And things to watch out for when you try them…

In this age of unlimited vacation policies, flexible hours and remote working, making sure that your employees are happy is an increasingly big task. Small business owners in particular, who may not be able to offer perks like those mentioned above, need to pay close attention to employee morale to avoid:

  1. Reduced productivity as a result of employee dissatisfaction
  2. High employee turnover due to more attractive offers elsewhere

Below I’ll be looking at some easy ways to boost staff morale, including some we use here in the AppInstitute office, as well as breaking down why a few common tips in this space actually require some extra thought before implementation.

Friday drinks

It’s an accepted fact of life (or at least it should be…) that very little work gets done after 3 or 4pm on Fridays. Even if your team is still beavering away on Friday afternoon, it’s highly likely that many of your clients/customers will have already clocked out. And if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

On Fridays in the AppInstitute office we start to wind things down around 4.00pm, crack open some drinks and break out our Wheel of Fortune style app. Full of prizes like dinner vouchers and App Store credit employees can earn a spin on the wheel by winning at heads or tails, or receiving two nominations from colleagues for something kind/helpful/useful they did that week.

You have to be careful with this one since, whether for religious or personal reasons, you probably have some employees who don’t drink alcohol. Ordering pizza, subs or something else to go with drinks – or just calling it a day at 4pm altogether – allows these folks to join in without feeling left out for their alcohol-free lifestyle.

Use Slack instead of email

Intra-office communication is a tricky beast to tame. Email is overly formal and time-consuming but designers, marketers and developers – who regularly deal with tasks that demand periods of uninterrupted concentration – won’t thank you for shouting across the office either.

Using a tool like Slack or Skype is a nice compromise because it encourages a more casual exchange of ideas while still keeping a record of who said what, and when they said it. Slack is particularly useful because it allows you to host a number of different channels, here are a few channels that we use personally within our teams:

#feedback – It’s important for our entire team to know what our customers are saying so we use this channel to share feedback, both positive and negative.

#tech – From bug reporting to our platform updates, this channel is where it’s at.

Recommended for You


Webcast, April 4th: How This Startup of the Year Accelerated User Acquisition Growth 18x in 10 Months

#marketing – We use this to share growth hacking ideas, awesome content we’ve published or awesome content we

#lunch – Whether you’re looking for a lunch buddy or you forget to bring in a packed lunch and want to crowdsource some ideas on what to eat or where to go, you’ll find it here.

#random – From funny GIFs to office banter, this channel is a place to share a few laughs.

mary berry wink gif

#ladies – A private group the women in our office created to talk about… well actually I’m not sure what they talk about, but I imagine it’s private for a reason.

Of course, it’s important to make sure that everyone has Slack installed on their work PCs and knows how to use it (good news: it’s super easy to get to grips with) so you don’t have anyone feeling left out!

Be transparent

Transparency is one of those things that many business owners talk a lot about then forget to actually put into practice. Ask any employee if they’ve ever seen the management team disappear into a meeting but had no idea what it was about, and pretty much all of them will say yes.

An easy to understand email breaking down the outcome of meetings etc. can help employees feel more in the loop but comes across as impersonal. It’s often better to let them hear it right from the horse’s mouth. Here at AppInstitute, I give an informal talk to the team every Friday during Beer o’clock covering what’s been going on that week and open up the room to questions so everyone is free to get clarification about whatever’s on their mind.

But being transparent requires context. Let’s say, for example, that you publish figures that appear to show the company losing money. Unless you qualify that data by explaining that the company is currently operating at a loss, maybe due to a heavy marketing spend for example, people will start to worry about their jobs.

Away days/nights

In a recent interview for a Midlands Business Insider article, I said that “work hard, play hard” is the best way to run a business and I really do believe that. We plan two corporate away days a year in advance and throw a surprise one into the mix, which 95% of our employees only find out about on the day. That surprise trip is particularly effective because, since people are already in the office, it means that we get 100% turnout as long as no-one’s ill.

Company events like this are most effective when as many people as possible attend. If you’re concerned about division or disunity in the office then run an event that only 50% of people can attend, it’s only going to make things worse. If your employees have partners, children and/or pets to think about, then it’s best to give them plenty of time to make arrangements.

Ideally, companies should pay the entire cost of events like these. In practice, when budgets are tight, that may not always be possible. Use your negotiating powers to secure group rates or discounts when you can – employees will probably be eager to attend if they know they’re getting a night in a hotel or a fantastic meal at a significantly reduced price. Or, try to find an effective compromise; in the past, we’ve had AppInstitute parties where we supply the alcohol and had staff bring in their favourite dishes.

Get employee feedback

There are all sorts of ways to do this, from anonymous suggestion boxes and polls to having a very obvious open door policy, but it really doesn’t matter which you choose as long as you find one that works for you.

Think about where you’d be without your employees: just one person sitting in a room alone trying to do ALL of the production, distribution, design, marketing and support your business requires without going completely crazy. It’s not a stretch to say that your employees are your business, and that’s why they should inform just about everything you do.

For example, if you’re looking to plan your next away day then come up with a few ideas and let your employees vote on them. There are tons of discount/sponsorship programmes out there for employees too, but be aware that some of these may have tax implications. If 80% of your staff say they’d be interested in corporate gym membership, that sounds like a slam dunk to me!

Final Thoughts

No-one said that keeping employee morale high was easy. If it was, then employee retention would be close to 100% just about everywhere (spoiler: it’s not). In fact, only 60% of non-millennials say that they plan to be working at their current company one year from now.

Even companies that offer the best perks in the world – Google probably ranks as one of these and has a median tenure of just one year – can struggle to hold onto staff, which tells us that employee morale is about more than just perks. It’s about pairing perks with meaningful work, opportunities for development and fostering an uplifting company culture.

Without those things, all the free beer in the world won’t boost employee morale!