Boosting morale in times of uncertainty

Published on Tuesday, 15 September 2020
Last updated on Wednesday, 21 October 2020

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The early childhood sector has been on the frontline during the pandemic caused by COVID-19, working hard to support the education and welfare of children, and families, against a backdrop of economic uncertainty, world-changing issues and anxiety, and, it isn’t over yet.

Understandably these issues take a toll on emotional and physical wellbeing, this week we take a look at some tried-and-true strategies to boost and maintain the morale of your team.

What is morale? According to the online Business Dictionary morale is “… the emotions, attitude, satisfaction, and overall outlook of employees during their time in a workplace environment.”

Numerous studies have shown positive work cultures are more productive. A positive and healthy work culture will promote the wellbeing of your team and in turn feed their morale.

Harvard Business Review examined the qualities of a positive workplace culture and discovered six essential characteristics:

  • Caring for, being interested in, and maintaining responsibility for colleagues as friends
  • Providing support for one another, including offering kindness and compassion when others are struggling
  • Avoiding blame and forgive mistakes
  • Inspiring one another at work
  • Emphasising the meaningfulness of the work
  • Treating one another with respect, gratitude, trust, and integrity

Creating a supportive work culture and a concerted effort on lifting morale paves the way for your team to thrive, providing a solid foundation to care and support a young child’s learning.

Benefits of high morale include:

  • Increased communication and teamwork engagement
  • Better work attendance
  • Improved focus on work and increased creativity
  • Fewer workplace related injuries
  • Higher job satisfaction
  • Reduced work-related stress

On the flipside, how do you recognise if team morale is sliding? Key red flags include:

  • Disengaged, lack of enthusiasm and reduced commitment to work
  • Negative attitudes
  • Emotional exhaustion
  • Increased absenteeism

Here are five strategies for boosting morale to reignite your team’ motivation, increase their wellbeing and guide your daily practice. 

Foster connections

Staying connected has a direct impact on how a centre can deliver better outcomes for all of your communities.

Forbes Magazine wrote that, “strong social connections make people happier and physically healthier, which can translate into work performance.”

Providing opportunities to have low pressure, fun and shared experiences in a less formal setting can create a sense of belonging within the team. While busy schedules can be confining – as well as health and social distancing issues – the key is to find the activities that fit into your workplace culture and circumstances. Start with a team brainstorm to create ideas everyone is comfortable with.      

Stay calm and communicate

Communication must be regular, clear and consistent. For leaders it is essential that every member of the team are informed of strategies put in place to stabilise and support your early childhood centre during this unpredictable time. The outcome will reduce uncertainty and build trust.

Teams should also meet more frequently than normal. These additional meetings don’t need to be long, they can be quick 15-minute catch-ups to promote a theme such as ‘Wellness Wednesday’ or to share stories of positivity.

In meetings it is important that every team member’s voice is heard, valued and respected, include time to openly talk about the challenges being faced. Explore team-led solutions such as:

  • Mental health support strategies
  • Streamlining of processes
  • Promoting healthy work/life balance
  • Additional training

Team leaders should check in with each staff member on a regular basis to ask how they are feeling, how they are coping and explore options to offer assistance or to help with solutions if required. Team members should also be encouraged to ask for assistance when required.

Recognise contributions and successes

Morale is boosted when each team member feels valued,  both as an individual and as a member of the team. Showing appreciation doesn’t need to elaborate but it does need to be consistent and sincere to effectively boost morale.

Promote collaboration and provide opportunities for team members to make their own choices and have inputs into decisions

Determine how the team and individuals can be recognised and rewarded. Small wins could be acknowledged verbally or by written praise while bigger milestones could include a special celebration.

Team members should be encouraged to share positive feedback as this is a nice way to celebrate while creating a teaching moment to learn from each other and share best practices. Gratitude and appreciation increase motivation, meaning employees are more inclined to continue contributing to overall team and workplace objectives, resulting in greater morale overall.

Prioritise cleanliness and hygiene

Managing infection control in early childhood education and care is always challenging. But amid the pandemic enhanced health practices will ensure your team feel confident that everything is being done to create a safe environment for them.

Build knowledge and create consistent messaging around health and safety policies and practices. Education is the key to quelling rumours and fears so take the time to teach your team to be aware and vigilant. Good hygiene practices include promoting a regular and rigorous hand washing schedule, clean and disinfect high touch surfaces regularly, and anyone who is unwell should be encouraged to stay home.

As well as implementing risk mitigation strategies, your team should be aware of the process to enact in the unlikely event a child or staff member gets sick at the centre or has a confirmed case of COVID-19.

Embrace compassion

Right now, the human element of the workplace needs to be a top priority. Take time as a team to understand the pressures you may all be under in the current situation. Consider new ways of working to support team members who are feeling overwhelmed or stressed.

Recent studies have identified compassion to be an essential aspect of a productive work environment and show compassion and kindness evoke positive emotions.

Showing compassion for colleagues creates space for active communication and sustains job satisfaction and work-related motivation. It also reduces anxiety, the pressure of achieving, and creates increased resilience to work stress and burnout.

We can express compassion in the workplace by:

  • Noticing when colleagues are in pain or are undergoing some personal stressors and try to make them feel secure and comfortable at work.
  • Actively listening to others without judging them.

As we all deal with the dramatic changes and uncertainty caused by the pandemic, it is important to keep team morale high on the agenda. Creating a workplace where team members are valued, and where connection, openness, kindness and safety are encouraged, will boost morale and ensure a positive workplace culture.

References and further reading

LinkedIn: 5 Tactics for Maintaining Strong Employee Morale During Difficult Times

Little Bird HR: 10 Affordable ways to boost staff morale

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