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You know when office morale is low. There’s a feeling of discontent in the air, which usually fuels poor performance, office gossip, and high turnover.Increasing Employee Morale

Some managers try to boost morale via peppy slogans or incentive programs. The problem is that posters don’t usually work, and incentives can be expensive — and aren’t always in tune with what employees want.

The good news is that there are some free (or almost free) solutions that are virtually guaranteed to boost employee morale and increase productivity.

1. Let Employees Create Their Own Titles

What is your job title? Does it really reflect what you do — or what you perceive as your role within the organization? According to new research in the American Academy of Management Journal, most people do not think that their titles are accurate reflections of their work, and in fact, employees who are allowed to create their own titles are less stressed and less likely to burn out than those who receive titles from their boss.

That conclusion is based on research from the London School of Business, which found that when employees are asked to create their own titles, they are better able to express themselves and are generally more thoughtful about their work and can articulate why it is important. The researchers also discovered that when employees create their own titles, it tends to break down the traditional hierarchies within companies, creating stronger teams and improving communication. Sure, you might wind up with some unusual and oddly specific titles, but you will also have a happier workforce.

2. Encourage “Passion Projects”

Many employees have ideas and concepts that they wish they had time to develop fully. These might be ideas for new products, ways to better complete tasks, new creative pieces — the list is endless. The problem is that many people are so caught up in their day-to-day work and in meeting deadlines that they don’t have time to pursue these “passion projects.”

This could be holding your company back — big time. Not convinced? Ask Google. The tech giant allows employees to spend up to 20 percent of their time working on personal projects that are related to the company, but that are outside the realm of their normal job responsibilities. The results of this policy include such developments as Gmail and Google News.

The idea is that if you allow employees a certain amount of creative freedom, whether it’s a percentage of their working hours or just a day or two each month, they will stay passionate, engaged, and excited about their work. And of course, there is always the possibility they could develop the next multi-million dollar idea.

Employee Naps3. Allow Employees to Take Naps

The idea of letting people sleep on the job might sound counterintuitive — after all, nodding off at your desk has traditionally been a surefire way to earn a one-way ticket to the unemployment line. However, studies show that employees who take short rest breaks during the day are more productive and happier. In fact, a NASA study found that a short nap (less than 30 minutes) increases alertness by more than half, and productivity by 34 percent. As one expert pointed out, companies are more focused than ever before on employee wellness, and offer massage, workout rooms, and nutrition counseling, but neglect to acknowledge that sleep is one of the most important factors in overall health and wellness.

Some companies have added “nap rooms” to their buildings. These rooms may offer a comfortable recliner, hammock, or cot in a cool, dark, and quiet space, where employees can take short breaks to refresh and rejuvenate. If you’re worried about abuse of the privilege, require employees to reserve the nap area in advance, and place time and frequency limits on napping.

4. Learn Together

Learning new skills helps stimulate creativity and brain function. When learning takes place at work, employees may feel more engaged and connected to their work, especially if they are learning something unrelated to their daily duties. Try organizing a series of lunch and learn meetings, where employees can learn new hobbies, stress-relief techniques, or skills that they can put to use in their daily lives.

We’re not talking about training sessions on how to use the new time clock system or how to enter reports. The type of learning that boosts morale is sessions that provide new skills for work (learning how to edit photos or conduct focus groups, for example) or a shared experience for the team.

5. Allow Volunteer Time

Giving your employees time to give back outside of the office is another proven way to boost morale — and it can improve your company’s profile within the community. For many people, long workdays combined with family responsibilities make finding time to volunteer a challenge. If they can take one afternoon a month to devote to volunteering, they usually come back to work rejuvenated. In many companies that allow employees paid time off to volunteer, departments work on projects together, which helps strengthen the team and build camaraderie.

Boosting office morale isn’t always about expensive incentive programs or cheerful slogans. Sometimes, all it takes to get your employees happy and engaged in their work is learning about what makes them tick, and allowing them the freedom to explore their interests and expand their minds.

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