If we’ve said it once, we’ve said it a million times. It’s the era of efficiency for businesses around the world. We even published a study delving into current efficiency trends, and it confirms that 77% of business leaders are prioritizing efficiency. 

Our Do More With Less series delves into the practical ways actually doing more with less affects employers and employees, and the ways they can thrive despite a challenging economic climate. In this installment, we’re looking at how this era of efficiency is impacting employee morale — and what leaders, managers, and employers can do to combat drooping morale in the workplace. 

In reality, striving for efficiency can really impact employees’ experience in the workplace. The focus on efficiency means budgets have been cut across the board, discretionary spending has been reined in, and employees are likely feeling the stress of having to produce more with less, every single day. Even if employees are reasonably confident they are safe from layoffs, the office vibe can feel quite different than it did in years past. 

Employers and business leaders have a vested interest in ensuring that employee morale is as positive as it can be. Employee engagement is one of the keys to employee productivity, as well as a key indicator that turnover will remain low. Therefore it makes sense for executives to keep a close eye on employee morale and make every effort to improve it, especially in the current economic climate that constantly requires asking more of employees.

How can employers keep their employees engaged and positive in the era of efficiency — without breaking the bank? We’ve pulled together a host of ideas and examples that can work for in-person or remote teams, and we’ve even created a handy infographic you can send to your manager or HR team as a little hint at what could improve your company morale. 

Efficiency data reveals employee burnout

Let’s look more closely at the research around the current situation for businesses and the ways employees are being affected. The era of efficiency means companies are being tasked with increasing productivity while lowering costs. In order to achieve those goals, companies are mainly taking three routes: reducing staff numbers, cutting budgets, and raising prices for their goods and services. 

Those strategies may alleviate the financial pressure teams are facing, but employees are feeling more pressure than ever. Our Efficiency Report noted that employees are reporting their workloads have increased by 43% in the last year. And business leaders agree, estimating that workloads have increased by 45% in the last year. 

Our research also showed that over half (56%) of workers have taken on the work of colleagues who have left their organizations. Of the workers whose companies have reduced staff, budgets, or raised prices, 67% of employees are worried about the number of staff members being reduced and 60% are concerned about budget reductions. 

Those worries have begun to take a toll on employees, with 71% of those surveyed admitting feeling burnout in the last six months. When we released our Dark Matter of Work survey last year, we revealed that 85% of employees surveyed had either experienced or witnessed a colleague experience burnout. And that was before the era of efficiency kicked in, arguably adding to those experiencing burnout. 

Low-cost ideas to boost morale

Boosting employee morale requires more than a quick fix. We’ve probably all heard stories about companies ordering a dozen pizzas for their employees, hoping to stick a band-aid on a larger problem. Imagine an office that’s been hit from all angles through this rocky economic time: a big chunk of employees have been laid off, budgets for team lunches or after-work drinks every quarter have been eliminated, they got rid of the smoothie machine in the break room, and you’re constantly wondering if you’re going to be next in line to clear our your desk. It’s going to take more than a pizza party to get the morale train back on track. 

In fact, improving employee morale requires an attitude shift from the top down, shown in repeated small ways. It takes time and concerted effort. But the good news is that a company doesn’t necessarily need a big budget to start to turn the tide. 

Here are four low-cost ways for companies to improve employee morale. 

  • Increase leadership engagement:

Our 2023 Efficiency Report revealed that not only did many workers feel burnt out, less than a quarter of them felt like they could speak to their line manager and make a plan to address the problem. As a result, 5% quit their jobs instead. 

Instead of having workers quit, increasing leadership engagement directly with employees can start to rebuild relationships where employees can communicate more honestly with their managers and employers about their workloads. Including questions about workload overwhelm in a weekly one-to-one meeting, without fear of judgment or retribution, can go a long way toward building trust and improving morale. When employees feel their managers or executives will help them meet their goals with creative solutions, employees won’t feel unseen or unheard.

Seeking employee input on projects is another way employers can reinvigorate employee engagement, especially when their suggestions are put into practice and given proper credit. 

In times of stress, employees often see less of executives, which can add to the stressful environment. Employees often think executives are too busy putting out fires to engage with employees, and seeing more of those in leadership roles can be reassuring to employees. 

  • Express gratitude: 

Gratitude is another top-down element that can drastically improve employee morale. Our Dark Matter of Work survey showed that many employees feel their employers or managers don’t understand how hard they work. Changing that narrative could be the key to improving morale. 

Starting a practice of directly thanking employees for their roles in successful projects or ongoing work can begin to shift the perception that employers aren’t aware of the work employees are completing. Similarly, creating a process for employees to recognize each other can help remove tension employees might be feeling amidst a rocky business climate. 

Employers should be wary of useless gifts or empty thank yous — these can take your morale in the other direction. Instead, simple and direct thank you notes or an unexpected gift card can make an employee feel recognized for a particular role played. 

  • Create connection amongst staff  

Employee morale is often greatly impacted by how employees feel supported by each other. When employees are laid off, support systems break down and take time to rebuild. Encouraging employees to get to know one another, trust each other, and appreciate one another can make for a much more enjoyable workplace — and can lead to better collaboration between and within teams. 

Forcing employees to participate in activities they don’t want to do — taking them away from their desks while work stacks up or making them feel more stressed — should be off the table. Unless your company sells adventure gear, stay away from the ropes course during this time of rebuilding relationships. 

Instead, keep the activities simple and encourage practices that create a culture of helping each other. At Wrike, we have a kudos form that every employee can fill out each week, recognizing a colleague for a job well done — or simply for being a kind human. Kudos are sent out in a Friday email, creating a culture of recognition and increasing visibility into the great work our teams are doing that might otherwise go unnoticed. 

  • Ease the load

The most popular ways for employees to attempt to recover from burnout, as highlighted in our Efficiency Report, were practicing self-care at home, switching off notifications outside of working hours, and taking PTO days. Now, offering more PTO days might not be in your budget at the moment, but allowing and encouraging employees to turn off notifications when they’re at home can help ease their load and rebalance their home life. 

However, it’s important that executives and managers are doing the same: arriving back at work in the morning to 57 emails that were sent late into the evening hours can make employees feel as though they should have responded outside of office hours. Respecting office hours is another practice that needs to be recognized at all employee levels. 

One of the ways employees cope with ongoing burnout is to seek therapy, which is often offered through company programs. However, it can be hard to schedule appointments with meetings throughout the day. Allowing employees time to meet with a therapist or take care of their mental health helps employees feel that their employers value them beyond just their productivity. 

Interested in specific examples for each of these categories? We pulled them into a handy infographic:

Infographic on low-cost ways to improve employee morale

Giving employees tools that make their work easier

Of course, many of these suggestions could make employees feel more pressed for time if their workloads remain the same. But we have a few ideas for reducing that as well: use Wrike. It’s a selfish plug, but we’re serious. 

Our work management software will give your teams hours back that they used to spend duplicating work across different platforms, sending updates to multiple stakeholders, and fiddling with annoying admin tasks that both waste time and cause frustration. 

Wrike’s work management software will allow your employees to automate repeated tasks like sending approval notices or sending project updates. Our platform allows teams to have greater visibility into projects, reducing stress that they’re missing a critical piece of the process. 

Giving employees appropriate tools that help them do their jobs more effectively and efficiently is great for productivity and engagement — and great for creating more time to implement these simple, low-cost ways to boost employee morale. 

Looking for more ways to do more with less? Catch up on the previous posts in our Do More With Less blog series here: 

Wrike Is Ready to Help You Thrive

How To Cope With the Hidden Cost of Layoffs

How To Consolidate Your Martech Stack