Boosting Staff Morale

From time to time, in any institution, staff morale can wane. All kinds of stressors can cause it: budget cuts, staffing changes, planning huge events, and even the weather. (Last winter was brutal!) When it happens – and it will – here are some ways to raise staff morale.

It’s More than Just a Job
Make sure all staff members know that their work contributes to a greater purpose. Every single person on staff plays a part in the overall success of the organization. Certain projects can feel tedious, and other duties are just part of the daily grind, but reminding everyone that everything they do benefits our purpose can make everyone feel more invested in the work itself.

Celebrate success! I just said that even the most mundane projects contribute to the greater good, so celebrate the success of the project. Celebrate milestones toward a goal. Take a minute to congratulate yourselves. It doesn’t have to be a full-on party, just a simple acknowledgement and some “go team applause” at a staff meeting. (Though from time to time, a treat is nice too. Bring donuts, provide lunch, or have a lunchtime Wii bowling tournament.)

Give the Gift of Time
This can be more difficult in smaller institutions, but you could award the staff with time. Give them an hour away from customers (and/or co-workers, if they choose!) to explore something new. They could read a book about a subject they want to pursue for a program. They could take a webinar or drop in on a lecture on campus. They could attend a program the library is offering. They could visit the local historical museum and wander around for an hour. If your organization can manage it, they could even volunteer their time in the community for that hour. Help plant flowers in the beautiful downtown! Help the animal shelter walk dogs! Read to the residents at a nursing home! It’s just an hour, so it won’t hurt productivity, but it lets them shake off all work stress for an hour, recharge, and get inspired.

We’re All in This Together
If you, the leader, build relationships with your co-workers that makes them trust you, they will understand that you’re under the same pressure they are. Possibly even more pressure.  I’ve written here before about leading by example. In this model of leadership, it is clear to everyone that you are all working toward the same goal, and that you’re all experiencing the same stress. You can boost morale just by being in the same situation they are and working together to make the most of it. I’d hate for my co-workers to think I wouldn’t understand their situation because I’ve never been in it. I have been there, and I am there with them right now.

I think the worst thing a leader could do is to not recognize a change in staff morale. You have to be in tune with attitudes and energy levels. When people stop volunteering to help, when they are less enthusiastic about their duties, when they get sick or call in more often, or even get patron complaints, you may have a problem. Pay attention to changes in staff behavior and do something to try to fix it.

Beyond the Job

photo credit: C.P.Storm via photopin cc

photo credit: C.P.Storm via photopin cc

Mary Kelly and I have a deal: when it is obvious that one of us is “phoning it in,” or no longer an active participant in the field of librarianship, we are to tell the other that it is time to hang it up and move on to the next phase of our life. It’s sort of like taking away your parents’ car keys when they are no longer fit to drive. No one wants to do it, and hopes they never have to. They hope that the problem will resolve itself through individual awareness and volunteering to walk away on their own. Just in case, though, we have made this pact and we both fully intend to keep our end of the deal. We never want to be what we call “RIP”: retired in place.

What does being an active participant in the profession entail? It is certainly more than just showing up to work every day. It’s more than just doing our job, too. Being an active participant in the profession is a bigger picture scenario. It involves librarianship outside of our immediate responsibility. It involves learning, growing, and contributing to others in the industry.

Being a role model for new librarians and information professionals is one way to contribute. Sharing experiences and learning outcomes with others is always welcome. It helps new professionals find a path to follow, helps them to make informed decisions about their careers, and improves the level of awareness of the profession itself.

Attendance is another way to actively participate in the profession. This means attending staff meetings, tweet-ups, conferences, workshops, seminars, unconferences, and informal get-togethers. Showing up is the first step in networking and finding opportunities. Actually contributing to the conversation or the work at hand is important too, but you have to show up in order to take advantage of the output.

Reading, listening, and watching is an easy way to participate in the profession. Read what our colleagues in the field are publishing. Listen to what they are saying. Watch the slide decks, videos, webinars, and tutorials they are providing. Soak it in and then act on it. Find a way to make what you read, hear, and see relevant.

Don’t just show up to work every day. Participate! Engage in the profession and reap the rewards of knowledge, awareness, and involvement.

Disillusionment (and not the fun Harry Potter kind)

photo credit: heath_bar via photopin cc

photo credit: heath_bar via photopin cc

If Dilbert comics are any indication, I should have given up on office work a long time ago. “TheOffice”, “Office Space”, and “The IT Crowd” all tell me that I should be done, that working in an office is awful and terrible and we’re only truly ourselves when we’re not at work.

