Employee morale and well-being are critical—here are steps to take to ensure your faculty members feel supported.

Key strategies for education leaders to boost morale

Employee well-being is critical—here are steps to take to ensure your faculty members feel supported

Key points:

In the current educational environment, there seems to be extremely high levels of staff stress, burnout, and generally low morale. In education, where the success of students is intricately linked to the motivation and dedication of faculty and staff to go the extra mile, elevating employees’ well-being is not only a humane thing to do, but a crucial component of improving employee morale.

As a new assistant principal, one of the tasks delegated to me was to manage the staff recognition program. The school had historically recognized one or two faculty for outstanding work at the end of the school year. These faculty were generally nominated by their department chair or one of the assistant principals. There was a need for more widespread recognition.

Several things can be done to improve employee morale through an intentional focus on well-being.

Gratitude: Cultivating a culture of gratitude within the institution can have a ripple effect on employee morale. Encouraging staff to acknowledge and appreciate each other’s efforts fosters a supportive and positive work environment. This can be facilitated through ‘shout-out’ boards where employees can post notes of thanks to their colleagues, or through regular team-building activities that promote camaraderie. Some schools provide preprinted positive note cards for both employees and students to provide positive feedback to others. One school gave each student three or four such postcards at the beginning of each semester to send to other students or staff. They were often proudly displayed on lockers, in offices, and in classrooms. ITEC, Iowa’s ISTE affiliate, includes such “shoutoutees” in its monthly newsletter.

A basic yet profound way to recognize employees is through personalized appreciation from both formal and informal leaders. This goes beyond a generic thank you, but leaders should personalize notes to the specific task or actions taken. Handwritten notes seem to still weigh more than emails. For instance, adminstrators should practice consistently recognizing teachers for their innovative lesson plan or a staff member for their exceptional problem-solving skills in a challenging situation. Personalized appreciation shows employees that their leaders are attentive and value their individual efforts. Some leaders who can do so within their personality provide birthday cards or employment anniversary cards to each employee to give the employee positive feedback and thank them for being part of the team.

Lifting up employees: Beyond individual recognition, public recognition such as in staff meetings, newsletters, or on social media platforms can significantly boost employee morale. Celebrating achievements publicly gives employees a sense of pride and accomplishment. It can provide positive press for the organization as well.  Whether it’s a faculty member who published a new book or article, a staff member who went the extra mile for a student, or a graduate student who obtained a scholarship, acknowledging these achievements in a public forum can be motivating for the individual and the whole team.

Creating (or expanding an existing) formal system of awards and incentives is another effective way to recognize outstanding performance or achievements. This could range from an Employee of the Month award for staff to small tokens of appreciation like spirit wear or logo mugs. Encouraging students to recognize staff and faculty is another good approach. At the end of the semester, recognizing a summary of all achievements in a public forum is a great idea. Summarize grants awarded, publications, presentations, and other awards. A summary of the achievements can be included in a college or department newsletter to share with alumni and other stakeholders as well.

Promote wellness: Building a culture around personal health and wellness demonstrates a leader’s commitment to a human-centered approach to leadership.Effective wellness programs are important for many institutions. Recognizing the importance of employees’ physical and mental well-being is crucial. Educational leaders can implement wellness programs, such as stress management workshops, exercise classes, or health screenings. These programs show employees that their overall well-being is valued, which in turn can boost morale and productivity.

Focus on presence: One of the most basic ways to improve morale is taking time to be visible and listen to employee aspirations, concerns, and struggles. This is a time-honored leadership technique. It should not be limited to first line supervisors, but all campus leaders should be regularly visible. At large meetings, administrators should make sure they spread out among the faculty and staff and don’t simply mingle among themselves. An open door policy is not enough–leaders need to proactively engage. Brown bag lunch with the provost, donuts with the dean, or pizza with the president are all good ways to be visible for faculty and staff. Happy hour with HR might be a step too far for many organizational cultures.

Get the “basics” correct: Besides positive recognition, there are a few basic things that need to be watched carefully to ensure morale is not negatively impacted. First, make sure the payroll is accurate and timely. One of the easiest ways to destroy employee morale is to mess up payroll. No matter how much someone enjoys their work, nearly every employee counts on their regular paycheck. Administrators need to be responsive to employee questions. Employees should not have to wait a week for an administrative response to an email or voice message. One good rule of thumb for administrative responses is to consider what the expectation is for a faculty member to respond to a student (the 24 hour response rule).Administrators should be at least as responsive as they expect the faculty to be.

In sum, employee well-being is vital for maintaining high morale, which leads to a more positive, productive, and nurturing environment for both staff and students. Developing and maintaining a positive culture within the organization is even more important as all levels of education are having trouble in recruiting and retaining employees. Leaders must therefore adopt a multi-faceted approach to well-being—one that acknowledges the diverse contributions of their staff in meaningful and impactful ways. By implementing these strategies, leaders can create an atmosphere of respect, appreciation, and motivation, ultimately fostering a thriving educational community.

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