How to communicate when morale stinks

Be transparent, and use your work to create an emotional high tide that raises every boat in the harbor.


Working at a company with low morale can be dreadful.

Whether your workplace is suffering through layoffs, the fear of layoffs, poor management or just a dispiriting culture of mistrust, you, brave communicator, can improve morale.

You can’t fix everything that’s broken in your organization—and you can put only so much lipstick on whatever messaging pigs you inherit—but you can use your position to uplift, encourage and energize your colleagues.

Keep these three tips in mind when morale sags:

Be transparent and direct. At some point in human history, it was determined that the best way to deliver bad news was to either ignore it or jam it deep inside a daunting mass of big words such as “confluence,” “realignment” and “re-synergizing.”

Don’t try to bury bad news underneath mounds of meaningless buzzwords. It’s like serving up burritos that look fine on the outside but are filled with limp lettuce and layoff notices. No amount of guac or sour cream can make that sort of trick palatable.

While we’re on the topic of lunch, don’t jerk people around by making them bite through bland, bready platitudes just to reach the meat of the matter. Instead, be direct. Be open, honest and transparent.

Sandwiching terrible news in between sanguine paragraphs about the future is patronizing and in poor taste. It’s akin to slipping a rotten egg into an otherwise appetizing sandwich and hoping no one will notice.

Treat your colleagues like adults, and give it to them straight.

Also, maybe don’t lead with, “Hello there.”

Reassemble broken pieces. Layoffs can be shattering. Communicators, much like Kintsugi artists, should prioritize putting broken pieces back together.

When bowls or mugs break, our first instinct is often to throw everything into the trash. Just buying another one is easier than reassembling the shards, right? That’s not so easy with a workplace culture. If your culture has been damaged, or profoundly disrupted by COVID-19, try to piece it back together. Use your communication to rebuild trust and reestablish connections. Add new flourishes and features as you rebuild your infrastructure.

There is beauty in painstakingly patching up and piecing back together something that was once shattered. You might even end up with something more beautiful than the original.

Provide uplifting inspiration. A rising tide lifts all boats, right?

This is true with communication, too. Even when days are dark—especially when days are dark—communicators should be beacons of brightness and hope. Don’t blow smoke, obviously, but do use your platform as a motivational mouthpiece that encourages colleagues to persevere and improve.

You have a voice—a prominent one in your organization—so you might as well use it to spread a bit of mirth, hope and encouragement. If you consistently deliver doom and gloom (or boring corporate spume), you’ll make morale worse.

Consider it part of your job to create emotional high tides that raise every boat in your little harbor. You can’t prevent storms or tumultuous times, but you can communicate in a way that calms, empowers and equips your colleagues to endure.



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