When Morale Matters

It happens. People fall out of love and can’t find a reason to stick around anymore. It happened to me. After 7.5 years of being married to the same company, I packed my bags and moved on.

Looking back, it made me wonder, what is it that some organizations do that maintain a high level of employee morale, while others let it dwindle away. It’s clear that morale is important, in fact only 15% of employee success is attributed to skill, training or intelligence. The remaining 85% comes strictly from personality traits. Gallup states that disengaged employees cost the economy as much as $550 Billion a year!

I’ve worked at companies with great corporate culture. Companies that I felt proud to call home. I’ve also started organizations of my own, and like to think that people loved being part of them. Now, coming face to face with this – an organization where people hated their jobs – I wondered: what differentiates the great companies from the mediocre ones.

First, let’s dispel a common myth about morale. High morale does not mean fun. Sure, having fun as part of your job can be a component of a great corporate culture, but it is not necessary. Any morale boosting strategy that solely focuses on people having fun will likely be costly and will ultimately fail. It’s important to understand that employees don’t come to work to have fun, they come to work to feel valued and to contribute to something meaningful. Value, trust and personal growth are the cornerstones of a high morale environment.

In one instance, when an organization realized that they had a morale issue at hand, they decided to schedule lunches, dinners and bowling outings. The plan actually backfired! Employees sensed the disingenuity as this approach was carried out uniformly across all department groups. Afterwards, employees stated that they had fun, but it didn’t change their attitude towards their jobs, the organization, or their senior leaders (except now they knew that their leaders were terrible bowlers).

Great organizations create high value, high trust and high personal growth environments. Here is what they look like:

A high value environment:
– Managers make an effort to connect team members to other parts of the organization.
– Team members know how their contributions create value for the organization.
– Team members are recognized for their efforts in a genuine way.

A high trust environment:
– A culture of comfort exists where team members can share their ideas openly.
– Team member input is incorporated into decision making whenever possible.
– Managers are honest with team members; can admit their own weaknesses and mistakes.
– Managers genuinely care for their team members’ professional success.
– Managers can set aside their own agendas for the well-being of the team.

A high personal growth environment:
– Team members are placed in positions where they are challenged but still feel supported.
– Failure is seen as a healthy advancement towards personal and professional growth.
– The growth of the organization does not outweigh the growth of the individual.

Creating this environment is not easy. It starts with hiring the right leaders who can execute on this vision. It means promoting only the right people who can lead in this way. It requires investment, into training, to ensure that leaders across the organization are consistent with this approach. It requires feedback, to determine which leaders still require additional coaching.

Great teams with only mediocre ideas can still succeed but mediocre teams with great ideas will likely fail. Creating a high morale environment isn’t thus just the ‘nice’ thing to do for your employees, it is the right thing to do to boost productivity. A high morale culture leads to enhanced creativity and will push your organization to greater heights. High employee engagement, thus, is a competitive advantage.


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