Team Morale: Before & During COVID
In the early months of the global COVID-19 pandemic, the swift and overwhelming shift from office work to an at-home environment might have seemed like a temporary change. The sudden blurring of work and home life, combined with partners, children, and roommates all suddenly working and learning from home as well, caused a considerable disruption to our work-life balance.
While some experts asked in the first half of 2020 what reimagining the work-life balance would look like after the pandemic, many Americans are now realizing that “after” may never really come. Instead, some major corporations (including Facebook, Twitter, and Square) have made the option of permanently working from home available to its workers.
Considering that the “new normal” has effectively become normal-normal, the question of how employees are coping with the pandemic and its effect on team morale is even more important. Read on to explore how team morale changed in the last year, how businesses are coping with these shifts, how morale is impacting workplace productivity, and whether going back to the office has helped or hindered employees’ moods.
Bridging the Digital Gap
According to our study of 1,000 employed Americans, adapting to working from home abruptly during the pandemic has been more difficult than anticipated. Social isolation can be difficult to cope with, and digital methods of communication can be a poor substitute for the everyday face-to-face interactions many employees are accustomed to. For the millions of new telework employees, it can be difficult to reduce distractions, set effective boundaries, or make a communication plan that works effectively.
Our study shows that compared to the more than 65% of employees who considered their pre-COVID team morale either high or somewhat high, a majority said current workplace morale was neutral (26%), somewhat low (23%), or low (5.7%). Roughly a quarter of employees said they felt close to their co-workers before COVID-19, but another 36% felt their relationships have improved overall, compared to 20% who said their relationships have worsened.
While some have experienced positive changes in their peer connections, we found that upward momentum was more likely to occur among managers than employees. While 49% of managers said their relationships since COVID-19 have improved and just 15% said they’d gotten worse, we found just 18% of employees felt their relationships have improved, and 28% felt they’ve worsened.
We also analyzed morale data by industry, which suggested that not all teams were able to handle the impacts of COVID-19 similarly. Here are some key findings:
The Impact of Good Leadership During COVID-19
Managers may be more likely to feel closer with their peers since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and it could be the actions of managers that help employees successfully handle the stress of working remotely.
More than any other coping mechanism, 52% of employees said their manager or team leader allowed them to discuss real-world current events during team meetings. Roughly 37% of employees getting to discuss current events on the clock said it helped bring their teams closer together. While just 44% of managers encouraged or allowed “venting” or talking about work frustrations during meetings, nearly 1 in 3 employees said this tactic was successful at bringing teams together. Checking in with how employees have been doing (32%), starting meetings with non-work questions (28%), and acknowledging stress and burnout (26%) were other successful methods of helping teams feel increased unity.
Employees who reported knowing their co-workers well were 36 percentage points more likely to have high morale, followed by employees who communicated with one another in non-work settings (30 percentage points). Most notably, employees working for managers who offered flexibility with employees’ work schedules were 64 percentage points more likely to indicate a high morale. Flexible work schedules also made employees 64 percentage points more likely to identify as feeling very productive.
Benefits of Working in the New Normal
According to our study, half of employees we polled who had recently returned to their work spaces admitted they were worried about becoming infected with COVID-19.
As we found, returning to an office or workspace after working remotely also negatively impacts team morale. Compared to 21% of remote workers, 38% of those who returned their work spaces reported somewhat low morale. Remote employees were also nearly 15 percentage points more likely to indicate having high morale, 12 percentage points more likely to feel very productive, and almost 14 percentage points less likely to report high stress. Thirty-nine percent of employees working back on-site acknowledged the change from working remotely as decreasing team morale.
Regardless of the challenges that are sometimes associated with working remotely, even very motivated employees are more likely to thrive in that environment, compared to those who’ve returned to their on-site workspaces. We found remote employees had the highest levels of morale (46.9%), as well as the highest levels of productivity (52.7%).
Here were some other findings from our study, which may be useful to companies noticing low morale among certain employees:
- Seasoned employees were more likely to suffer from low morale due to COVID-19, compared to those with a year or less at the company.
- Only 15% of employees with a year or less at the company reported low morale.
- Around 30% of employees with three years or less of experience reported low morale.
- Around 38% of employees with over six years of experience reported similarly low morale.
A New Workplace Perspective
This last year was full of learning, adjusting, and resetting expectations. For the millions of Americans still working remotely during COVID-19, there may be no end in sight to these new digital office spaces. While team morale has generally decreased since the pandemic began, managers and team leaders have the opportunity to create positive working environments that help teams feel closer together rather than further apart. And while telecommuting certainly has its challenges, those surveyed who’d already returned to the office were generally less productive, more stressed, and had lower morale overall.
At Paychex, our Coronavirus Help Center is designed to help answer all of the questions you have about helping your business and employees meet the challenges of today. From understanding your state’s reopening guidelines to understanding your company’s finances, we compile all of the resources you need in one location. Our HR Solutions are also tailored to your business needs to help you keep up with changing regulations and workplace trends.
Methodology and Limitations
We surveyed 1,013 currently employed respondents ranging in age from 18 to 70 in order to explore how COVID-19 has affected team morale. The mean age was 38 with a standard deviation of 11 years. 41.9% of our respondents identified as female, 57.8% identified as male, 0.3% identified as nonbinary.
Survey data has certain limitations related to self-reporting. These limitations include telescoping, exaggeration, and selective memory. We didn’t weight our data or statistically test our hypotheses. This was a purely exploratory project that examines team morale amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Fair Use Statement
Are your readers trying to make the most out of their remote work environments or struggling with returning to the office? Share the results of this study for any noncommercial use with the inclusion of a link back to this page in your story to provide access to our full findings and methodology.