A few days ago I wrote about the Chief Morale Officer, an important role that I think more companies should fill. The previous post is a bit high level, so I thought I’d be more concrete and enumerate a few ideas on how to improve morale.

  • At the core, I’d say companies need to respect and empower employees. Focus on happiness with a focus on each employee achieving mastery, autonomy, and purpose.
  • Our primate brains can only handle between 100 and 230 connections, so units and teams should be built with this in mind. Recent experiments have shown that compassion and respect are inverse with the gap in pay and humanity (tall organizational structures with tons of people in between top and bottom).
  • Trying to handle real-life matters is stressful when you’re stuck at work during normal business hours; for example, when are you going to get your car fixed? The mechanic is open from 6am-6pm and you need your car to get to work, so before work is really inconvenient; if you’re at work until 5pm then you won’t get to the mechanic until 5:30pm and then you’re competing with everyone else in the same situation. You’re unlikely to get your car back before the next day, but wait! you need your car to get to work… A few ideas to alleviate stress from similar situations:

    • four day work weeks (work 40 hours in 4 days then take the 5th day off) or 9/80 (work 80 hours in 9 days then take the 10th day off)
    • flexible start and end times
    • the ability to telecommute (at least once a week)
    • half-day hump day (9 hours Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and 4 hours on Wednesday). Kids love half days a school; I think big kids would enjoy it too.
  • Some people never take a day off and others take more than their allotment, but I think the American average is to err on the side of caution and work.  It is difficult to take vacation when there is a deadline looming. Everyone else is still working, so people often feel they cannot, in good conscience, take vacation. To combat this, I would shut the company down a couple weeks a year: early summer and late December. This would give the employee two solid weeks off and ease their mind because it is officially okay to enjoy yourself.
  • Employees should personally continue to improve their skills and stay abreast of market trends, but companies can help too. A little consistent training over many years leads to an exponentially more knowledgeable employee. This is also a huge perk! Companies can say, “Come to our company and continue to grow and learn! You will not be bored.” Something as simple as a weekly lunch and learn could help employees stay productive while still learning new things. Another approach to learning new things is short stints in a different role. Adult internships are becoming more common, and I think companies should internalize that by allowing employees to check out a different area for a period (perhaps in blocks ranging from 4 hours to 1 work-week). Exploring other teams and other functions is very healthy. Seeing how others work and what they do has numerous benefits like: (1) diffusing knowledge allowing observer and observee to learn and teach, (2) mitigating risk that only one person knows how to perform any action, and (3) increasing empathy.
  • Empower employees to make the decisions they need. How many times have you had to wait while a surly, unhappy employee retrieves the manager? That’s not a fun position for the customer or the employee. A toy example: the doorman can be President of Greeting who is personally responsible for making everyone smile. He/she could access to coupons, vouchers, umbrellas, etc and be able to talk to managers who could benefit from his/her observations.
  • Encourage people to maintain clean, personalized spaces. At the high end a fully appointed developer setup is $6,174. Businesses are nothing without employees and the revenue per employee can be thousands or more per year, so providing a clean, comfortable working area is a small investment with a huge ROI. If you’re running lean, allowing people to bring in materials and make their cube more hospitable costs you nothing but can improve morale and productivity.
  • Operate with transparency and openness, flatten the structures and allow people to communicate across levels. I think this is where a CMO would have real power–they could act as a bridge between management and employees. Everyone wants respect. They want to be heard. Stories from some successful companies mention that the CEO spends a few minutes per day talking to random employees. People love these CEOs and it keeps the CEO in touch with the pulse of the people. How empowering for both sides. Awesome!

Well, I think that’s enough for now! There are more ideas, lots of literature to read, and experiments to be done! I leave you with a great video on positive psychology (If it doesn’t play above, the video is a TED talk by Shawn Achor).

What’s your best idea for how to improve your own morale? What about a sweeping change to help all employees’ morale?