How to Reignite Your Team's Spark

Key Takeaways

Train leadership on how to spot early signs of burnout.
Work with employees to identify and reconnect with their "why".
Minimize non-essential distractions and annoyances.
Energize employees through fun initiatives, professional development, and collaboration.
Provide frequent recognition and rewards tailored to your employees.
Integrate mental health policies and supports.
Adapted from Tegan Nardone's How to Reignite the Spark in Your Career
For your employees’ first few months, they arrive all smiles. They're leaning in to listen at every meeting. They're overflowing with ideas and producing exceptional results. This is great. This is the kind of team that gives each other high fives on the way out the door.

And then . . .

As sure as a clock winds down, your employees aren’t smiling as often. They’re zoning out, and their work quality has dropped. What's going on here? Is this quiet quitting? How did someone with so much excitement lose their spark?

There's a reason your employees chose your company. Either that reason no longer applies, or there's something getting in the way of their why. Read on to learn about the six extinguishers of employee spark, and how you can help reignite it.


Spot It Before It Happens

Stress looks like an employee frantically running in every direction. When the employee is so out of energy that they just can't run anymore, even as urgent responsibilities pile on, that's burnout. The impact on an employee's mental health is clearly not a good state for productivity. Poor performance, low morale, and absenteeism are common results of burnout.

A Fisher Phillips survey revealed that 51% of employers fielded reports of burnout or mental fatigue over two years. Because burnout happens gradually, you can train managers to identify the signs before it becomes a big issue. Common ones to watch for include irritability and hostility, lower quality work, frequent absences, difficulty concentrating, tiredness, frequent mistakes, and lower confidence. Upon recognizing these signs, managers can intervene and provide appropriate support.

Lost Sense of Purpose

Reconnect with "Why"

A McKinsey report shows 70% of employees say their personal sense of purpose is defined by their work, and when that work feels meaningful, they perform better, are much more committed, and are about half as likely to go looking for a new job. However, while 85% of executives said they are living their purpose at work, only 15% of managers and employees said the same. In fact, most of them disagreed.
While 85% of executives say they are living their purpose at work, only 15% of managers and employees say the same.
Half a waking life in a purposeless job makes half a life without meaning. That's enough to get anyone down.
The solution is to help employees find more personal meaning in their day-to-day work.

They don't have to share your personal why. What matters is that their sense of purpose aligns with your organization's, and that they maximize each other. This can be through the company mission, vision, values, culture, compensation & rewards, or job functions. Help employees understand how they fit in, and especially how their contributions support the organization's goals.

Can you think of a position that, if eliminated, wouldn't have any impact on your organization? If not, every one of your employees should know that they matter, and what they do has an impact that ripples through the organization towards the fulfillment of your mission. For example, in an interview with hospital janitors who believed their job was their calling, they saw their work as more than cleaning — they were helping patients heal.

Managers can take time during performance reviews to discuss what parts of the job the employee finds most fulfilling. They can also provide opportunities for development and track progress towards professional goals. Whatever an employee personally connects to within your organization, find ways to continually bring them back to it.


Minimize the Non-Essential

Even if an employee has a strong sense of purpose, unnecessary distractions and time-wasters can get in the way of fulfilling it. Minimizing your employees' burdens doesn't mean reducing their work or lowering standards. It means removing unwanted parts of the day that stop them from focusing on their core functions.

For example, if you decide to offer free snacks, but your employees have so many back-to-back meetings that they don't have time to even hit the break room, what was the point? Some organizations have meeting cap and gap policies, such as capping meeting times to 45 minutes and installing a 10-minute break for employees to clear their minds and prepare for the next meeting.

Ask employees about their frustrations and distractions. Are there common threads? (Maybe something that could be lifted with HR outsourcing?) Not only will it help them feel seen, but you might identify a few micro-supports that together make a big difference.

While the solution to dissatisfaction can be more benefits, more initiatives, more rewards, sometimes it's helpful to refer to the adage, "When in doubt, delete."


Shake It Up

If you won your dream car, within a few years, you'd probably think of it as just your car. (At least, you wouldn't be jumping for joy every time you saw it.) The same thing, unfortunately, happens to employees and their jobs. That's when it's time to shake things up. You might initiate programs and activities, such as workplace fitness challenges or book clubs, to keep employees engaged and foster a sense of community. You could also identify employee interests and goals, and facilitate their growth through training, conferences, and coaching.

You can also increase engagement through energizing team dynamics and connectedness. This does not mean treat your employees like family. We repeat: Your company is not a family. It is, however, a community bound by similar interests and goals (even if that goal is just to get a paycheck). As such, it's important that your employees get along with each other. When their interests and goals are aligned, they're much more likely to work effectively as a team. Establish team or departmental goals and facilitate opportunities for conversation, brainstorming, and problem-solving. You can incentivize friendly competition, but ensure that team members also have opportunities to build each other up, such as through mentorship programs for new employees. Both managers and employees should be encouraged to recognize and celebrate each other's successes. When everyone is working together towards a specific objective, it can be exhilarating, motivating, and contribute to a high-performance culture.

Feeling Unappreciated

Recognize and Reward

Employee recognition can take many forms, from simple expressions of gratitude to more formal recognition programs. One key aspect of recognizing employees is to show appreciation regularly, rather than only during performance reviews. During reviews, it's important to focus not just on how employees can improve, but also on what they're doing well. By highlighting successes and progress, you can help motivate employees to continue growing and developing, even if it doesn't always lead to immediate success. This can help create a culture where employees feel empowered to take risks and try new things, rather than being afraid to fail.

When it comes to reward, ask employees how they like to be recognized. For example, employees who prefer public recognition might appreciate shout-outs on social media or being awarded Employee of the Month. Compensation rewards can come in the form of bonuses, but also gift cards to an employee's favorite restaurant, or tickets to a sporting event. Tailor rewards to each employee, and remember that frequent recognition is key, even if it's as simple as "Thanks for the great work you did on that project."

External Stressors

Mental Health Initiatives

It's impossible to fully separate an employee's personal life from their work life. Stressors will influence their performance, and it's important to respond with empathy and support without enabling poor performance.

One bottom-up approach to supporting your employees' mental health is establishing Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). These are employee-led groups that focus on promoting mental health and well-being in the workplace. They aim to provide a safe and supportive space for co-workers to discuss mental health-related issues, and share experiences and resources.

A few other options to support employee mental health include integrating mental health into insurance policies, offering free or discounted mental wellness apps, and providing wellness reimbursements (e.g., gym memberships). Some companies are extending mental health benefits to the children of their employees. As always, listening to employee feedback is key, and can help you evolve organizational practices to support a culture of empowerment.

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