I call a TISSUE OF LIES! (I just looked up synonyms in the Macmillian Dictionary site, and that was the best they came up with.) Librarianship must be the clear exception to this pop culture rule, because I see so many wonderful and enthusiastic individuals changing librarianship — old and young, new and seasoned. There’s everyone from Nancy Pearl to Buffy Hamilton, Stephen Abram to Justin Hoenke — we are overflowing with talented people of all ages, exploring ever-more interesting aspects of librarianship.
Admittedly, I’m only five years in to my career, so there’s still time for me to become jaded, but I don’t anticipate it. I think the key to my successful attempt to ward off disillusionment: I don’t accept things the way that they are.
The most disillusioned people that I have met (in libraries or otherwise) have always been content to accept things the way that they are. They are smart enough to see that things should be different, but they never stand up for making it better. Some would argue that accepting the bad aspects of a job is a symptom of a larger problem, and that is probably true. But I would respond that we are all driven to create: create art, create music, create programming, create better collections, create solutions. That drive to create and the sense of accomplishment when you’ve seen a project through are uplifting and motivating. Yes, you get more work. Yes, most of the time people don’t want to hear what you have to say. Yes, a lot of things never change. But, for me, that program, that collection, that solution is enough to keep me trucking and optimistic about my opportunity to change the library and impact our patrons..
So, Dilbert, you may be hilarious, and occasionally accurate, but I wouldn’t get your hopes too high on my becoming jaded, because I’m in it to win it.

The Mound Visit

photo credit: Thomas Huston via photopin cc

photo credit: Thomas Huston via photopin cc

Recently I was attending a Detroit Tigers baseball game with my daughter.  She is still learning the game, so when the manager left the dugout to go talk to the pitcher during the middle of the game she was confused.  “What is he doing Dad?,” she asked as the skipper made a slow strut to the pitching mound.  “He is checking in with the pitcher to see if he is feeling OK, if he needs anything, remind him of the game plan, or to simply encourage him,” I explained to my young fan.  This question got me thinking.  How many times do we check in with the players on our team?

The quick check in, or mound visit, is essential for a healthy workplace.  If we are being observant of our team it becomes obvious when one of them needs a visit.  How many times a week do you simply stop by an employee’s workstation to see how they are doing?  Do you regularly talk to staff about what they need to succeed?  Are quick morning meetings in which you review the events of the day commonplace?  Is recognition and encouragement the norm?

I’m a huge fan of the idea that leaders try their best to interact with their team members once a week.  The benefits of leaving your dugout to be more actively involved in the game are enormous.  This is something I have decided to committing myself to doing during the second half of the year.  I also love the idea of short, 5-10 minute, morning meetings just before you open.  This allows for a review of the day’s events as well as a chance to recognize and celebrate success.

One of my favorite scenes in the movie Bull Durham is when the catcher Crash Davis , played by Kevin Costner, calls time out to talk to his pitcher Calvin LaLoosh, played by Tim Robbins (see below NSFW).  LaLoosh is nervous because his dad is in the stands cheering him on, so Davis does what all great catchers do and distracts him.  Soon the rest of the team is at the mound discussing their problems and Davis goes on to help them all.  Don’t be afraid to visit the mound.  Make it a regular part of your leadership duties and it will result in a winning team.

Let It Roll

photo credit: kevin dooley via photopin cc

photo credit: kevin dooley via photopin cc

A co-worker asked me the other day how I manage to let things not bother me, or shake things off easily when I am bothered. It’s true, I have a fairly easy-going personality and it takes quite a lot to really get me worked up – but this post is not about me or about personality types. It’s about the answer to the question: How can we let things roll off our back more easily? At the time I told the co-worker that I guess it’s just the way I’m made and I don’t know why or how I am this way; I just am. I think there is a better answer, though.

