Passion and energy within any organization or company starts at the top with the leadership. The moment when an employee begins to feel unappreciated is when morale begins to suffer. Lack of respect and lack of support are often cited as reasons why people leave their jobs. Other reasons include excessive workload, concerns about management, anxiety about the future, especially job security, income and retirement security, lack of recognition, continuous change and compensation that does not align with exceptional performance. Anxiety and anger are key ingredients of low morale.
A decade ago, the Gallup Organization estimated that disengaged employees cost the economy as much as $350 billion dollars per year in lost productivity including absenteeism, illness and other low morale issues. An alarming 70% of American workers are not showing up to work committed to delivering their best performance, and this has serious implications for the bottom line of individual companies and the U.S. economy as a whole. Of the 70% of American workers who are not reaching their full potential, 52% are not engaged, and another 18% are actively disengaged. These employees are emotionally disconnected from their companies and may actually be working against their employers’ interests. They are less productive, are more likely to steal from their companies, negatively influence their coworkers, miss workdays, and drive customers away.
Psychology Today reports that burnout is not a simple result of long hours. The cynicism, depression, and lethargy of burnout can occur when you’re not in control of how you carry out your job, when you’re working toward goals that don’t resonate with you, and when you lack social support. If you don’t tailor your responsibilities to match your true calling, or at least take a break once in a while, you could face a mountain of mental and physical health problems.
In public education, we see low morale often mentioned in criticism of the job. This reveals that administrators have a lot of work to do in addressing low morale and burnout with their teachers. If successful in improving morale, leadership will see higher productivity, better retention, reduction in stress, and an improved workplace for all. In education, the workplace is where children learn. Having contented and energized employees who are willing to go the extra mile for students and the school district would be key to having an effective learning environment. In education, like any organization, people are the most critical resource.
In order to avoid low morale or burnout, leaders must effectively communicate their vision. Employees must not only understand, they must buy into that vision which will help determine how an employee feels about their work and work environment. A 2010 Canadian survey mentioned that the most effective staff morale boosting behaviors of managers are to 1) talk less and listen more; 2) give clear expectations; 3) have more informal interaction with staff; 4) assign tasks to staff based on skills rather than office politics; 5) give more rights to staff; (e.g., give staff more opportunities to make a decision for certain tasks) and 6) to respect people with greater expertise. Lastly, an important way to understand the current employee morale climate is by administering culture or climate surveys regularly. People must feel a sense of attachment to their work, only then will they care about their performance.
These are complex issues and intertwined with various contributing factors. Just as there is no lone factor that explains low morale or burnout, addressing it will require a combination of solutions, and require a substantial amount of time and effort. Leaders must remain attentive to the signs of low morale and burnout. Only by focusing on creating an environment that allows employees to perform up to their skills and potential can an organization or company hope to avert low morale and burnout.
JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee. To schedule an interview please contact Audrey Shores, Director of Communications, at 1-800-471-4867 ext.102.