help answer those questions. We will be sharing the top 10 pain points that most every CEO is facing in 2021 — those gut-wrenching, keep-you-up-at-night issues – and how to navigate them and come out with your tail wagging!

And the winner is Pain Point #1: Employee Morale.

According to the Q4 2020 Vistage CEO Confidence Index, “employees and business leaders across the board are experiencing extreme fatigue from too many Zoom calls, operating in isolation, and the professional, personal, and family stress of the pandemic lifestyle.” Overwhelmingly, the top leadership challenge on CEOs’ minds is morale.  

Creating intentional company culture and positive employee morale have been buzz themes for more than a decade, but the growing segments of remote work compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic have emphasized this leadership challenge ten-fold. So, let’s address the elephant in the virtual rooms … what causes low employee morale? 

The workplace situations that plummet morale — summed up as the “attitude, satisfaction, and overall outlook of employees during their association with an organization” according to Forbes magazine — are lack of growth, poor clarity, leadership changes, leader problems, and company reputation.

Studies show that only 40% of people are happy at work. That stat is a gut-punch to growth-oriented CEOs who pour countless hours and brain cells into employee satisfaction: efforts to build culture, investments in perks, hiring and engaging top talent, and grooming leaders. As an SMB, the emotional and financial resources associated with driving a world-class culture may feel unattainable at times. But, maybe the answer is to do less, and do it well.

You have likely read sensational articles about what certain generations — namely millennials — expect in the workplace. Do ping-pong tables and espresso carts come to mind? Michael C. Bush, CEO of Great Place to Work® says it’s not about the perks. Across the board, his organization has found that workers of all generations, tenures, specialties and compensation levels want the same things: trust, respect and development.  

What can an organization do to have a high level of trust and respect? Bush encourages leaders to focus on three things:

Empowerment

When decisions largely require tiers of approval, employees don’t feel trusted. Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts is celebrated for elite customer experience, and their operational guide is simple, “do whatever you think is right when servicing the customer.” 

Fairness

Growing up, many of us were reminded that “life isn’t fair.” While truth resides in the cliché, it’s important to recognize that nothing “erodes trust in an organization faster than when people think they’re being treated unfairly.” As leaders, we have an opportunity to earn employees’ trust by treating them equally. Salesforce doubled down on this commitment by overhauling their compensation plans when they recognized unfair pay between identical roles. 

Listening

Resist the active listening mental-check-list we’ve learned in corporate training; remember that employees are astute. They sense when their opinion is truly valued and will reward that appreciation with honesty and openness. Bush points out, an employee must “know that what they say matters — so much that you might actually change your mind. Otherwise, what’s the point of the conversation?” 

If Bush’s statement that morale is not about the perks — even for millennials — is surprising, it might downright shock you to dislodge another assumption about millennial employees specifically: their loyalty. Research shows that millennials are 13 times more likely than gen X and baby boomers to stay with a company because they’re fulfilled. Fulfillment requires the trust and respect of the people they work for; they also want to feel they are doing well at their roles and are being developed. 

Tina Dietz, owner of StartSomething Creative Business Solutions, says that “the world is shifting quickly to a workforce interested in learning and skills advancement rather than stability.” Job satisfaction, self-esteem and productivity improve when employees have access to training. According to Chronus, workers who believe their company offers excellent training opportunities are generally less likely to leave their companies within a year of training than employees with poor training opportunities. 

The impact trust, respect and development have on morale has only increased as work structures evolve. Employees at the top 100 Best Companies to Work For evaluated their leaders even more highly post-pandemic with a 5-6 percent bump in ratings for inviting two-way dialogue, having high ethical standards, and actions matching their words. In fact, one of the most appreciated variables among happy employees is a psychological and emotionally healthy work environment. 

This shift not only benefits employee morale, it improves company outcomes. In an interview with The Atlantic, Bush points out that “the only way to unlock innovation is to earn the employee’s trust by creating the space to enable them to be themselves.” It’s a morale-boosting, company-reinforcing win-win.

So, trust, respect and development. Is that it — the secret sauce to employee morale?  

The simple answer might be yes. But, there is a caveat. Highly engaged, talented employees can feel valued and fulfilled but, as leaders, we can miss the writing on the wall.

Vistage Chief Research Officer Joe Galvin states, “Leaders must be compassionate of the fatigue that employees are feeling, or they will start to lose the talent they have. They must also manage their own fatigue, as they are not immune to stress or burnout.”

Ah, there it is: employee burnout. Katie Spencer, founder of Joy of Leading, writes, “Our national culture has been celebrating and promoting busyness for several decades. And yet, research has proven that being busy is not the same as being productive and can, in fact, make us less productive and certainly more exhausted.”

Spencer goes on to suggest that “our addiction to busyness leads us to believe that by doing more, we’ll get results.” But the outcome is counter to the intent because too much activity “distracts us from our goals and what really drives us toward them — resulting in diminished impact, at best.” She warns that overloaded schedules and celebrating activity results in 4 unintended consequences: 

Depleted ability to assess results

Disabled strategic thinking

Distraction from the big picture

Inability to prioritize

Our national obsession with activity can drive us to overwhelm talented employees and dilute outcomes. Additionally, heightened focus on activity breeds micromanagement — the adversary of trust and respect. When cultures embrace busyness, they expose their bellies to the very things that weaken morale and leaders risk becoming reactive rather than intentional in their team relationships.  

So, what’s a leader to do? “It is important to let go of worry over what is being done,” advises Don Hatter, author and Forbes contributor. “Instead, concentrate on what is being accomplished. If we are meeting our goals, then great. If not, we need to look into the situation further. It is all about accomplishment, not activity.” A focus on strengthened employee trust, respect and development may require us to pump the breaks and bring the conversation back to long-range goals and outcomes.

Key Takeaways: 

  • Trust and respect are critical for positive morale and can be achieved through empowerment, fairness and honest listening. 
  • Millennials want the same things as other generations and, in fact, show greater loyalty when they feel they’re being trusted, respected and developed by their employer.
  • Training & development improves employee morale and loyalty.
  • Leaders can avoid employee burnout by being compassionate about work fatigue and focusing on outcomes rather than activity. 

Maintaining positive company morale can be a challenge for even the most seasoned CEOs. Compounded with the reluctance employees may have about sharing openly and honestly about their own perceptions of team morale and personal sense of fulfillment, it can feel impossible to accurately assess and actively improve morale from the CEO-seat. 

If you feel paralyzed by the possibilities and obstacles, tag in the RedRover pack. Through objective employee interviews and qualitative marketing research, our Growth Optimization team will deliver the insights and thoughtful, data-driven strategy you need to reinforce the cornerstones of strong morale in your company. 

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