  • Acknowledgement. It’s not about not being bothered. Of coursewe should be bothered when we are stressed out, insulted, or harmed in any physical, mental, or emotional way. The trick (for me, anyway) is to not let that negativity fester. Acknowledge it, deal with it, and move on.
  • Pick your battles. You have to decide how best to acknowledge the negativity. Sometimes it requires confrontation and sometimes that confrontation is more painful than the original stressor. What is it worth to you? Do you think that the person or situation that caused you stress will be “fixed” by the confrontation? If so, confront. If not, let it go. You can’t fix everyone and everything that is negative in this world. You can, however, choose which battles to take on and put your energy into those things, rather than feel negative about everyone and everything all the time.
  • Stay in control. If someone insults me, I have two choices. One option is to fight back and ramp up the negativity one more notch. Was I still insulted? Yes. Do I feel better after fighting back? No, it works me up even more. Option two is to shake my head and ignore it, hoping that the person who insulted me got what they needed out of the interaction. Do they feel better? I doubt it, but apparently they felt the need to act out, so I hope it did something for them! Do I feel better? No. I’m still insulted. BUT I DON’T FEEL WORSE.  I am in control of how I allow negativity to affect me. I am in control of my actions. I can’t control others, and honestly, the energy it would take to fight back is energy I could save for more positive interactions. So I usually choose to ignore it and move on.
  • Perspective. Compare the situation to other negativity in this world. Are there people in worse situations than you? I don’t mean you should compare your crazy boss to starving children, either. The starving children always win the game of “who has it worse.” I mean that you should compare it to a similar situation. Is your crazy boss better or worse than not having a job? Is s/he worse than your friends’ crazy bosses? Can you live with your situation when you put it into perspective of the rest of your workplace? Perspective also applies to the rest of your day, going back to picking your battles and staying in control. Put the situation into perspective of the rest of your day. If you are honest, many times you will realize that if this is as bad as it gets, it’s still going to be a pretty good day. Maybe I was late for work, stubbed my toe, and forgot my lunch, but you know what? My family is healthy, my car started, my co-workers are fantastic, and a patron appreciated my help.

Life is good.

Great Finds – The Happiness Advantage

There is a phrase I live by: “I work to live; I don’t live to work.” What this means, quite literally, is that I work in order to meet a standard of living I have set for myself. I work so that I can contribute to a comfortable retirement life as well. If I didn’t have to work in order to have the necessities and comforts of life that I value, I wouldn’t. I would allow someone who needs to work that opportunity.

The other side of the phrase is “I don’t live to work.” I don’t get up every day just to work. I spend eight hours a day at work doing something I am interested in and at which I want to succeed, but my whole life does not revolve around those eight hours. I live for a lot of things, like family and friends, hobbies, life goals, and overall daily satisfaction. Again, if I didn’t have to work, I wouldn’t. I would volunteer or maybe contribute to similar projects – but on my own time.

There are definitely people who live to work. Shawn Achor’s book The Happiness Advantage talks about the relationship between happiness and success. Some people believe that they will finally be happy when they meet certain professional benchmarks. “When I’m the Director, I’ll be happy!” “When I’m a department head, I’ll be happy!” You know what? They will be happy when they reach a goal they’ve set for themselves. What worries me is the idea that someone could spend their life – year after long year – working toward a goal and not being happy along the way. I may have to work 30 years before I can retire, but I can promise you I’m not spending 30 years focused solely on work to the complete disregard and neglect of everything else.  I focus eight hours of my day specifically on professional success (sometimes a bit more, sometimes a bit less), but only because that work makes me happy. If it didn’t, I would find different work.

Achor says that success is a result of happiness. There are plenty of successful people in this world who are unhappy; who sacrificed much in order to become successful. There are others who enjoyed every minute of their climb to the top and who succeeded because they had a healthy outlook on life both in and out of work.  Work-life balance is another topic for another day, but today I’m suggesting that anyone can be happy on their way to success, that there are small successes every day that should be celebrated, and that you needn’t live to work in order to find success. Happiness is success.

Give Yourself a Pat on the Back!

pat on back

When someone you supervise does a great job or finishes a big project, you probably praise that person. This may take the form of a high five, a cup of coffee, or verbal appreciation: “Great work! You really showed that project how it’s done!”

Noticing the achievements of others may not be written in our job descriptions, but we know it’s important for employee morale and motivation. For many supervisors, giving positive feedback is second nature.

But how often do we take the time to appreciate our own work, and give ourselves a pat on the back? It’s all too easy to get stuck in a rut of slogging through tasks day after day, never feeling accomplished or appreciated. Try this: every time you finish something on your to-do list, say to yourself (out loud or silently), “Good job.” Or, if you’re feeling really celebratory, proud, or just plain amazing, you might try, “Way to go! You’re the best librarian ever!” Maybe you’re the kind of person who feels appreciated by a short break and a hot drink; celebrate your daily accomplishments by making yourself a cup of tea in the break room or, better yet, leaving the library for a trip to a nearby coffee shop.

Whatever you do, be sure to give yourself a little praise and positive feedback every so often. You deserve it!