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Warning Signs of Slumping Morale at Work

As a manager, you try to do everything right by your employees. You’ve read all the books that explain how to be a great leader, you keep free coffee in the kitchen, you host “Hawaiian Shirt Fridays” – all in the hopes that they will grow into energetic, enthusiastic workers. Heck, maybe someday they’ll even be managing a new generation of workers themselves. But one day, out of the blue, one of your employee dashes those dreams by coming to you and saying those three words that every manager dreads hearing: “I don’t care.”

When employee morale takes a turn for the worse, it may seem sudden; in reality, however, there are often warning signs to indicate an oncoming slump. Do your own employees exhibit the following behaviors?

· They’ve taken creative license with the term “working 9 to 5.”
Employees who stroll in late and/or rush out early on a regular basis are either extremely underworked or extremely unmotivated. Either way, as a manager, you should be extremely concerned.

· They never seem to take a break from work.
No office environment can – or should – be all fun all the time, but employees should feel free to take a break every once in a while. While you don’t want to discourage someone from working hard, know that an employee who never stops burning the midnight oil is at risk of burning out.

· They never seem to take a break to work.
On the other hand, if their browser history reads like a Fodor’s guide to gossip blogs and viral video sites, or if they’ve visited every Starbucks within a ten-block radius this morning alone, they’re making it clear that they either don’t have enough to do or simply don’t care about getting it done.

· Their knowledge of Joy Behar’s personal life borders on expert.
If employee absenteeism suddenly increases, chances are there’s more to it than a simple addiction to that delightful banter on “The View.” An increased frequency of personal and sick days should be a red alert that your employees would rather be anywhere but their own office.

· They lose all interest in intra-office Nerf ball battles.
No one will begrudge someone for refraining from the occasional office prank or paper football championship to meet a deadline, but watch out for employees who never give themselves a break, taking either themselves or their work way too seriously – they could be on the verge of impending burnout.

· Their jokes aren’t really “ha ha” funny.
Employees often use gallows humor or make jokes of a cynical nature as a way to express dissatisfaction in a seemingly harmless way. Listen to the comments your employees make that are supposedly in jest, as the saying “there’s truth in every joke” could apply.

If your employees appear to be growing increasingly dissatisfied or disinterested in their current positions, you must address the situation before it becomes detrimental to your employees, the quality of their work, and the company as a whole.

Before you force your employees into the conference room for a friendship circle and quick rendition of “Koom-By-Ya,” however, try to establish the root of the problem, which will help determine the best way to address the issue.

Consider the following:

· Has there been a recent negative event, such as a firing?

· Did an employee get promoted while others were overlooked?

· Have there been arguments between staff and/or management?

· Is the workload too heavy?

· Does hard work often go unacknowledged?

· Are new ideas or opinions discouraged or ignored?

· Is the supervision too rigid?

· Or is the supervision too lax, offering little support?

Once you have figured out the root of the problem, you can appropriately resolve the situation before it spreads and worsens. One solution, suggests David Jones, author of PassionWorks!: Your Guide to Passion in the Modern Workplace, involves carrying out a “meaning audit” to find out which projects are the most meaningful – and meaningless – to employees. It takes understanding what motivates your employees to make their work more meaningful for them, as well as most efficient and effective for the company. The knowledge gained from one of these audits will also be valuable in giving managers a benchmark by which to decide if they need to hire new staff.

Nearly every organization, no matter the industry, size or culture, experiences periods of decreased morale among employees, but that doesn’t mean you can just write the problem off as “just a phase my employees need to go through.” If you see the signs, make the effort to reach out to your employees – or risk losing otherwise valuable workers forever.

Mary Lorenz

About Mary Lorenz

Mary is a copywriter for CareerBuilder, specializing in B2B marketing and corporate recruiting best practices and social media. In addition to creating copy for corporate advertising and marketing campaigns, she researches and writes about employee attraction, engagement and retention. Whenever possible, she makes references to pop culture. Sometimes, those references are even relevant. A New Orleans native, Mary now lives in Chicago, right down the street from the best sushi place in the city. It's awesome.
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