Have you ever been in this position?  You are working for a company and the general work vibe has become negative. Or maybe your peers have become indifferent and are starting to go through the motions.  When company morale begins to sink it is usually felt by the staff long before their bosses. It can be months before it is recognized at the leadership levels.

I have been in this situation in the past.  A couple of times it was driven by temporary condition brought on by a tough economy, or a big client loss. Those situations tend to right themselves over a period of time.  The team can rally and bounce back.

Other times it is brought on as a direct result of the overall culture of a business not adapting to the forces of change. These forces can be new management, changes in compensation plans, or resistance to offering competitive benefits like flex-time, telecommuting, or distributed hiring. When morale slips the costs can be high for a company both in productivity, turnover, and profits.

One thing is for certain, when you hit this stage it can become a major challenge to boost morale.  Often the biggest barrier to restoring company morale is that the staff doesn’t believe it can change.

So how do you recognize company morale is headed south in your company?

Here are a few signs that the culture is turning toxic

  1. Increased absenteeism: When morale begins to wane absenteeism increases. Chron has a great report about the relationship between low morale & absenteeism.  People begin to take a “sick day” rather than facing their daily tasks. The trickle down is now the increased absenteeism slows down productivity. Additionally, it can be disruptive to other members of the team
  2. Fewer employee referrals: One of my favorite programs to take advantage of is the employee referral bonus. Employees get paid for referring people you respect to come work for your company.  Even if your company doesn’t have a bonus, if people enjoy their jobs they tend to share that with others.  When the corporate culture and morale is down, employee referrals decrease.
  1. Skipping out when the clock strikes 5: Or for that matter coming in right at 9 (or whatever time your company workday begins). For many people work is not only their job but their community. When the office is a ghost town the moment the closing bell rings, it speaks volumes about the overall office vibe.
  1. Rooms clear when leadership walks in: Have you ever walked in the coffee room and within minutes the room is empty? Could be a coincidence? If it happens often it can be a sign the discussion could be a negative conversation about the company, management, maybe even you.
  1. Increased whispering in the hallways, cubicles, etc: In good times employees speak to each other in the open at regular volume levels.  when the conversation turns negative it quiets to a whisper.  While this may a result of a private, non-work related conversation, it can often be an unhappy conversation about the company.

Measuring the Problem

One way you can regularly gauge company morale is to do an anonymous survey of your staff.  Use a tool like SurveyMonkey to poll your employees and create a list of questions. If you are unsure what to ask, think about the questions often asked in an interview.  The Muse provides a great list of interview questions about corporate culture. You can adapt these questions to meet the needs of your survey.

Most important, share the results of this survey! Trust is directly connected to the perception of company morale and culture.  Build that trust by being transparent about the survey findings-good or bad.

Did I miss any signs?  Have you been in a toxic culture?  Share your story in the comments below.