Eight Ways to Kill Employee Morale

December 4, 2008

A friend of mine over at Training Time (www.trainingtime.com) published this article and I had to share.  It is funny but way too true to ignore.

There are countless articles and books that promise to tell employers how to boost employee morale. They may or may not be right, but there is something we all can be certain about.  There are easy ways to kill employee morale.  Thoroughly. Some of them are simple; some take time.  But they all work.

So with some levity and a lot of truth, here are 8 great ways to destroy the spirit of even the most dedicated of employees:

8) Start new hires with promises of raises, promotions and other perks, and then “forget.”  One of the best ways to destroy morale from the start is to make promises to your new hires, and then never mention them again.  Truly creative morale-smashers may want to extend this technique to existing employees, so even seasoned workers can share in the disappointment.

7) Make rules that defy logic and then enforce them – harshly.  If your employees don’t come within miles of a customer, ban jeans and make them dress up for work.  Prohibit personal decorations on desks.  Send out a memo limiting the time in the restroom to five minutes.  Whatever it is, make sure the consequences of these performance-related violations are severe – letters of reprimand, docked pay – anything to make them fear for their jobs. 

6) Play favorites. Everyone remembers the teacher’s pet – bring that dynamic into the workplace.  A great way to destroy employee morale is to make it clear that a few people can get away with anything, while the rest must toe the line. Or consider the reverse scenario… selectively enforce the rules with a few employees while letting the rest off the hook.  Morale is certain to take a nose dive.

5) Skimp on necessary tools, equipment or technology. Invite employee discontent by maintaining a tight hold on the purse strings when it comes to the tools employees need to do their jobs well.  Dole out pens, paper and other office supplies like they were the items about to tip the company over the financial edge. Create a make-do attitude, and then hold employees to standards unachievable given the lack of good tools and equipment. 

4) Maintain an atmosphere of fear in the workplace.  This technique can take many forms, but one of the most effective is to keep employees wondering whether their jobs will exist tomorrow.  Dwell on declining sales, especially if you can do so in several contexts.  Ask them casual questions about their spouse’s job security.  Drop small but favored perks such as water bottles, good coffee or the annual company picnic.  Productivity and employee attitude will fall simultaneously.

3) Show employees you don’t trust them.  Make sure employees know they are not at all trusted.  Double and triple check their paperwork, logs and products.  Listen in on conversations.  Hide behind cubicle walls and eavesdrop on employee discussions.  Search them as they leave, even if they have no access to anything of value.  The impact on morale and work quality will be noticeable almost instantly.

2) Make it an us and them atmosphere.  Demand that staff- level employees take cuts in pay, hours or benefits.  Postpone or cancel promotions.  Delay replacement of worn-out but needed equipment and furnishing.  Then give the executive staff new 22” flat panel computers.  Talk about how hot it was on your trip to Italy.  Complain about how your Porsche is always in the shop.  After all, they should be happy to have a job, any job. Right?

1) Wherever possible, reinforce the idea that they are replaceable.  This is the number one way to kill employee morale. For every person employed in your company, there are at least a dozen applicants eager to take their position.  Let your current employees know that, whether through words, deeds or environment, that they could be replaced tomorrow. 


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