HR Management

10 Employee Morale Crushers

Employee morale is perhaps one of the most important but most difficult things to manage. It’s critical to maintain high morale in order to increase retention, but it’s often difficult to get an accurate read on how employees feel and what is causing them to be dissatisfied.

Here are some of the most commonly cited reasons for low employee morale:

1. Managers that treat employees poorly. Poor management is often cited as a cause of morale issues, and it can take many forms. One example is a manager who acts as though an employee is lucky to even have a job, rather than respecting the employee and his or her work.

2. Moving the goalpost. Employees will be understandably frustrated if their goals are continually changing—especially if this happens before the first goal can be accomplished or if the new goals contradict the old ones, making the previous work obsolete.

3. Unclear expectations. Similar to the item above, it’s discouraging to not know what you’re working toward. If the goals are not clear and employees don’t know what role they’re meant to play, they will get frustrated. This is especially true if they’re being judged by a set of criteria, yet don’t know what those criteria are. Employees should be given frequent feedback to know where they stand and what is expected of them.

4. Lack of communication. When employees feel like they’re kept in the dark, it creates resentment and presents opportunities for rumors to run wild. Communication is important all the time, and is critical at times of extreme change. The ability to communicate up the chain of command is also crucial for employees to feel heard, and feeling like their opinions matter is highly important to employees’ sense of engagement.


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5. Not feeling recognized for hard work. While not every employee will respond to the same types of recognition, most do desire to have their efforts recognized in some capacity. Not only does it confirm that the employee is meeting and exceeding expectations but it also gives a sense of accomplishment and pride in the work.

6. No clear employee development plan. When an employee is hired, often he or she has a long-term vision for what roles they will take on next. When the company and an employee are on the same page, clear employee development plans will be in place and the employee will likely take on new roles over time. But when there is no development plan, there’s a high risk that employees will feel dissatisfied and unable to work to their full potential in the role they’re in. They’re likely to start looking for another organization to get new opportunities. Employees need to see a clear line of how they will progress their career and achieve their goals.

7. Lack of trust to complete the work. This often manifests as micromanagement or an environment in which an employee does not feel he or she has any leeway. Many employees would prefer to do their job to the best of their abilities and make appropriate judgment calls without having their actions called into question at every turn. On the other side of the coin, employees also need to feel free to ask questions without having negative repercussions. They should be able to ask for help and receive it without being perceived as unable to complete the work.


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8. An unreasonable workload. While most employees understand that workloads can fluctuate, requiring an employee to keep up with an unreasonable workload for too long is a recipe for burnout and resentment. This is an especially common problem for employers that downsized during the recession and simply expected employees to take on more work—especially if that didn’t come with any recognition, as noted above.

9. Inappropriate compensation levels. Surprisingly, compensation does not factor as high as some may guess when it comes to morale levels, but it needs to be reasonable and it needs to reflect the quality of work and responsibility level of the employee. When low wages are coupled with any other item on this list, they will be much more of an issue to contend with, as inadequate compensation tends to compound other frustrations.

10. High turnover rates. When an employer has high turnover, it puts undue stress on the entire organization—remaining employees have to pick up the slack. Additionally, if the turnover comes from employees being let go frequently, remaining employees can lose confidence in their job security.

What other factors have you seen that contribute to low employee morale?

In tomorrow’s Advisor, we’ll review 5 great ways to engage with employees to boost morale, plus an introduction to the new research report, Recruiting Best Practices: Finding and Attracting Talent in 2015’s Challenging Business Climate.