Are You Overlooking a Morale Problem?
Sponsored by Robert Half International

Know the warning signs of employee disengagement and what you can do to get things back on track.

August 4, 2011

Busy, busy, busy. Being a manager today is no easy task. It may feel like you have a million things on your to-do list making it hard to keep up with your responsibilities, let alone take notice of the mood of your workforce.

Low morale always places a drag on productivity, but an improving job market for financial professionals means that if you don’t watch for signs your employees are not engaged with their work, they could even decide to look for new opportunities elsewhere. The indicators of trouble may be subtler than people storming out of meetings or complaining openly about policies or projects. Here are four behaviors that should be on your radar:

1. Staff clear out at 5:00 pm on the dot

You’ve been on a conference call and open your door at 5:05 pm to find the majority of your team has left for the day. It seems like these prompt exits have been increasing lately. While you may not expect staff to work overtime everyday, the fact that people are watching the clock closely enough to leave precisely on time can be a red flag. Happy employees don’t count down until it’s time to be off work.

2. Projects are delayed or late

Suddenly, even your top performers are asking for extensions with deadlines or begin failing to turn in work on time. You’ve ruled out staff being overwhelmed, because you’ve added more employees recently and also brought in interim accounting professionals during peak workload periods, so demands aren’t excessive.

Another possibility is that employees are feeling less personal obligation or motivation to meet expectations if they’re focused on leaving the company and pursuing their next job opportunity.

3. Absences are on the rise

Lately, everyone is getting sick with different ailments, facing “personal situations” and requesting vacation time. You can’t recall the last time you were fully staffed.

While some people may have legitimate excuses for the time off, a widespread trend with growing absences should cause you to take note. It can be a strong indicator that people are either avoiding coming into the office or using the time for job-hunting activity.

4. Creativity is in short supply

You hold a meeting to discuss new company developments and to brainstorm ways your financial team can support these initiatives. Rather than getting the enthusiastic response you expected, you’re greeted with silence. Few employees offer ideas or even ask questions about the project.

It may be that staff is no longer invested in the company’s future. As a result, they feel less incentive to push themselves to be creative or think about the implications of changes on their current jobs.

Fixing the Problem

If you’re thinking “Uh-oh, that sounds familiar” when considering these warning signs, don’t lose heart. There are ways you can get things back on track:

• Show personal interest. Make sure you understand individual career goals. This will allow you to provide projects, training and other opportunities that are motivating.

• Listen. If you notice waning interest on the part of any of your team members, confront the issue head-on. Meet privately and discuss what you’ve observed. Ask for candid feedback about what you can do to make work more fulfilling. Just make sure you’re sincere and follow through on reasonable changes or you’ll only make the situation worse.

• Connect the dots. Don’t assume people understand the value of their work. Explain to staff how their efforts are making a positive impact on the company.

• Give up some control. Encourage employees to think creatively and take smart risks in their jobs. Demonstrating trust can be highly motivating.

• Think beyond the cubicle. Support work-life balance by allowing flexible scheduling options, including the possibility of working from home periodically, when appropriate.

• Get out of the office. Consider activities that can help unite your employees in a positive way. For instance, a department family picnic at the park or a volunteer effort with a local charity can boost team-building and morale.

• Show appreciation. Offer raises and bonuses when you can to demonstrate you see the value of your staff’s contributions. If this isn’t possible, consider non-monetary recognition such as personal thank-you notes and time off after key projects.

• Look in the mirror. Is there any chance your own actions have contributed to the morale problem? Do you arrive at the office with a positive attitude? Also reflect on how you handle employee communication and stressful situations. Taking a look at old performance reviews may give you insights on areas for improvement. Also ask other managers and mentors for their advice. 

Making a concerted effort to ensure employees are engaged in their jobs, offers benefits far greater than just preventing turnover. With a more connected workforce, your team will be more productive and committed to excellence. Your office will be a more pleasant place to work, as well. These improvements can not only keep key business objectives on track but also help you attract top talent when you need to add staff.

This article is provided courtesy of Robert Half International, parent company of Accountemps, Robert Half Finance & Accounting and Robert Half Management Resources. Robert Half is the world’s first and largest specialized staffing firm placing accounting and finance professionals on a temporary, full-time and project basis. Follow Robert Half on Twitter at twitter.com/roberthalf.