From a managerial perspective, morale embodies the collective spirit and motivation of a group of employees. Other terms used to designate this concept include esprit and esprit de corps. In fact, esprit de corps was one of the first management principles identified by Henri Fayol in the early twentieth century. Employee morale is how employees actually feel about themselves as workers, their work, their managers, their work environment, and their overall work life. It incorporates all the mental and emotional feelings, beliefs, and attitudes that individuals and groups hold regarding their job.
Consideration of employee morale and job satisfaction was a major emphasis of the behavioral school of management that started with the famous Hawthorne Experiments in the late 1930s. The behavioral school held that employee morale influences employee productivity. Theorists (such as Frederick Herzberg) conducted research in the 1950s and 1960s indicating that employees' satisfaction and motivation were influenced more by how employees felt about their work than the specific attributes of their job, including pay and workplace surroundings.
Since Herzberg's findings, different studies have found different links between employee morale and productivity. For example, according to a 2007 study conducted by research and consulting firm LLC, employee morale is connected to customer satisfaction, which directly relates to the bottom line. The study found that the most effective organizational strategy for boosting morale in the workplace is the use of cross-functional teams, which involves different departments—such as finance and marketing—collaborating on a single project.
Additionally, almost half of the companies in the survey responded that connecting with employees on a personal level is important for employee morale. The study also found that different organizational strategies are suited to larger and smaller companies. Large companies tend to manage morale using communication and rewards, where employees at smaller companies value flexibility and recognition.
Some organizations try to measure morale on a formal basis by conducting morale audits or attitude surveys that indicate the level of employee job satisfaction. Such
measures, however, are fraught with ambiguities; it is difficult, if not impossible, to determine the level of truthfulness of employees' answers or the complexity of the variables. For instance, employees may have a very different level of job satisfaction regarding their company, their pay, their benefits, their profession, and their specific department's policies. A true overall measure of what employees are feeling about their work is therefore difficult to obtain and to interpret. Since there are many variables at play, morale is not always directly linked to productivity, absenteeism, turnover, sales, etc. Nonetheless, morale is widely accepted as important to motivation and team building. The challenge for managers, then, is to negotiate these disparate factors in the manner that most contributes to the overall spirit of the employees.
In “Tips for Increasing Employee Morale and Reducing Absenteeism,” Melissa Bushman lists the typical causes of low morale in the workplace and how they can most effectively be resolved. One of the most common causes of low morale is stress, which employees often experience as a result of problems with their manager. Bushman suggests that management training can be useful in this instance. Rumors, negativity, and gossip can also drag down morale in the workplace, which is why Bushman emphasizes the importance of teambuilding to encourage camaraderie and respect among employees. Finally, the author makes the case for incentive programs, which she claims can clearly communicate the goals of the organization, motivate employees to perform well, and give employees a sense of accomplishment.
The major determinant of morale is, in fact, the manager. Employees form their attitudes about work based primarily on their interactions with the supervisors and managers they work with every day. Since no two employees or companies are the same, it is not easy to construct a stable model of managerial techniques that will consistently contribute to high morale across the board. Nevertheless, most employees respond positively to certain managerial practices. Some suggested morale-boosters include:
- Practicing of fairness and consistency
- Bestowing praise in public while leveling criticism in private
- Encouraging humor and fun in the workplace
- Listening and remaining receptive to new ideas
- Getting to know something about employees' personal lives and treating them as individuals
- Creating opportunities for employees to learn and grow
- Sharing decision making and offering employees choices
- Promoting from within
- Leading by example
Organizations have tried many techniques to increase morale. The National Alliance for Youth Sports believes creating an atmosphere of fun and camaraderie goes a long way toward maintaining a high level of morale. Every Friday morning the first 30 minutes of the workday is spent with the 35-member staff broken into five teams to compete in different types of games, including miniature golf and Frisbee football. Symbiosis Corporation, a producer of medical products, uses mentors to build morale of nonexempt hourly employees by supporting personal growth and promoting a sense of belonging. After the pilot project recorded improvements in attitudes, productivity, and morale, Symbiosis expanded the program.
In order to allow employees a sense of balance in their lives, some companies provide benefits that help employees run a household and put in a productive day at the office. Employees at Wilton Connor Packaging in Charlotte, North Carolina, can take their laundry to work and have it washed, dried, and folded for the cost of the soap; while at PepsiCo's headquarters employees are provided an on-site dry cleaning drop-off. Some companies offer concierge services that run errands and send someone to be at an employee's home for a delivery. Many companies also provide on-site child care, elder care, and fitness centers for their employees and their families.
To retain employees in an increasingly competitive marketplace, organizations must reinforce managerial techniques that foster a high degree of employee morale. Managers can make a difference by following common morale-boosting strategies, trying to provide their employees with supportive working environments, and incorporating creative techniques that make employees feel fulfilled personally and as part of a larger entity in which they feel integrated. The best managers take care of their employees so their employees can take care of business.
SEE ALSO Human Resource Management; Motivation and Motivation Theory; Quality of Work Life
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