09 August 2023 |

 is low morale poisoning your team?

By Gabrielle "GB" Blackwell

The Antidote to Low Morale

The first thing to know about low morale teams are the signs:

  • Persistent negativity 
  • Failure to follow through on doable tasks
  • Absenteeism
  • Little to no engagement in team meetings
  • High turnover
  • Apathetic reps

The second thing to know about low morale teams is that they don’t just happen – low morale is cultivated.

Reps feel like they can’t be successful in their role AND they don’t think anyone cares enough to do something about it.

Simply put, low morale is a symptom of corporate neglect. 

The antidote to low morale? Being a manager who is also a great leader!

There are 5 key things that differentiate great leaders from people who only know how to manage. Great leaders:

  1. Create space for their people to feel heard and understood
  2. Inspire their people with a big vision of what’s possible
  3. Redefine success while celebrating the small wins
  4. Hold reps to high standards while showing care
  5. Seek out support and encourage their reps to do the same

I know…easier said than done. So let’s break down the “how” for each way great leaders show up…

Create space for people to feel heard 

If you’re truly confronted with a low morale team, your job isn’t to get your people to listen to you. Your job is to listen to your people until they feel heard and understood.

Think about it – a low morale team has likely spoken up about needing help or calling out roadblocks inhibiting their performance. The response they’ve probably gotten from other managers and/or senior leaders? That they’re unwilling, insubordinate, or not important enough to receive support.

So what you’ll need to do instead is listen and seek to understand

This doesn’t mean that you go along with every idea or recommendation your team presents. But it does mean taking the time to show you value your people’s opinions. 

Note: Creating space is not a one-and-done thing. It’s about consistently showing your team that you care enough about them to listen to their concerns. Cultivate an environment where your team feels comfortable speaking up constructively, rather than unloading in unproductive ways.

Inspire your people with a vision of what’s possible

It is really hard to shake the discouragement and hopelessness that accompanies low morale. 

People may feel like there’s no way to be successful in their role, regardless of the resources available to them. 

There may not be a history of success that you can pull from that would get your people to believe that success is possible. This is where having a vision that’s bigger than the current moment comes into play.

I’ll be dedicating an entire newsletter to creating a vision for your team, but at a high level, here are some things you can do to get started:

  • Map out the journey for your people – this helps illustrate the journey your team should anticipate
  • Highlight what the team already has – low morale is often accompanied by a scarcity mindset. Reminding the team of what they already possess can help them shift from scarcity mindset to a strengths based mindset
  • Share how you’ll support your team through the changes – your people will need a lot of support from you while you work to improve team morale. Make sure your team knows how you plan to support them throughout the morale improvement process
  • Get them bought into the opportunity – reps can often fall into a victim mindset when low morale hits. Your job as a manager is to empower your people with a winning mindset, reminding them they have a choice in how they want to show up. 

🏀Assist: One line I like to use with my reps to get them bought into a bigger vision is taking them through a scenario that’s very likely to happen: “Imagine there’s an absolute dream opportunity for you. You’re interviewing for that role and the interviewer asks you, ‘tell me about a time you had to overcome an adverse experience at work. What was it and how did you respond?’ This is the moment where you get to answer that question. This is where you get to show you are the best person for that opportunity.”

Redefine success while celebrating the small wins

When your team is experiencing low morale, the big wins are likely few and far between. 

If you wait until the big wins happen, you’ll miss out on driving some upwards momentum with your team. This is why it is so important to rethink what success means for your team.

Just think – if your team is consistently negative or deflated, they’re probably struggling to accomplish their daily activities. So start celebrating the small moments that lead to bigger wins. 

A rep hit their call number for the day – shout that out!

A rep had a quality conversation – give them kudos!

You had a fully staffed team for the week – make sure to recognize that in your Friday weekly wrap up or Monday kickoff meeting.

Doesn’t really matter what you’re celebrating – as long as you are giving kudos to your team when they demonstrate behaviors that will eventually lead to success, find a way to shout that out!

🏀Assist: Create a system of recognition that is behavior based rather than performance based. For example, if someone hits all of their activity KPIs for the week, issue them a certificate of achievement in a team meeting. It might feel like you’re giving out participation prizes, but so what! People will typically want to get rewarded with something like a certificate and do the work to get one. That’s a win!

Hold reps to high standards while showing care

Remember – low morale is a symptom of corporate neglect. And if your team has been neglected, your people are likely feeling left behind or set up to fail.

One way to keep them feeling like they’re being left behind or set up for failure is to let them off the hook or take things easy on them.

Now, I’m not advocating for being an a**hole to your people. I am, however, advocating that you be a really great coach for your team.

That means celebrating them when they’re doing things well, per the last section. But just as importantly, it means giving your people feedback when they’re falling below standards. 

🏀Assist: If people are messing up and you don’t say anything, they’ll likely resent you for it. Don’t believe me? Go read Kim Scott’s Radical Candor to find out more about what happens when you don’t challenge your people to reach a higher standard.

Seek out support

Real talk – leading a team with low morale is exhausting AF!

There’s the work of supporting the team from a coaching and development standpoint, but there’s the additional emotional labor that comes along with having a severely deflated team.

If you’re not pouring into yourself while you’re working overtime to pour into your team, you’ll always risk burning out and cutting your team’s progress short. 

What’s key here is making sure you’re taking care of yourself! Consider:

  • Getting a coach to help you navigate the ins and outs of leading a low morale team while also equipping yourself with the right tools
  • Finding a mentor who can soundboard with you 
  • Being vulnerable with your manager about how leading a low morale team affects you mentally and emotionally. That way, your manager will know when they can push you and when they should pull back. 
  • Taking your wellness routine really seriously. Get your sleep time. Move your body. Be mindful of what you’re consuming – food and content!

The more you care for yourself, the more and better you’ll be able to take care of your team!

And, in taking care of yourself, you’ll set a positive example for your team! Being in a low morale environment is likely just as stressful for your people as it is for you. When you’re doing the work to take care of yourself, you’ll also invite your team to take the time and effort to invest in their well being. This helps big time in building up your team’s level of resilience!

🏀Assist: I love love love encouraging my reps to take advantage of any Employee Assistance Programs or wellness programs my employer offers. Modern Health’s therapy and coaching sessions have been a lifeline for the majority of my reps this year and my reps are now encouraging each other to take advantage of these benefits.

Keep moving forward

There is no amount of calls made or emails sent that can fix a morale problem. The only way to turn things around is by being a leader of your people. This means providing direction, showing care, and giving people a reason to feel hope again while at work. 

Being a leader also means being the one who is unafraid of moving forward. When everyone else is crouched down on the ground with their tail between their legs, it is the leader who is the one standing up and showing people a way out of their misery.

Be the leader your team needs you to be – and you’ll be surprised at how much your team’s morale can rebound!