Remember morale? You know, the attitude toward one’s work, conditions or prospects that was either good or bad? Morale was good when people had confidence in their ability to exercise sufficient control over their conditions, and thus were able to work effectively toward their objectives. When morale was good, people felt good about things and about their fellow co-workers. High morale was a contrast to panic that led to lost control and low confidence.
What happened to morale? Has it ceased to exist or to matter? Are we simply calling it something else? Is morale another of the irregular forces that has been squeezed out of the increasingly rules-and-regulation-driven environment of the large organization or company? Is it possible that morale, which by its nature is an emotional state and thus beyond the scope or authority of policy and procedure, has ceased to be because employees no longer feel anything about their work?
Despite major companies’ claims that they value people above all else and that they constantly look for ways to encourage participation and motivate employees to take pride in their work, employees simply don’t react with the enthusiasm management would like. They do their jobs. They are dutiful, compliant and orderly. They sit when management says sit and stand when they are told to stand. With a little prompting they clap at the right place in the speeches. But are they passionate? No, yet they cannot be said to exhibit signs of restiveness. There are no protest lines around the corporate headquarters. Labor unions are effectively dead. Companies have become as fungible to employees as employees have become to companies. People come and go with unfeigned indifference.
Can a company compete effectively with such employees? It can if the company only requires an efficient carrying out of management’s strategies without demur or dissent. That assumes management is right and will be right in the future. Some companies require something more than lockstep—something innovative and creative that questions assumptions, something that gets employees so excited that they can’t wait to get moving toward the realization of the “next big thing.” For these companies, morale may still matter.
In those cases the wrong strategy would be to create a department in charge of morale. Such a department would, of course, create ways to define and measure morale, to quantify the ephemeral, to count the angels on the heads of each of the multitudinous pins. Alternatively and more simply, you could do what certain less constrained organizational communications folks suggest, which is to plug everyone into everyone else—to provide internal media, channels and opportunities for everyone to talk to everyone else, to share ideas and problems, to feel each other’s enthusiasm or lack of it. The hardest part of this strategy is simply resisting the impulse to meddle and try to control it.
From this mix of unfettered camaraderie comes the sense that one is part of something bigger than oneself, and that what one does is important to others—that one is important as an individual and is not merely an easily replaceable human resource. No one has to announce this importance as a policy of the company—it will come into being on its own. It will be real. People will feel it. And morale, the good kind, the kind that creates and accomplishes great things, will reappear. Try it. You’ll see.
Jim Boring is a Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based consultant in organizational development and communications, whose writing has appeared in S-Business, Certification Magazine, the Society for Marketing and Sales Training, the Society for Human Resource Development and others. Jim can be reached at email@example.com.Filed under: Leadership Development