We all have worked with or have heard stories of bad managers – those who make blatant mistakes when overseeing employees, such as criticizing people in front of other staff, playing favourites or other behaviour that harm morale for the entire team.
Yet, the reality is that even supervisors with the best of intentions often make less obvious missteps that can be just as damaging to employee motivation and productivity. As the job market improves, these slip-ups can also lead to turnover, so it’s especially critical to make sure you’re not inadvertently alienating your staff. Following are some common mistakes that may be deflating morale in your group:
Keeping them in the dark
Your company has decided to sell a business unit, one that has little involvement with your team. So, you figure there isn’t any urgency in telling your employees. Unfortunately, by not telling staff about the situation right away, they may listen to the rumour mill and believe there’s something to hide – perhaps your own business unit is also being sold or the firm is in financial trouble. It is always a wise move to be up-front about company developments, so people feel they are in the loop and know what to expect in the coming months. The more connected people are to the organisation and its future, the more motivated they will be in their jobs.
While e-mails, memos and information on the company intranet can be useful in providing updates, try to hold group face-to-face discussions whenever feasible, particularly if company events will affect employees directly. This will allow people to ask you questions, which can ease concerns or anxiety about potential changes.
Being too involved on the front lines
Another morale deflator is becoming too caught up in your staff’s responsibilities. You may pride yourself on being a hands-on manager, remaining highly involved in your employees’ daily work. In fact, you may be aware of precisely where every project is in the completion stages because you sign off or receive updates at each step of the process.
While it may seem like you’re showing an interest in your staff and making sure you’re always there as a resource, what you’re really doing is micromanaging. What motivates employees is being given the latitude to do their jobs the way they deem best. Try to empower people to make decisions and problem-solve. In doing so, you’ll not only boost morale, but you’ll also find that you’re better able to focus on higher priority initiatives.
Being too removed from the front lines
At the same time, be careful about being so involved in your own work as a manager that you make yourself unavailable to your employees. If your door is always closed and you fail to respond to e-mails and calls from staff in a timely manner, those on your team may believe they’ve been left to “sink or swim.” That feeling is hardly confidence-building.
Try to keep a routine of ongoing staff meetings and impromptu discussions with individuals in your group about their projects. If you’re particularly busy and know you won’t be easily accessible to employees, give people the heads-up and explain the best way to reach you if needed. You might also designate someone to serve as your backup, so staff know there’s a support system in case they have questions or concerns about their assignments.
Also think about the way you handle change. When business conditions are uncertain, it’s particularly tempting to go with the status quo. After all, if you know particular processes or strategies have worked well in the past, why make adjustments? However, by avoiding innovation and risk, you may be implying that you don’t value your staff’s suggestions, which can cause people to lose respect for you as their manager.
Even if you don’t openly tell employees not to offer new ideas, consider whether your actions are sending the same message. Do you follow through when people make good proposals and try to implement the best ones when feasible? Are you critical when suggestions fail? The way you handle recommendations can greatly affect whether your staff feels confident enough to make them in the first place.
Also consider whether your team has been running at 110 per cent too long. If your employees have been asked to do more with less for an extended time, they are at high risk of not just having poor morale but also physical or mental distress. Odds are staff won’t approach you to tell you they’ve reached their limits, out of fear of being perceived as complainers or incompetent in their roles. So, watch for the warning signs that include starting to miss deadlines, having greater conflict with co-workers, generating customer or internal complaints about service quality or job performance, or frequent attendance problems.
Even if you can’t afford to hire more full-time staff to alleviate stress, there are steps you can take to help. For starters, look at ways to redistribute and reprioritize assignments so the work isn’t so overwhelming. You might also consider bringing in temporary or project professionals to assist with peak workloads. Simply making sure employees take their breaks and use their vacation time allotment also can go a long way toward renewing energy and motivation.
Forgetting the power of praise
Finally, don’t underestimate the value of showing appreciation to your employees. Even if your budget doesn’t allow you to give bonuses or other pricey rewards, acknowledge the contributions of those on your team. Praise during a meeting or an afternoon off are just a couple ways of offering meaningful thanks for a job well done. People who feel their managers notice their efforts are more likely to give their best to future assignments and maintain high morale.
About Robert Half International
Founded in 1948, Robert Half International, the world’s first and largest specialized staffing firm, is a recognized leader in professional staffing services. The company’s specialized staffing divisions include Accountemps(R), Robert Half(R) Finance & Accounting and Robert Half(R) Management Resources, for temporary, full-time and senior-level project professionals, respectively, in the fields of accounting and finance; OfficeTeam(R), for highly skilled temporary administrative support personnel; Robert Half(R) Technology, for information technology professionals; Robert Half(R) Legal, for legal personnel; and The Creative Group(R), for advertising, marketing and web professionals. Robert Half International has staffing and consulting operations in more than 400 locations worldwide.
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