You’re killing staff morale without even realising it, and we can explain how

Staff morale is an insidious crisis. As we’ve pointed out before, up to half of your staff are thinking about leaving. Keeping those employees in your business, and happy to be there, needs to be top priority.

Morale is more than smiling faces and chipper attitudes, though. It’s how your staff approach their work, how they treat each other, and how they see their own place in your company.

But, what you’re doing to hurt morale won’t always be obvious. There are nine ways you could be destroying staff morale without even knowing you’re doing it.

Not giving staff a voice

Workers are only human, and humans need to be heard. Their point of view needs to be considered, and their opinions need to be given weight to keep staff morale high.

If employees think their opinions on their job aren’t wanted, they’ll start to feel undervalued and ignored. Feeling that their point of view doesn’t matter to senior colleagues, morale will quickly spiral. Everyone needs to receive feedback. And leaders must be seen to seek it out.

Not recognising employees

Recognition is the one thing you could start doing today that would improve staff morale. You don’t have to wait for the budget or approval to roll out an employee engagement platform to get started. Even though they do make recognition a much easier task to manage.

Recognition, filtered through your company’s values, shows employees the value and worth of their daily work.

Not talking about the future

When you’re taking a train, you check where it’s going before you hop on. You don’t just hope the train is going somewhere nice, or blindly assume it’s going to the right place.

Staff without any idea where they’re going are like lost passengers who think they’ve got the wrong train. Looking out the windows for landmarks. Asking other passengers where they’re going. And, ultimately, thinking it’s best they hop off the train now before it’s too late to turn back.

Give employees a firm idea of where their company is going. It lets them get invested in the journey, and smooths out the fear that they’re not heading somewhere worthwhile.

Undermining your company values

So, you’re an energetic, agile company on a mission to change the face of central heating repair forever. You believe in integrity, quality and unmatched customer service. But, does your work practice live up to that? Do your leaders? And, crucially, are you both held to account?

If your values aren’t seen to be carried out, they won’t be seen as important to how you do business. It also presents your company’s leadership as two-faced; wanting the benefits of appearing to be values-led without the inconvenience of carrying those values out.

That creates a dysphoria in how your staff see your brand. Employees can’t embrace their work as driven by values if they don’t get to see those values in action.

Letting excellence go unrewarded

Outstanding behaviour doesn’t just deserve to be rewarded, it needs to be rewarded. Don’t miss the opportunity to mark special moments in an employee’s time with your company. We’ve got a whole blog post over here detailing when you need to be breaking out your rewards for staff.

Failing to find purpose

What does your company do? Beyond just revenue, profit and loss. What’s the outcome of your company’s efforts, what’s different in the world when you meet your objectives?

Pouring emotions into work, and taking personal satisfaction from it, means having something to point to when it’s all done. Something more than a graph being bigger than a graph you made earlier.

Purpose gets employees invested in what your company is, and what it does. It creates people loyal not just to their paycheques, but the differences your company makes to the world around them. Long term, that builds real engagement with your business.

Assuming quiet employees are happy

Squeaky wheels get the grease, no news is good news, and so on. As a blanket rule for work, it’s nonsense. Dissatisfaction festers in the shadows, and employees at risk of checking out and looking for another position are likely to go quiet on you.

Unhappy and silent staff have stopped looking at leadership as a way to fix issues. Restoring that relationship means getting them talking again and asking about what’s making them unhappy.

Enforcing inflexible work

Flexibility is one of the most-demanded perks across the country. And for good reason. Time outside work is at a tremendous premium, and the demands of work aren’t easing up either.

To meet the demands of professional life, many employees chip in with their personal time. No shocks for anyone there. However, it’s unreasonable for a company to demand staff give more than their contracted hours every week, but still feel entitled to tell them where all of those hours get spent.

There has to be give and take. Without flexibility, staff will grow frazzled trying to juggle ever-increasing professional and personal stresses. Ultimately, that means looking elsewhere for a more flexible working arrangement.

Stifling job scope

Employees often end up feeling like they’re in a box. In trying to streamline roles and make working processes efficient, what staff actually do can become extremely constrained.

Work becomes a production line of tasks, designed to run at max capacity for eight hours a day. It doesn’t leave much room for creativity or expression. Or any space to gather and express new skills. When staff feel trapped their relationship with their work turns hostile. In turn, that creates a huge drag on morale.

Recognising these problems, and acting to reassess your behaviour as a leader, is how you can turn the tide. Otherwise, poor staff morale only leads to problems with staff retention, productivity and engagement.

Rewarding an employee: 6 times you should step in and break out the rewards

You have to capitalise on the moment to make rewarding employees count. The best time to be there with a reward is when the dopamine rush of achievement is still whizzing through your employee’s brains.

Here are six occasions you need to be recognising and rewarding employees. There’s more to this than just hitting a sales target.

