HR expert Sue Hook, founder and director of client development at Sapience HR, gives us an insight into some simple but effective ways of boosting staff morale at the start of the year

2020 was a year many of us would like to forget, but there are two important reasons not to relegate it to a dark period of history just yet. The first is that employees and teams will still be feeling the effects of the pandemic – mentally, financially, emotionally, and practically. And the second is that outstanding companies always learn from experience – good and bad – using that experience to build resilience and improve their practices.

So, in the wake of so much turmoil, what are the things you should be doing now to create a positive work culture for the year ahead? Here are some recommendations:

Make mental health a priority this year

This was a big topic of discussion at the end of year last and it should remain a major priority for employers, who have a responsibility to support their staff’s mental health. Your team may have been through restructuring and redundancy, or about to go through those painful processes. They may have taken a financial hit due to the pandemic, and many will be finding working from home a struggle.

Action – Work out a progressive strategy for supporting your employees and update all your policies to reflect this. Make sure they know the lines of communication are open and that a compassionate response awaits. Be proactive, not reactive, acting early to head off any issues.

Show your appreciation in creative ways

Employees who feel undervalued will underperform, never reaching their full potential. This is devaluing for them, and threatens the work ethic of the whole team. With many people now working from home on a permanent basis, the worry is that there may be resentment quietly bubbling away ready to emerge further down the line.

Action – Morale boosters can take many forms. While many firms can’t afford pay rises right now, there are other forms of reciprocity. We find that the gift of an experience is usually most appreciated and remembered longest – a voucher for a meal, spa treatment, or a family day out for example. Always remembering birthdays, and making sure your employees never have to miss a school play or sports day will go a long way too…

It’s good to listen

As managers and business owners, we often think we know best, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes honest conversations with staff about problems, barriers, motivations, and ideas – can be eye-opening moments. A team member may have spotted an opportunity that you haven’t or have the solution to a problem you’ve been grappling with. There’s nothing more morale-boosting than being respectfully asked for your opinion, and perhaps even having that opinion acted on!

Action – Review your appraisal process to find ways of making it more engaging and illuminating, but also create other opportunities for discussion, especially informal ones when people tend to open up more. Be prepared for some honest, perhaps even difficult conversations, but see these as an opportunity to reengage your team members and make them feel invested once again.

Focus on career development and training

The hiatus of 2020 has led many individuals and businesses to reassess their goals and priorities. Members of your team may be feeling vulnerable – wondering if their position will survive the year – and others will have rethought their career goals in light of the upheaval caused by the pandemic.

Action – Look at the training needs of your business as a whole, but have those individual conversations too. If your company is heading off in an exciting new direction, how can your current team remain your greatest asset, and where do the gaps lie? As individuals we all like to feel we’re moving forward rather than standing still, and learning new skills can be great for self-confidence and morale.

Finally, if you need help assessing your training and skills needs, restructuring, or would like bespoke tips on creating a positive work culture and boosting productivity, please email