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A Supervisor’s Role in Tough Times

With a difficult budget scenario it’s easy to see how morale among state employees could teeter. Supervisors are the glue that will hold workgroups together in tough times.  So what steps can you take as a supervisor to have a positive impact on morale?  Here are some ideas:

Set the tone for the group.

Have a meeting and address this issue head on. Let your employees know you recognize how tough things are and that you want to work with them to make the best of it. Ask for ideas but be careful not to let it become a full-out gripe-fest. (Venting a little is ok, but complaining for complaining’s sake is just complaining.) Help them be solution-focused.

Talk the team talk.

Convey a “we’re all in this together” message. Be careful though. There’s a fine line between making yourself a part of the team and selling out upper management by fanning the complaints. The best message at this point: “These are painful times that call for some stretching in order to solve problems and make use of every possible resource.”

Give out lots of “Thank you's.”   

They’re free.

Find ways to recognize your employees for trying hard.

As supervisors we sometimes come to expect hard work and only note when someone is missing the mark. Or, we only think about this in April, August and year end. Think of different ways you can recognize your employees individually.  It doesn’t have to be corny or cheesy or generic – just sincere.

Talk to your employees one-on-one. 

Let them know the work they do matters. This is something that can have a lot of traction because this doesn’t change like other rewards. Find ways to let the employee know that their job is important and adds value.

Help your employee prioritize their work.

If you are asking your employee to now do the job that 5 people used to do it’s easy to see how the stress could build. You still need the work done, but it doesn’t help for an employee to feel helplessly overwhelmed. They may shut down or anxiety may cause them to be less productive. So, let them know which tasks are at the top of the “to-do” list and which can be pushed to a lower priority.

Consider forming a “Morale Committee.” 

Let a group of employee representatives (or if you’re group is small – entire group) meet to plan (cheap) ways to have build morale. Ask the squeakiest wheel to be on the team. They’ll be less likely to rain on the parade if they’ve come up with some of the ideas.  They might decide to plan a Guitar Hero contest for lunch one day.? Or, they may pick a day when someone brings in homemade ice cream for the break room. The important thing is that the group comes up with ideas that they value. This may seem small but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try this. Small things help too.         

Send out stress breakers. 

You could say this in an email, “This may not seem like much but I want to do something to recognize the amount of stress you’re under and do everything we can as a team to help ourselves during these strapped times. So I thought the least of what I could do was send out some ‘Stress Breakers.’ I hope we can find some things from these that are useful to us.”   Then once a week send out Stress Breakers tips. (Ask KEAP for a set.)


Right now you may be thinking “I shouldn’t have to do any of this.” Although you may think you shouldn’t have to worry about the morale of the employees you supervise; the truth is happier employees are better employees. There’s a ton of research to support it and as a supervisor you are in a great position to try to get the most out of your employees by trying some of these steps to improve morale. It helps you too. The fact is we have a wide variety of employees and each require different levels of supervision. By matching your supervisory style to what each individual employee needs, you build a strong team that requires less supervision. As much as you can -- help fit the job to the employee. And, when you can, help employees do what they like to do.

Try some of these ideas, maybe even try all of them. Yes, you may have an employee who rolls their eyes at your attempts but they can at least give you credit for trying. And, that in itself can go a long way.

As always, if you recognize someone is beginning to show signs of deteriorating performance or behavior, please contact KEAP. We are happy to consult with you on ways to address these concerns.