No quick fix to employee morale problems

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Communicate through your actions, not just pretty words

Sometimes corporate executives have wildly unrealistic expectations about internal communications.

Some actually believe that those of us who spend our days toiling in the communications field can use our word superpowers to make massive problems disappear.  Like David Copperfield, we can work our magic and illusions to make something huge suddenly cease to exist. Or so they think. 

My team was approached recently and asked to rid hundreds of employee complaints from a popular website designed to give employees of any company an outlet for their opinions of their employers.  Our would-be client had watched helplessly for months as employee after employee posted painful comments about management, morale, working conditions, poor communications and other issues.

Senior management's hope was that my team had some kind of ray gun that could vaporize all the negative comments. We suggested that A) there is no magic potion to make the negative comments go away and B) perhaps a serious and objective look at why employees feel the way they do was in order.

All of this would take time.  And that was exactly what our prospective client didn't want to hear.  They wanted a quick fix.  And they very clearly did not want to entertain the slightest possibility that they -- the leadership team -- might be a major source of the employees' unhappiness and discontent.

Sounds like denial, right? 

Yes, it does.  But my point is not to be judgmental.  After all, any management team might, over time, gradually find itself in a similar situation. 

The point is that the leadership team must be willing to recognize that poor employee morale is a legitimate problem in need of a serious solution.  And they must be willing to examine whether they are, in fact, the cause.  Putting a communications Band Aid over a gaping wound won’t heal the wound. 

We urged our prospective client to look at the morale problem much more deeply.  Yes, a clear internal communications program would certainly be part of the solution.  But such a program would be useless unless senior management would agree to address root problems such as mistreatment of employees, bad working conditions, favoritism, management aloofness and many more. 

As we say often to our clients, communication is everything you do.  So, if you treat employees badly, a happy-talk newsletter claiming you treat them well will only make things worse because it’s patronizing and dismissive.  Employees know when management is trying to pull the wool over their eyes.  

- Eric Whittington