In every organization, people are undoubtedly the most important resource. The energy of a happy, healthy work environment can serve as a great recruitment and retention tool, as well as improve overall productivity and creativity. Conversely, low morale can zap the energy and productivity out of a team.
In the world of advancement, we often face work environments where employee morale is low for a myriad of reasons. There has been no shortage of challenging and difficult events affecting colleges and universities, for example. How about state budget cuts? How about another negative impact on our budgets and institutional relevance and viability—declining enrollments? What about administrative missteps?
These scenarios can understandably create stress and uncertainty including college closures, department mergers, and personnel cuts. And those are but a few examples, which point to the many ways those of us in advancement can be dealt in the complex and challenging environment in which to do our work.
In an important and timely article in CASE’s Advancement Weekly on boosting morale when times are challenging, several tips are offered to leaders working with a team or office environment experiencing low morale: be direct, rebuild trust, and inspire others.
Being direct requires courage to share the bad news plainly without sugar-coating it. “At some point in human history, it was determined that the best way to deliver bad news was to either ignore it or jam it deep inside a daunting mass of big words,” explains Robby Brumberg. “Don’t try to bury bad news underneath mounds of meaningless buzzwords.”
Brumberg also recommends rebuilding trust so that your team can heal and work toward a common goal. “If your culture has been damaged, try to piece it back together. Use your communication to rebuild trust and reestablish connections,” writes Brumberg. When employees trust that they can discuss issues frankly with leadership, it’s far easier to discover and correct any issues before they have undesired consequences.
The Association for Talent Development asserts there are five questions to ask yourself when determining if you’re a trustworthy leader:
- Do people constantly question your expectations of them?
- Would most people describe you as someone who is reliable?
- Is there a high amount of gossip and disrespect among your team?
- Do the majority of team members underperform at the tasks you ask them to do?
- Do you trust people to take on new responsibilities?
Inspiring others is Brumberg’s final suggestion to boost employee morale. This may seem obvious, but you should be intentional about what you say and how you say it. “You have a voice—a prominent one in your organization—so you might as well use it to spread a bit of mirth, hope and encouragement. If you deliver doom and gloom (or boring corporate spume), you’ll make morale worse,” says Brumberg.
Brumberg sums how to use up proper communication to boost morale by stating, “You can’t fix everything that’s broken in your organization—and you can put only so much lipstick on whatever messaging pigs you inherit—but you can use your position to uplift, encourage and energize your colleagues.”