It's Personal: Employee Morale and Your Behavior

By Katherine Spencer Lee

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When considering the factors that affect employee morale, a list of usual suspects often comes to mind — job security, the company’s compensation and benefits package, and opportunities for professional growth, among other issues. Yet, sometimes it’s your behavior as a leader that can be the deciding factor between a happy, productive team and one that lacks motivation.

Take an honest look at your actions to make sure you aren’t contributing to declining morale. Following are some subtle signals you may be sending that can spell trouble in the eyes of your employees:

A grumpy mood. You may be upset about matters that have nothing to do with work, but if you are short-tempered with your staff, they may believe there is bad news on the horizon or that they did something to upset you (“Maybe I shouldn’t have recommended those changes to the company Website …”).

This is especially true if the company or department is experiencing significant change. As a result, try to stay on an even keel when communicating with your team.

Pay particular attention to those instances when you are most stressed. If you need to concentrate on a pressing deadline or address a critical situation, let your staff members know how accessible you are and how best to reach you during this time. You’ll minimize the potential for frustrating interruptions and negative interactions with employees.

A closed door. One of the nice things about being an executive is having an office with a door so you have privacy when needed. But make sure you don’t take this perk to the extreme.

If your door is closed the majority of the time, employees will see it as a sign that you are unavailable to them. Even worse, during uncertain times, they may worry why you are hiding out: Are you deciding which functions to outsource? Whose job is on the line? Were minor mistakes made during the server upgrade a bigger deal than staff thought?

Help to avoid needless concern and rumors by keeping your door open at least part of the day.

A negative attitude. Pay attention to how you share information with employees. If you start projecting a glass-half-empty mindset, your staff will too.

Even if you are unhappy that the CEO won’t support some critical IT initiatives recommended by your workers, for instance, be careful in expressing your discontentment openly. Instead, concentrate on what your group can accomplish in the remainder of the year and note that you will reintroduce the ideas again in six months.

You’ll set an example for employees in how to handle challenge or disappointment.

Personal problems. Your son has just received his second speeding ticket in a month and you’re still trying to determine how to handle the situation when you arrive at the office.

If you are close to your staff members, you may be tempted to solicit their advice. However, it is best not to and instead discuss your personal problems with friends and family outside of work. Otherwise, you may make some employees uncomfortable, appear unprofessional or generate concern among staff that you are distracted and unable to concentrate on important IT projects.

Whether you realize it or not, your actions can play a large role in the motivation and productivity of your team. Carefully consider the way you present yourself to employees and strive to set a positive example. Small changes in the signals you send can greatly enhance your efforts to boost morale.

Katherine Spencer Lee is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a provider of IT professionals for initiatives ranging from e-business development and multi-platform systems integration to network engineering and technical support. Robert Half Technology has more than 100 locations in the North America and Europe, and offers online job search services at www.roberthalftechnology.com.