Poor communication may do the greatest harm to workplace morale, suggests a new Accountemps survey. One-third of human resources managers interviewed said a breakdown in communication is at the heart of most morale problems; almost one in five (18%) survey respondents pointed to micromanagement as the biggest factor.

In a family business context, it is all the more important to be sensitive to maintaining open, honest communication with non-family members. Often, familial relationships lead to communication efficiencies (unspoken but understood messages) or communication blockages (relatives not speaking to each other) that can spillover and harm relations with non-family members.

Communication also was cited by 38% of HR managers as the most effective way to counter low employee morale.

The survey was conducted by an independent research firm and is based on interviews with more than 300 HR managers at U.S. companies with 20 or more employees.

HR managers were asked, "Which one of the following has the most negative impact on employee morale?" Some of their responses:

Lack of open, honest communication: 33%

Micromanaging employees: 18%

Failure to recognize employee achievements: 15%

Fear of job loss: 10%

Excessive workloads for extended periods: 9%

HR managers also were asked, "What is the best remedy for low morale?" Their responses included:

Communication: 38%

Monetary rewards for exceptional performance: 15%

Recognition programs: 15%

Unexpected rewards, such as gift certificates or sporting event tickets: 13%

Team building events or meetings: 11%

Additional days off: 6%

"Managers can be doing everything right, but if they're not including employees in the information loop, staff engagement could suffer," says Max Messmer, chairman of Accountemps. "To improve communication, keep team members apprised of company goals and performance and encourage them to ask questions and offer feedback."

"Fortunately, morale problems can often be addressed relatively easily," Messmer adds. "Improving workplace communication is one of the most effective: and one of the least costly: ways to combat the problem of a disengaged workforce."

Accountemps highlights five characteristics of: and remedies for: low-morale:

1. An active grapevine. When communication is scarce, gossip and misinformation flourish. Even if you have bad news to share or don't have all the answers, honesty is still the best policy. The more team members can rely on accurate information, the less grist they'll have for the rumor mill.

2. Lack of initiative. Unmotivated employees just go through the motions rather than taking an active seat at the table. Foster an ownership environment in which employees are challenged to take initiative and solve problems in creative ways.

3. Scarce rewards. Step up efforts to recognize employees' efforts with praise, low-cost awards, and spot bonuses. Make rewards personal and give them as soon after an achievement as possible.

4. Changes in attitude. If employees are unhappy, it will show. Look for red flags: increased negativity, higher rates of absenteeism, or reduced cooperation or commitment. Checking in with workers regularly will help you gauge morale and address potential problems.

5. Poor performance. Morale problems can quickly affect a team's quality of work. Signs of trouble include missed deadlines, an increase in mistakes, or a decline in service levels.

View an infographic featuring the research highlights.