HR Tip of the Week

Posted on  |  Performance management

Employee Morale: 7 Warning Signs You Shouldn't Ignore

Employers strive for a fair and equitable workplace to help attract and retain employees, drive productivity, and comply with federal, state, and local laws. When employee morale begins to suffer, the signs aren't always obvious. Here are seven warning signs to watch out for:

#1: Increase in turnover.

Employees who feel they are treated unfairly are more likely to quit and seek employment elsewhere. Monitor turnover and conduct exit interviews to find out why employees are leaving. Use this information to identify changes you can make to improve your work environment and limit future turnover.

#2: Vague exit interviews.

Some employees may be reluctant to share the true reasons for their departure since they fear it will affect their eligibility for rehire, or that it will result in a negative reference to a prospective employer. To encourage employees to be forthcoming, reassure them that their honest feedback will help with workplace improvements and that their exit interview report will remain anonymous. During the exit interview, pose open-ended and multi-choice questions, such as: "What prompted you to resign?" and "How often did your supervisor demonstrate fairness: almost always, sometimes, never?" Allow the individual to speak freely and ask follow-up questions as needed.

#3: Lack of employee referrals.

If employees aren't happy working for your company, they are unlikely to refer people they know. To find out where you stand, use surveys to ask employees how likely they are to recommend your company as a great place to work and ask them to provide the reasons why. Additionally, consider whether your employer brand is in line with your policies and practices and what you promote.

#4: Pay disparities.

Even if you cannot pay employees as much as other employers can, make sure they're paid fairly when compared with other employees in your company. Additionally, ensure that your pay practices don't discriminate on the basis of any protected characteristic, such as sex or race. In some cases, discrimination might be unintentional. For example, if an employer uses a candidate's pay history to decide how much to offer him/her, it could perpetuate pay discrimination from a previous employer. Note: Some jurisdictions prohibit employers from asking about pay history prior to making a job offer. Work with your legal counsel to audit your pay practices regularly to make sure any disparities in pay are justified and lawful.

#5: Uptick in transfer requests.

While a transfer request to another department may be the result of wanting to do different work, it could also be because of a poor supervisor. Following a transfer request, ask the employee what prompted it and how long they have been considering such a move. Additionally, look for ways employees can provide anonymous feedback about their supervisors, such as regular surveys or during the performance review process.

#6: Sudden absenteeism or lower productivity.

Don't assume that all absenteeism and productivity issues are a result of employees trying to skip work, slack off, or abuse the system. Track attendance and productivity closely and if there are issues, meet with the employee in private, be clear about your concerns and expectations, and give the employee an opportunity to explain before deciding whether disciplinary action is appropriate.

#7: Performance reviews too good (or bad) to be true.

If supervisors give every employee high marks or every employee low ratings, this can leave employees feeling that performance isn't rewarded as it should be. Performance reviews should generally recognize good work, as well as provide constructive feedback. Make sure your company's reviews accurately reflect employees' performance and that supervisors are evaluating employees fairly and on legitimate, job-related factors. Train supervisors on how to set appropriate performance goals and provide effective feedback. Additionally, consider having a member of senior management and/or HR review the ratings before delivering reviews to employees.


Give employees ample opportunities to provide feedback about your company, the work environment, and supervisors, without fear of retaliation. Additionally, provide multiple avenues for employees to file complaints about alleged violations of company policy. When you or your employees identify a potential issue, launch a prompt, thorough, and impartial investigation and take corrective action when appropriate.

    Most popular