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Employee Morale

| March 3, 2015

by Jim Bruce

For the past three weeks, the Tuesday Readings have focused on one or another facet of employee engagement.  Today, we shift the focus a bit and turn our attention to “Employee Morale.”  Our author is Vi Bergquist, CIO at St Cloud Technical & community college.  Vi’s essay was a recent weekly reflection in one of the Leaders Program cycles.

I have spent a lot of time of late thinking about employee morale and how morale impacts the work we get done and the retention of our employees. I think this is especially critical for us now given that hiring in IT has picked up and there are many opportunities for IT staff to take jobs elsewhere.  I am also concerned about not being able to offer the kind of salaries offered in the private sector.  How do we combat this and overcome what could be these potential liabilities?  

In the following paragraphs, I suggest six ideas for improving and sustaining employee retention and morale:  

1. Remember that your work is more than just a job.  When you work in education, your work has a higher purpose.  Remind people of that through your communications with them.  One way to do this is to talk about students and their needs at staff meetings and, as much as possible, keep them at the center of everything we do. 

2. Have fun.  We spend a lot of time laughing in the IT staff area and I think that’s great.  Try to make work fun.  We all spend so much time at work, we should enjoy it.  I think humor, used correctly, can be very effective at defusing tense situations as well. 

3. Celebrate the accomplishments of the team.  Take time to reflect on what you have accomplished when you complete a task before moving on to the next big project.  A couple ideas to do this are have a pizza party or make a poster celebrating the list of accomplishments.  Taking time to celebrate helps employees appreciate how much they have done.  We have some cards we use on campus called “Focus on the Good Stuff” where you can write something to another person or group to remind them about why the work they do matters and how they made a difference in someone else’s life.  When we had an “all staff” day the IT department got many of these cards from people who use our services and the spirits of the IT staff were so lifted by this praise and acknowledgement of their hard work.  Practice random acts of kindness with your team. Remember to say thank you to your staff in lots of ways. Learn about their hobbies.  Pay attention to the details of their lives.

4. Train your brains to see problems as opportunities.

The problem is not that there are problems. The problem is expecting otherwise and thinking that having problems is a problem.   ~Theodore Rubin

Be master of your petty annoyances and conserve your energies for the big, worthwhile things.  ~Robert Service

Some days working in IT can seem like a job where everything that comes to you is some sort of “problem.”  People typically look for us when something has gone wrong, something is broken, something is slow or a process isn’t working well and they want someone to improve the process though the automation of tasks.  How do we keep our IT employees from seeing their work as a series of problems, and in a critical shift, be able to see tasks as challenges and opportunities?  I know it’s an overused phrase to say “There are no such things as problems; just opportunities.”  However, there is research to back up the fact that this is how really successful people see the world.  Empower your team to make decisions so they feel like problem solvers and not victims, so when they are faced with a problem they can use their skills to solve issues right away without clearance from others.  Let go of control and worry and open yourself to the learning that can take place when working through problems.

5. Communicate often and in a clear and transparent way.  One idea I have already taken from our MOR training is to write a weekly email letting staff know what is going on in our area and in the college as a whole.  I share news I am able to share from executive leadership team meetings, so they are better informed.  The key to communication is to do it often and well.  As much as possible use many potential avenues for communication such as email, training classes, and meetings.  We should also spend time personally asking our employees what they think.  Practice management by walking around. Make your employees feel as though they have clear and honest two-way communication.

6. Respect. This seems so simple a thing.  Respect and trust your team, and in all likelihood they will trust you in return.


I encourage you to take some of the time you have set aside for reflection this week to think about your staff’s morale.  As you think about each staff member, in turn, think about how you might use Vi’s suggestions to increase the morale of your staff.  

Have a great week.  .  .     jim