As workplaces nowadays place higher emphases on team collaboration and effective work distribution, more business experts are also turning their research focus to interpersonal relationships at the workplace. To date, various studies have shown a close relationship between firm environments and employees’ work performance (Frenkel, 2003; Weakliem & Frenkel, 2006).
The ancient Chinese philosopher, Sun Tzu, once wrote in his The Art of War,
“ In the morning the spirits are keen; at
midday there is a laziness; in the evening
a desire to return. Therefore, he who
uses his soldiers well, avoids the time when
the enemy’s spirits are keen; but attacks the enemy
when he is languid or seeking his camp.
Thus should the nature of energy be
Turned to account. ”
(Tzu, 2010, p.49-50)
What Sun Tzu is illustrating here is a thoughtful leverage of the soldiers’ team morale. In other words, when the enemy is high in spirit, we should remain reserved in the defense mode, whereas when the enemy is weak and our troop is highly motivated, we then turn into the attacking position earning final victory.
Similarly, the team morale and social interactions within a firm are crucial factors affecting not only its workers’ work performance but also the corporate’s chance of success. Company managers have been held solely accountable for cultivating a culture of high morale by many. However, as I have always pointed out in my writings on interpersonal relationships, the atmosphere of any work environment is dependent both on the employers and employees.
In this article, we will first review the things to be done by supervisors if we are hoping to strengthen the team’s morale.
Strategies for Supervisors
I. Check on your employees often (during work hours)
Some have argued that people should separate their work life completely apart from their personal lives. However, in my personal opinion, this is highly unlikely to happen since our work life has always been a part of our 24-hour day.
We may reduce our stress by unplugging from work, but this does not mean we should create dual identities that are of no relation to one another. To be an effective supervisor, therefore, you should help create an environment where your employees get to enjoy the work part of their life.
An article in the Harvard Business Review has shown that great managers are those who constantly check on their team members, making sure that their needs are valued and satisfied while fully embracing them into the work environment (Twaronite, 2019).
II. Handle workplace cliques carefully
Every two people can form a group, but whether it’s a subgroup or clique makes a great difference to the company’s morale. If you start to sense cliques rising from your team, make sure you deal the dynamics between them with caution.
Having said that, however, I do not mean that any kind of subgroup is a threat to the company as some subgroups may actually be healthy in nature. For instance, some subgroups are formed by a group of introverts with the same interests and hobbies, which eventually bind them closer together to the company in whole. The negative form of subgroup I am describing here are normally known as the clique that excludes outgroup members from joining and even engages in gossiping.
Part of being an effective leader is being sensitive to your surroundings (e.g. your team dynamics). Make sure you spot it when someone seems to be out of place or excluded from the entire group. Yet, don’t make the final judgment call before you rest assured of the reasons behind this issue. You may want to ask other members in a discreet way how they feel toward the member as well as what they think is causing the problem.
Meanwhile, you may also want to observe the interactions among these workers and try to see if there are really cliquey leaders causing the hassle. If it happens to be the case that two subgroup leaders are competing against one another, you may want to call them in for a serious conversation regarding their disruptive behaviors. Once you have shown them the red card, they should not be allowed to engage in another foul play, otherwise they are to be sent off home immediately afterwards so as not to further damage your team’s morale.
III. Support the motivators, fire the slackers
Andy Teach, a corporate coach with over 30 years of experience once said, “Having a bad apple on your team is going to cost you the morale of your whole department.” Teach is kindly reminding supervisors to actively handle the bad apples in the workplace.
For those of you who have been to or heard of the top-notch department store Nordstrom, you might have also learned a thing or two about their recruitment policies. The management team in Nordstrom requires that all people hired to work in the department store must possess, innately, high levels of motivation and passion toward their jobs, since they believe that technical skills be trained whereas personalities cannot. Thus, if they found someone working passively, they would ask him/her to leave without a second thought.
On the other hand, Nordstrom is never stingy with praises and rewards to those who are highly motivated. They believe that they are one of the driving agents to keep the whole company moving forward.
Nordstrom’s human resource policy is just one example to show the differences between motivators and slackers. I don’t think we need to be as pessimistic as they are regarding whether one’s personality and motivation can be altered or not. We may as well give those low achievers some time for adjustment before we replace them for others. Yet, if, given a certain period of training and readjustment, the employee does not show any sign of improvement, it’s time that we let him/her go.
As we have seen during this COVID-19 crisis, countries with leaders quick to react in cleverness do see a lower risk in spreading the virus nation-wide. The same rule also applies to corporate leadership. When organizational leaders are sensitive to possible threats and apt at counteracting them, he/she will drive the team toward a more stable and successful team performance.
- Chancellor, J., Margolis, S., Bao, K. J., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2017). Everyday prosociality in the workplace: The reinforcing benefits of giving, getting, and glimpsing. Emotion, 18, 507-517. https://dx.doi.org/10.1037/emo0000321
- Frenkel, S. J. (2003). The embedded character of workplace relations. Work and Occupations, 30, 135-153.
- Spector, R. & Reeves, B. O. (2017). The Nordstrom Way to Customer Experience Excellence, 3rd ed. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons.
- Twaronite, K. (2019). The surprising power of simply asking coworkers how they’re doing. Harvard Business Review, Feb. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/