From a managerial perspective, morale embodies the collective spirit and motivation of a group of employees. Other terms used to designate this concept include espirit and espirit de corps. In fact, espirit de corps was one of the first management principles identified by Henri Fayol in the early 1900s. 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 Hertzberg, 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.
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. Getting 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.
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 isn't 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:
Organizations have tried scores of 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. After the games, the workday begins with smiles all around. Symbiosis Corporation, a fast-growing Miami-based 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. Illinois Trade, located in Glenview, Illinois, surveyed its employees and found that many of its workers were interested in alternative remedies not covered by conventional medical insurance. To respect its workers' interests, Illinois Trade agreed to pay for herbal therapy and other forms of alternative medical care, and allows employees to receive a free massage on company time once a month.
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 he or she feels integrated. The best managers take care of their employees so their employees can take care of business.
Revised by Deborah Hausler
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