6 situations where you should have a reward in your hand for employees:


Education and skill-building are vital. Investing in staff builds employee value to your business, and your company’s value to them in turn. Celebrating employees for building their professional skills shows how much your company values self-improvement.

Reward employees for completing courses, passing tests, high achievement on their professional development work, or even for the first project they complete with a recently-learned skill set.

Volunteering for your causes

Social causes bring employees closer to your business, closer to other employees, and closer to your values. Make sure you’re rewarding staff when they use their time outside of work to support charities and causes you hold close.

That might be organising a charity sports event, sorting out charity collections in your offices, or just giving up a bit of time on the weekends.

Helping other employees

A collaborative, constructive environment is a productive environment. Make sure employees are rewarded when they build connections between teams.

That includes staff who train their colleagues, go out of their way to help other employees finish work, help new employees settle in to their role, or deliver valuable leads to their peers.

Moving and improving

The workplace can be improved without overt focus on core job roles. Staff might take responsibility for site safety, lead a health initiative, organise group exercise, provide healthy snacks for the office, or manage a tobacco reduction scheme for their department.

Be sure to reward behaviour that makes for a happier, healthier place for all of your staff to work.

Crushing targets

KPIs, sales targets, and hard numbers are the old reliable for rewards. On one hand, it’s the least imaginative reason to reward your staff, and it really only reinforces and promotes behaviour that produces the cold numbers. On the other hand, every department has to hit their numbers.

It’s still worth rewarding staff for smashing their targets, as long as you don’t fall down the rabbit hole of chasing nothing but the numbers.

Bringing values to life

Living your values in their work. Not always tied directly to a KPI-related outcome, but worth rewarding when they’re making your business closer to its best version of itself.

Your values, and bringing them to life, is a vital component of employee engagement. When staff excel by adhering to your values, be sure to reward them. It shows not just that you value achievement, but that part of achievement is bringing the company’s values to life.

Longevity and milestones

Staff often expect to see some recognition for their long service after just a year with a company. Rewarding staff for their longevity helps create a more intense and lasting connection with your business, increasing the chance they’ll stick to your business.

Make sure to be timely with when rewarding employees to maximise their benefit to your business. Anticipate when staff are going to be full of beans from a recent achievements and swoop in with a reward.

Rewards and incentives: how they’re different and how to use them

You could easily conflate rewards and incentives. And, honestly, we’d forgive you for that. Their specific roles, and how they interact, often causes a bit of confusion.

To quickly illustrate the difference, a handy recall trick is that incentives say “do well” and rewards say “well done.” Incentives tempt employees to go the extra mile and push for crucial results. The rewards are what thanks employees for hard work, whether they’re linked to an incentive or not. They’re not mutually dependent even though they’re often used in tandem.

This blog goes into more detail about the difference between the two, when you’d use them, and how employee recognition fits into the mix.

Rewards clarified

Rewards are the actual item that gets dished out to congratulate staff for exceptional success.

They’re there to validate and celebrate performance. Rewards are most often dispensed for achievement, like taking valuable projects live or crossing a sales threshold.

Create trophies

Rewards are personal trophies when they’re dispensed for achievement. Mementos of an employee’s own excellence. Reminders of the exceptional things your staff are capable of.

Trophy value has two major effects. Vitally, staff who get these rewards are more likely to put the effort in to achieve again the future. Equally, all staff are shown that outstanding effort is appreciated and validated by managers.

Question cash

Cash is a common reward, but it’s not always effective. We’ve talked about this in our blog before, and it’s still just as true; cash is extremely suspect as a reward.

It has a bad habit of blending into the background noise of life. It’s not so easy to separate the part of your monthly pay that was a reward and which part was your gas bill. Especially when they’re both paid into the same current account.

Making trophies means putting cash aside as a reward.

Incentives summed up

An incentive is, essentially, something that’s designed to extract a desired behaviour by offering a reward ahead of time. For employees, that’s almost always some kind of professional performance. Rewards are promised in exchange for the exceptional performance once an objective is met.

They’re most common in sales teams, but any teams with measurable performance could employ an incentive scheme. You might try to decrease customer complaints, improve efficiency on a factory floor, get your fleet driving more safely, or even increasing personal training course completion.

The rewards are what spices up the targets to give your employees a bit of added impetus to reach their goals.

Where recognition fits in

Recognition doesn’t require you to use a reward. Although, it can include issuing a reward alongside recognition. The reward is a little amplifier to the recognition. A tangible reminder of what’s valued in your company.

Best practice for recognition is to tie to your values, not just performance. This is where it starts to diverge from rewards. While every company’s values should in some way reflect achievement, nailing your colours exclusively to the mast of KPIs is a dangerous game. We’ve got a whole blog post on why obsession with that is a poor idea here.

