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How leaders can protect workplace morale during high-intensity times

Regardless of your industry, running a successful business sometimes requires companies to place extraordinary demands on employees. 

But as a leader, this presents you with a precarious situation: crunch times can create stress and burnout among staff which will ultimately compromise output and results—while also running the risk of longer-term people management issues.

While every organization will go through busy periods, a company can’t be successful if its success comes at the expense of its employees’ well-being. And, as a leader, it’s your responsibility to find that balance. 

Here are 11 ways you can protect workplace morale during high-intensity times. 

1. Evaluate risk vs. reward

The first important concept to wrap your mind around is juggling risk versus reward when it comes to employee morale.

Consider this question: what’s the tipping point between working hard and burning out your employees? At what point do the potential risks make it unreasonable to achieve a given goal or meet a certain deadline?

Research has found that 89 per cent of employees have experienced burnout in the last 12 months and a staggering 70 per cent would consider leaving their jobs because of it. 

When you consider the costs of losing employees to burnout—both in terms of the time and money to replace employees as well as the employer brand consequences that come with high turnover—it begs the question of when it’s necessary to reevaluate timelines and workload in the interest of employee well-being. 

This is different for every company and team, but people have finite time, energy, and mental bandwidth. It’s important to avoid depleting them. 

2. Reverse-engineer goals 

From a psychological perspective, big goals can feel daunting and unachievable. This, in turn, can create added stress among employees. 

During intense busy periods, reverse engineering your company’s ultimate goals will make them easier to achieve.

You can do this by breaking your big goals down into smaller, more achievable steps.

Doing so allows your team to tackle smaller tasks and celebrate smaller, more frequent wins as they work towards the target they’re aiming for. 

3. Share in the burden

As a leader, your people look to you for guidance and moral support. But, most importantly, they emulate the behaviours that you display. 

During crunch time, your team needs to know that you’re in the trenches with them. 

If you expect them to work longer hours and put in more work, they need to see that you’re sharing that burden with them.

Don’t just lead the team. Be part of it. 

4. Perfect systems and processes retrospectively

Every crunch period provides an incredibly valuable opportunity to analyze, evaluate, and improve your systems and processes.

During busy times, document what works and what doesn’t. Identify sticking points and challenges. 

And then take actionable steps to ensure they’re fixed for next time. 

5. Identify and rectify sticking points in real time 

As much as it’s important to make retroactive improvements after your team gets through a busy period, it’s equally—if not more—important to ensure you’re identifying and addressing challenges and sticking points in real time.

As a leader, the last thing you want is for your team to be stewing in their own frustrations while they’re in crunch time. 

Don’t wait until later. Show your team that you care by listening to their concerns and finding fixes right away. 

6. Practice active listening

Studies have found that 83 per cent of employees feel they are not heard fairly or equally, posing a serious risk to engagement and morale. Even more troubling is the fact that one in three would rather quit their jobs than voice their concerns at work.

So, as a leader, it’s vital that you’re accessible to your people and that you make every possible effort to reduce barriers between yourself and your team.

You can do so by:

  • Rewarding honesty and encouraging feedback
  • Ensuring your people know their voices are heard and matter 
  • Providing tools that your team can use to communicate with you
  • Taking action on people’s feedback whenever possible and proactively providing an explanation when you can’t 
  • Empowering them to share their thoughts and make decisions

The most successful leaders are the ones who actively listen to their people.

7. Employee recognition

Don’t skip out on employee recognition. Even something as simple as a thank-you note or a shout-out for a job well done can make busy periods feel that much more manageable and worthwhile for your staff. 

8. Working together in-person

There are few things more challenging than feeling isolated and under stress. Sometimes the best way to get through high-pressure moments at work is to be surrounded by your colleagues and see that you’re all in it together.

Having a dedicated office space where your team can get together to collaborate, communicate, and buckle down together can make it all feel more manageable. 

If your team works remotely or in a hybrid capacity, it can even be worth booking a meeting room or event space where everyone can come to be together in person. 

9. Encourage real lunch breaks and support boundaries 

Long hours are par for the course during busy times. But that doesn’t mean that personal time shouldn’t exist.

Even something as simple as encouraging your employees to take their full lunch breaks or ensuring they’re not working on weekends unless absolutely necessary can allow enough time to recharge batteries, avoid burnout, and keep morale high. 

10. Reiterate why you’re working hard

Today, employees want to feel connected to their companies and find purpose in their work.

When times are busy, it’s important to reiterate what everyone’s working towards, why it’s important, and how everyone’s individual contributions make a difference.

11. Make up for their hard work

When crunch time is over, make up for the extra hours your team worked by providing them with time off—with no strings attached. Being given days off to recuperate after busy periods can make it that much easier to work hard through the next one.

Busy periods are guaranteed in every business. But it’s what you, as a leader, do to support your team’s well-being that determines whether the outcome is success or struggle.

If you’re in search of an office, meeting room, or event space where you can gather your team during crunch time, we invite you to visit your local iQ Offices location. Book a tour today.

Kane Willmott is the co-founder and CEO of iQ Offices, the largest independent Canadian-owned co-working operator with offices in Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. iQ Offices provides beautiful office spaces with safety, service, privacy and design at the forefront.