There’s a local wine bar I like to visit in the town where I live. I enjoy going there and speaking to the owner who’s always behind the bar. He gives me a personal perspective on business – from consumer sentiment to employee morale across town – things you don’t always get from highbrow reads on the internet.
It’s news from the trenches, from a guy pouring drinks while people pour out their hearts.
While I was there “learning the state of small business” I began speaking with another customer, a guy with an office job. He’s new to the position but has been in the industry for over twenty years.
He told me that the employee morale in the new workplace is awful. The team’s three top producers quit last week after having worked there fifteen years.
Having been a manager himself in a previous job, he went to his supervisor and told her he had an idea that was easy to implement, doesn’t cost anything, and would improve morale.
She said, “We don’t have time for employee morale until sales get better.”
Morale or productivity? Which comes first?
Good sales and productivity that are then celebrated by instituting fun morale boosters or a good culture that leads to better results?
Okay, so it’s not a conundrum at all.
Customer service and customer connections will never be what you want them to be if your team is disengaged and hates coming to work.
As a chamber pro, you know the struggle.
You have a grueling job that is not always as financially rewarding as your counterparts in the corporate world. You often sacrifice work/life balance for the benefit of the business community. And you do all of this with very little appreciation.
But while you’re doing it, you also need to worry about your own office and the morale there. Your chamber staff—if you’re fortunate enough to have one—is also primed for poaching. As your team builds close relationships with businesses in your town, your employees are often lured away. While that may be bittersweet in that you know your member business is getting an excellent employee, it can also be upsetting to know you’re doing the training and they’re getting the gold.
While some people are inherently money motivated and no level of morale or awesome work environment will keep them with you, many employees these days are looking for the total package, not just salary. COVID has taught us many things, but one of the main ones is that employee expectations are changing. Knowing how difficult it is to recruit these days should give you pause about the importance of morale.
Here are a few things you could be doing about morale in your chamber. If you’re a lone wolf/single staff chamber, you might want to share this information with your board so they know how to support and encourage you.
6 Ways to Improve Employee Morale at the Chamber
Remember that employee who had a cost-effective idea for morale improvement? Ideas can come from anywhere and anyone. Placing profit ahead of an idea that costs nothing (not even time from the manager, in this case) is ill-advised.
A good culture is not a byproduct of sales or increased revenue. It’s the other way around.
If you’re worried about your chamber culture, here are a few things you can implement to start making an impact on it.
- Open conversation.
We’re starting here first because no one will bring a solution up if they don’t think they’ll be heard. According to Gallup’s 2022 Guide to Employee Engagement, encouraging conversations between employees and managers is essential to success.
In the story of the salesperson that I shared above, he came forward with an idea and his manager didn’t want to hear it even when he led with, “It won’t cost anything.” She is probably feeling unheard herself and put-upon by the people she answers to. But to improve employee morale, people who offer solutions must feel like their ideas are welcome.
Create an open-door policy within your chamber but also ensure that you implement boundaries, so your open door doesn’t transform you into everyone’s therapist where you become the ear for their problems. Your door should be open for proposed solutions and closed to moaning.
- Lead by example.
The sales manager unfortunately was leading by example — but in the wrong direction. She was bogged down in her own disengagement and showing that profit meant more than people. This was probably not her intention, and might not mirror her true belief, but that’s what was exhibited and that’s what the employee remembered enough to tell me later.
Whatever course of action you implement in your chamber to improve morale, it cannot be a “do what I say, not as I do” situation, even if you feel like you are doing it for the betterment of your staff. For instance, if you tell staff mental health and work/life balance is essential to their success, you should not show them actions that contradict that.
If they know you make them take mandatory vacation and you haven’t taken one in three years, that breeds an environment of guilt in those who care and distrust in those who may already be feeling disengaged. If you want employees to adopt your new chamber culture, you must be its greatest advocate and that happens through actions.
Read the entire Gallup article on employee engagement here.
- Understand what’s needed.
There are a variety of ways you can get to the bottom of what your employees need. If you have a great relationship with them and you believe that you are open and approachable, one-on-one conversations maybe the best way to find out where they are and what they need to be successful.
However, most people find it difficult to be honest about the hard stuff. For instance, your employee may love the new vacation policy you’ve rolled out but doesn’t feel empowered to use it because you haven’t taken a vacation in three years. In this case, they may find that hard to say to you.
That’s why when it comes to understanding what’s broken or not working from a chamber staff perspective, it may be easier to create a survey or suggestion box. This does provide some anonymity, but not complete anonymity if it’s just you and another employee. If you are in a small staff environment, you may be able to seek the help of a third party so that employees feel comfortable sharing the hard stuff.
- Go for small wins.
Often changing the culture of a workplace can feel like an exhaustive process. But it doesn’t have to. There are small things you can start doing today that will have a big impact. One of those things is saying thank you. Saying thank you is more than just mumbling a few words. It’s about creating a culture of gratitude. When you become more appreciative for everything around you, that type of positivity is contagious.
Speaking of positivity, another small way to improve chamber employee morale is by making a concerted effort to smile more, or if smiling is not your style, then just demonstrate a more positive attitude.
Deal out compliments.
Recognize their frustrations.
All of these are free ways to begin improving morale today.
- Offer incentives and/or delightful surprises.
Do you have an employee who has gone above and beyond? Then delight them with something unexpected.
It could be a handwritten note.
Their favorite candy bar on their desk.
Bring them a coffee.
Give them one of your logo items.
These little surprises can make someone feel valued without breaking the budget. If you’re able, provide incentives as either bonuses or gift cards for situations where they’re able to outsell an event or break membership records. You want to give people a reason to give it their all.
Screenshot from Etsy using their price filter, all under $10.
- Treat the individual.
There is no reason you need to create an Operation Improve Morale document that lists a one-size-fits-all way of making employees feel more engaged. While there are some things that work for most people, the true answer may lie in doing something that is special to that individual employee.
For instance, some people love public displays of appreciation. Calling them out at a staff meeting and thanking them for their efforts would make their day. However, there are some people who do not enjoy public thanks or public attention of any kind. Calling them out in a staff meeting might not be important to them or even embarrassing.
If you want to truly improve employee morale at your chamber, you must take into consideration who your employees are and what they need from you.
Finally, you are not an island. You don’t want to go through all these tactics to improve employee morale and engagement, only to realize that you are the one who is struggling. Just as you may be gracious with your employees, you need to do the same for yourself.
If you’re struggling to feel engaged, if your morale is sinking, if you no longer have the same verve for your position as used to, you need to examine what it would take to get your groove back.
Some of our ideas will work for you, too. Some require others and hopefully your board of directors will provide positive reinforcement. But if you find that you are isolation, or too disenchanted for these tactics to work, you may need to reassess your current position. Ideally, you won’t let it get that far because turning yourself around while also trying to help others with their level of employee morale is a very difficult undertaking.
What you do is incredibly important to the business community, but it shouldn’t come at a personal cost. If you’re struggling with morale and burnout, start with yourself and then work on your team.