Employees should be recognised for going above and beyond to exemplify your company’s values and improve your company culture. Regardless of whether that’s tied to a KPI. That’s how you build a stronger company culture for the future.

Recognition doesn’t need a reward

Because recognition is values driven, it doesn’t need to be associated directly with an award. Peer-to-peer recognition, especially, doesn’t have to accompanied by a reward.

The purpose is to create camaraderie between staff under the umbrella of your company’s values. To create a workplace where ethical, virtuous behaviour is encouraged and is seen by staff to be valued.

When filtered through values, recognition has value to your business that doesn’t need to be associated with rewards.

In summary. rewards are the actual products you use to highlight performance. An incentive is promising that reward ahead of time in exchange for achievement. Recognition is the acknowledgement of effort or performance, and can include a reward if you choose.

Your staff incentive scheme: What you wanted, and what you got instead

Your road to staff incentive scheme disappointment will be paved with the very best of intentions. That’s because the desire to provide incentives comes from a genuine place; you want to excite staff with rewards instead of crudely insisting employees work harder because they’ve been told to.

But, there’s a good chance you won’t get what you want from the scheme. It’s no reason to be downbeat, it happens a lot. What you expect to see from a scheme just isn’t always what it delivers. This article will jog you through what you wanted, what you got instead, and how you can improve in the future.

What you wanted, what you got instead, and what you can do about it

You wanted to see if your top performers could do more

You wanted to know if there was another level of performance that could be eked out of your biggest stars.

What you got instead

Even with new incentives on offer, the most prolific achievers in your company generally held the line. There wasn’t a measurable, sustained uptick in effort or achievement from your top guns.

What you could have done

Your big-shot staff aren’t likely to find another level of effort. They’re already your hard-chargers, they’re already obsessed with hitting their deadlines and targets. Personal pride and drive won’t permit them be anything else.

They’re also conditioned to expect any OTE and rewards you already dish out. You can’t rightfully withhold those rewards now and then ask for more effort to get them back. It’s a betrayal of your relationship, and more than likely will actually hurt morale. There’s no reason to mess your team’s biggest assets about for a marginal gain.

Rather than focus on core role KPIs and effort, focus on how they can improve the intangibles around the office. Measurable ideas like supporting lower-performing staff, finding efficiencies, getting clients to rely less on your customer support teams, running training for other staff in the company.

You wanted your lowest performers to start achieving

Every workplace has staff that are, at least outwardly, happy with below-average performance. You know they can do more, and you thought incentives would bring that out of them.

What you got instead

Nothing. Your lowest performing employees showed no reaction whatsoever to your staff incentive scheme.

What you could have done

To be blunt, what good is an incentive when an employee has no intention of doing any work beyond what’s required?

You could set the bar as high or as low as you like, it doesn’t make any difference to an actively disengaged, indifferent employee. Changing the behaviour of actively disengaged employees needs more than just the promise of an incentive.

You need to disassemble the reasons why they’re so uninterested in your business, then find a way to reignite passion for their work. After that, you can start thinking about how incentives will keep them energised.

You wanted average staff to turn it up a notch

Your plan was to introduce a system that incentivises the bulk of your staff to produce more outstanding performances, more often.

What you got instead

A mediocre uptake, with a fair few staff getting interested in the scheme. But, the effort didn’t sustain for any serious period. The vast majority became disengaged and dropped off.

What you could have done

Make sure an incentive scheme doesn’t get drowned out by your highest performers scooping up all the rewards. Your scheme needs to feel achievable, offer the chance to build towards bigger rewards, without getting drowned out by the top dogs in the department.

Which brings us to an important point.

The battle of the bulge is a battle worth fighting

Ultimately, middle performers are where you should be focusing the bulk of your incentive efforts. The top workers produce the numbers without your instruction, and the bottom need a different remedy entirely. Your middle achievers make up most of your staff, but they’re the easiest group to forget about because they chug along happily, achieving their targets.

One of the biggest problems with intensely KPI-focused incentive schemes is that the thresholds and rewards can be hoovered up too quickly by your top performers. On one hand, it’s great that your top performers are doing so well. On the other hand, your middle performers can feel alienated and disinterested in those incentives.

An incentive scheme needs to continually provide an opportunity to be rewarded for excellence, while still working toward larger, tantalising, rewards. When rewards are too frequent, they become a blur. When they’re too sparse, they feel unachievable.

Think of incentives like a ladder. Looking up at a ladder, it’s impossible to just reach up and grab the top rung. You have to climb one rung at a time. Even worse though, the very top of the ladder can never be reached if the same two or three people are always up there already. If you don’t think you can reach the top, you’re not likely to even start climbing.

Use achievable, repeatable milestones. Employ a mix of core KPIs and less tangible workplace improvements. And, crucially, make sure you structure them to furnish all your staff with the chance to be rewarded for excellence.