Lack of Communication Major Cause of Low Employee Morale

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Low employee morale
I once worked for a non-profit organization where the founder/CEO was less than a good motivator. Though a caring person on the inside, his outward demeanor was often characterized by gruff, critical behavior.

In terms of motivation, I recall him once telling a fellow employee, “You get motivated every two weeks.” (That’s when we were paid.)

Had I and the other employees not believed so strongly in the mission of the organization, doubtless we would have become discouraged and morale would have suffered.

Low employee morale can lead to deleterious effects on business including low productivity, disengaged employees and increased absenteeism, each of which profoundly affects the bottom line.

What are the causes of low employee morale and what can be done to improve it?

Causes of Low Employee Morale

While a number of factors contribute to low employee morale – lack of incentives or proper training, personal issues, poor leadership, and cultural diversity among them – the chief culprit seems to be poor communication.

In a survey of 300 human resource professionals conducted by recruiting company Accountemps, 33% said a lack of open, honest communication has the most negative impact on employee morale. When asked about the best remedy, 38% said “communication.”

When employees aren’t communicated with effectively, or they lack the ability to communicate with co-workers or supervisors, low morale can set in like the plague.

Remedies for Low Employee Morale

1. Foster Open Communication

Provide an environment where employees feel comfortable asking for clarification. A highly communicative and collaborative work environment promotes employee productivity, creativity and inspiration. Training employees on proper communication techniques should also be a priority.

“Managers can be doing everything right, but if they’re not including employees in the information loop, staff engagement could suffer,” said Max Messmer, chairman of Accountemps. “To improve communication, keep team members apprised of company goals and performance, and encourage them to ask questions and offer feedback.”

2. To Improve Morale, Be Moral

It’s interesting that the historical roots of the word morale is “moral.” The World English Dictionary defines morale as: the degree of mental or moral confidence of a person or group.

It comes as no surprise that when people act morally, practicing principles of right conduct, it will lead to a better work environment and enhance morale. Gossip, lies and subterfuge will be replaced with openness, honesty and concern for others’ well-being.

3. Communicate Using the Golden Rule

There’s something to be said for that “do unto others” ethic. It portends that you approach communication in a respectful manner and expect that others will do the same. Extending common courtesies like “please” and “thank you” can’t hurt either. If you place value on every person in the organization and treat them with respect, morale is bound to improve.

4. Motivate by Communicating Vision

Rick Warren, a well-known pastor and author of the bestselling The Purpose Driven Life, espouses what he calls the Nehemiah Principle.

He cites the Old Testament story of Nehemiah who was tasked with the job of rebuilding the wall in Jerusalem following its destruction.

“In Nehemiah’s story of rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem, halfway through the project people got discouraged and wanted to give up,” said Warren. “Although the wall took only 52 days to complete, the people became discouraged at the halfway point: just 26 days into the project! Nehemiah had to renew their vision.”

Warren advises leaders to follow Nehemiah’s example and recast the mission/vision every 30 days. Though he is talking primarily to pastors, that’s good advice for business leaders who want to keep their employees motivated.

5. Go Where the Troops Are

A story that comes from the front lines in Afghanistan recounts how Lt. Col. Justin Hadley, commander of the 6th Squadron, 8th Cavalry Regiment of the U.S. Army’s Third Infantry Division, chose to board an armored vehicle and visit the troops on the ground rather than oversee operations from the comfortable confines of command headquarters. Hadley believes there is value in spending time with his counterparts on the battlefield, especially when you don’t have to be there.

That’s also good advice for leaders. Get out on the factory floor, or the hallways of the corporate office and interact with the “troops.”

In addition to these five recommendations, the Accountemps survey highlights five characteristics of and remedies for low morale:

1. An active grapevine – When communication is scarce, gossip and misinformation flourish. Keep lines of conversation open.

2. Lack of initiative – Foster an ownership environment in which employees are challenged to take initiative and solve problems in creative ways.

3. Scarce rewards – Recognize employees’ efforts with praise, low-cost awards and spot bonuses.

4. Changes in attitude – Look for low morale red flags: increased negativity, higher rates of absenteeism, or reduced cooperation or commitment.

5. Poor performance – Morale problems can quickly affect a team’s quality of work. Signs of trouble include missed deadlines, an increase in mistakes or a decline in service levels.


How do you maintain and enhance employee morale? According to the HR professionals queried in the survey, the answer is: communicate, communicate, communicate!

Foster an environment of open communication where employees feel freedom to ask for clarification and provide feedback. Regularly communicate the company vision, treat employees with dignity and respect, and spend time with them face-to-face.

Related Resources:

Employee morale infographic

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