Boosting Team Morale In The Workplace

Do you have that sinking feeling come Sunday night – when you know you must face your workplace the next day? Do not fret; there is a way that you can contribute to shifting your workplace away from the doldrums and towards vibrancy and improved team morale.

There was a bright yellow book in my boss’ library that caught my attention. It was a New York bestseller: FISH! “A remarkable way to Boost Morale and Improve Results” by Stephen L. Lundin PhD, Harry Paul, and John Christensen – a concise book, which filled my train ride home with such revelations about what I have seen to have worked well and worked poorly in the workplace.

FISH! is about how a manager was tasked to improve team morale in a department informally named a ‘toxic energy dump’. After losing her husband and having children to raise, she felt obliged to take the role and accompanying pay rise to provide for her family. The department processed a lot of work, which meant a high volume of mundane tasks and deadline pressures. When you combine this with a low collective energy, the team was dragging each other down, had admitted defeat, and had succumbed to the taunts from the rest of the company.

For those quick to say, “just leave”, it is not always that simple. Whether unemployment rates are high, the likelihood of getting the same pay or higher elsewhere is slim, or you are close to retirement and facing ageism, there is an array of reasons why people endure the misery.


What this manager inquisitively observed at a vibrant fish market was this: unloading produce with the pressure to sell before things start to smell fishy parallels the processes in her workplace, but the difference was the team and the atmosphere they created. The following are the principals that came from her observations to help move her team away from the doldrums:

  1. Choose your attitude
  2. Play
  3. Make their day
  4. Be Present


The team was dragging each other down, and, to be blunt, they were each other’s enablers. By choosing to feel miserable it made their tasks more taxing. It is better to be proactive rather than reactive in the work moan and groan sessions; instead of wallowing about how this and that is unfair, and ‘no other team gets what we do’, or  ‘my boss does not care’, start discussing ways to change your attitude to look at things more positively. For example, discuss with your team members how to share the workload more evenly, or how you can approach your boss with process improvements, or perhaps create a presentation for other departments to enlighten them on the work the team does to encourage better organisational collaboration.


The misconception here is using play to justify hour long gossip sessions whilst you are working. On the flip side, play does not have to be confined to your break; yes, stimulating break with nourishing food, good banter, and even a little exercise in the form of a short walk can do wonders for productivity, attention, and overall mood, but it does not have to mean that you only feel good for the hour or less you are on break. What play means is do the tasks with enthusiasm, find new ways to challenge yourself, and have friendly interactions with your colleagues. The following are some ideas that may help to establish a social club or fill a bulletin board:

  • Joke of the week
  • Personal celebrations recognition (i.e. short course completed, grandchild born, event attended, a celebrity encounter)
  • Book recommendations – a great way for bosses to provide mentorship

I have heard a lot of excuses for refusing to play, including the fear of offending someone – not sharing that dog joke in case they are a cat person, for example. There are a lot of neutral topics that rarely offend people – and, if you do happen to upset someone over the type of pet they own, just apologise and move on.


It is the little things that make personable employees – ‘this person seems to get along with everybody and are the most approachable’. These employees are great because they have mastered the art of making someone’s day. They recognise when someone has had a haircut and are unafraid to give out compliments on the work of others. The little things they do which makes someone’s day include offering to get a team members coffee when they get theirs, or when they see someone is stressed and are unable to assist they offer to go for a walk with them at lunch to act as a sounding board. Going the extra mile does not have to mean taking on extra work. I have found that social clubs are good at boosting team morale for many reasons, including pay it forward incentives. For example, the social club can offer awards – even if it is a chocolate bar – to people that have gone the extra mile to encourage the collective to do the same.


This is a huge one for me, because I have been on the receiving end of both present and ‘absent’ colleagues. Examples of things I have experienced absent people do, which screams that others are inconveniencing them, and that are frankly rude behaviours:

  • Still typing when someone is talking to you
  • Putting your finger on the screen as a physical marker to where you are at while someone requires your (full) attention
  • The indifferent “yeh”, “what”, “go on”, or even just looking at the person with annoyance

Present people stop what they are doing and use the colleagues’ names, for example: “Hi Emma, what’s been happening?” Apart from this being courteous behaviour, it also presents a positive and personable disposition. It is ok to say you cannot help because you are oversubscribed but do try and go the extra mile and suggest that you can help when you are free (give a day and time). Your presence in the conversation means far more than the rejection to help. In addition, I have found that present people have grasped the power of eye contact, active listening, and body language – the key to connecting with others and remembering the interaction.

What I particularly like about the four principals is that it works two ways: it makes you feel good that you are spreading positivity, but it starts to become a knock-on effect as you will start to receive positivity back. Yes, it is unrealistic to believe you will get along with everybody, but it does not mean you have to be absent or disgruntled towards the ones you are not too fond of – accept differences and push past that for the greater good of the team. We spend a lot of time with our colleagues and at work –  it is time to make our interactions positive so we go home happy and healthy.