United multi-ethnic business team having a meeting

We’re constantly looking to know what the hot-button issues are in human capital, training, OD, and human resources, and so when I came across this blog—Improving Employee Morale—on the American Society for Training and Development’s website, I pored through it.

Employee morale is easy to spot, both in a negative and a positive sense, but it’s difficult to shift, especially with negative employee morale. Think of it like a wave—it can seem overbearing once it’s right on top of you, but it started rolling in a small way over quite some time.

You know negative company morale when you see it: dissatisfied employees, lack of communication, aversion to change, workplace silos, ineffective leadership, lack of trust. But how do you turn it around and improve employee morale, or, better yet, prevent it from ever getting to that point in the first place?

The ASTD blogger, Stewart Liff, outlines a couple of key factors:

  • Your philosophy
  • How well you communicate
  • Your management systems and how well you apply them
  • The employee dynamics
  • Your skill at dealing with difficult employees

These are all important, but I want to focus on the second bullet—how well you communicate—because I think it is the foundation for everything else that follows.

Liff mentions that “communicating in a whole brain fashion” is important—“Since people have different learning styles, it stands to reason that you want to use different means of communication to reach as many employees as possible.” Right on, Stewart—now let’s talk about how to get that done:

Employees are coming both from different thinking patterns and from different behavioral tendencies. The key is listening to them in a way that extends the communication line out and communicating to them in a way that makes sense in their brain. It’s not easy, because really, we’re talking about individualizing your communication approaches, but the results are incredible.

Take the brain and let’s look at it from four perspectives: convergent (commonly called left brain), divergent (commonly called right brain), abstract, and concrete.

  • The convergent brain is the data center for the brain. “Left brain” thinkers need to receive the thinking behind the idea. They need to know what the plan is and why it should work. They need to be prepared and know what’s coming. They trust logic and process, not intuition and vision. They want clear, reliable information presented in a straightforward way.
  • The divergent brain is visceral, emotional, and intuitive. Intuition starts with people and ideas and extends to the overall connection from one idea to another. “Right brain” thinkers want to look at impact on a human level and build things to new heights. They don’t need as many details and prefer a big-picture viewpoint. They’re natural connectors—both for people and for ideas.
  • The abstract brain combines the logic and the vision. Forget the minor details and just focus on the big picture. It’s analysis mixed with ideas. They want to look for the long-term solution and think through why it makes sense.
  • The concrete brain, on the other hand, needs details and needs to know who, when, and where. Concrete thinkers are implementation engines—they’ll find a way to get it done (and done right) or they’ll find the people to do it. The big picture is fine, but give them details, details, details, because that’s how you’ll engender their trust.

Finally, communication is built on Expressiveness. How expressive are the people who work in your organization? Where do their behaviors lie?

  • The quiet end: For those on this end of the spectrum, make sure they have an outlet for their thoughts. Give them time to think, process, and communicate. Listen carefully and ask questions—but don’t badger. Know that if they need to work alone, that’s not bad for their morale.
  • The outgoing end: Employees on this side of the spectrum will want to share every idea. Don’t shutter their enthusiasm for communication, but rather encourage it and provide multiple outlets. Allow them to lead teams and facilitate discussion. Give them a forum to speak out.

It isn’t easy to stem the rising tide of a negative morale, but one clear way to improve employee morale is by communicating more effectively.

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