Monday, July 12, 2004

What is morale?

How strange that the one thing that drives a company the most is the one thing most companies don't drive... "Morale". Morale is often believed to be all to do with 'reward' and it's no wonder company directors are so dismissive of improving it. Better morale suggests better reward, and reward suggests 'money'. No company wants to see their hard earned profits go to something as frivolous and immeasurable as improving morale.

I've been looking into 'morale', on and off, for years. I've fallen victim to it's lows and have experienced the occasional high. I too have had to play the motivator of many. Dealing with my own morale issues is hard, but dealing with many other morale issues is a LOT harder. Morale teeters between a good day and a bad day. The undercurrent of long term morale is what tips the balance.

Do you want to know what morale is really about? It's not money. It's 'Recognition'. Recognizing that someone is valuable. Sure, you could do that with money. But how many people do you know that say that they never earn enough. We live in a society that encourages us to live beyond our means. We will never earn enough.

A colleague lent me her book titled “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” by Robert Fulgham. Written some time ago now, but yet still so relevant and true. Mr Fulgham describes, in one of his short stories, a love-hate relationship between himself and the (now late) Mother Teresa. For someone who had nothing and expected nothing in return, she made the best for everyone around her.

It's not money. It's recognition. How do you recognize someone?

Communicate. Wow! You would not believe how hard that is for mostly all of us. Where did we go so wrong? We have the latest in communications all around us: Email; Telephones; Mobile Phones; Postal Service; Couriers; Satellite Television; Blogs... And yet we still don't know how to 'communicate'!

Morale is normally high when everything is going 'just right'. When people come in to work, enjoy their job, go home feeling like they accomplished something, and are welcome home. Everything is just right.

What set's off morale on a downward slope?

Something inevitably goes wrong. Whilst morale is high, we tend to deal with it by happily going about fixing whatever it was that went wrong. If it's a short fix. A small problem. We deal with it effortlessly with ease.

So it's not when things go wrong? Or is it? No. It's when we stop communicating. It's when something goes wrong (or generally, when it's about to (we're all pretty intuitive to what upsets the balance of our happiness)), and we hold back communication.

Managers get blamed for this part of the problem. Why? Because that's what managers do. They communicate. They delegate. They manage. Yet when something goes wrong, they have a choice. They have the power to continue to communicate, delegate and manage. Or, they can choose to 'take control'. Roll-up there sleeves and muck-in.

Is this starting to sound familiar?

Managers are where they are today, for being able to do the job of mucking-in. Usually for being the best at mucking-in. Yet, it does not necessarily mean they are good at being 'managers'.

A good manager shouldn't be mucking-in. However tempting. And however encouraged. That's not there job. It's yours. As an employee you are expected to do a job. If something goes wrong within your reemit of work, then you are the best person for the job. Not your manager. It is your managers job to continue to communicate, delegate and manage.

But what should a manager be communicating?

To you, the problem solver: Support. Empathy.

To your fellow colleagues who may be impacted by whatever it is that has gone wrong: Awareness. Support. Empathy.

An even better manager will also add to the recognition by the use of reward: Rewarding a problem solver for their efforts, and rewarding the inflicted for their patience.

A word of warning to managers. Rewarding without communicating (i.e. Awareness, Support, Empathy) and whilst 'taking control', will not be well received. Sure. You may feel it's the right thing to do, and it may be a genuine heart-felt gesture, it unfortunately does not get received that way.

Morale is all to do with recognition. Recognition that a person is valuable. Recognition is achieved through management. Management is achieved by communicating, delegating and managing. Communication is achieved by keeping everyone aware, offering a feeling of support and empathizing with everyone the problems they are experiencing.

Oh, and reward is always nice, but is little to do with morale and more to do with adding value to the lives of the people that work so hard at making managers look good at their jobs.


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  6. great , this post is quite amazing :)

  7. I think you have really brought home morale in the workplace. Communication is key to the overall success of a company, and with good communication comes managers that give recognition to the employee. It seems so simple but yet the working world has a hard time with both communication and giving employees the recognition they need and deserve. We have become a society of the bottom line and forgot about the employee. Money doesn't solve everything; letting employees know they are a valuable part of the organization can definitely keep high morale in the workplace.