Employee morale is a function of many factors both internal (within the individual) and external created by the culture, management style, economic times, uncertainty and whether employees feel validated and valued.
During my career having worked with hundreds of clients around the world I have found that when employees feel under stress whether caused by perceived or real issues it seriously impacts morale and why is morale important? To be concise – morale is simply how employees behave towards each other, customers, management and their roles or responsibilities in general.
When people operate dominated by fear or uncertainty they will tend to withdraw and fail to share honest feelings or make positive suggestions or recommendations, in other words it has a tremendous impact on creativity, problem solving and how they react to challenges.
Morale – the general level of confidence or optimism felt by a person or group of people, especially as it affects discipline and motivation.
There are two types of people in the world – inside-out and outside-in people. Outside-in people tend to turn the responsibility for their actions, decisions and behavior over to the outside world – supervisors, the economy, spouses, parents etc. They fail to look in the mirror and generally always point the finger elsewhere.
Inside-out people tend to take responsibility for their actions, decisions and consequences. They don’t blame, whine or complain.
My experience tells me that more and more people are becoming outside-in due to a variety of economic and social contributors. If this is true and a majority of your employees are outside-in folks – these people are always looking for something or someone to blame for their reactions or circumstances as a result when things go bad they will tend to stoke the fire causing things to get worse. They will use excuses, gossip, politics or any factor at their disposal to avoid responsibility. As a result if there is a great deal of uncertainty or change going on in your organization these people will contribute to causing morale to sink or keep it in poor condition.
These people require outside-n motivators like fear or incentives to perform well or to have them perceive that their work environment is positive i.e. a positive morale.
If morale in your organization is poor or getting worse I will guarantee that it is partially due to the stress levels of employees whether the stressors are real or just imagined.
There are only three types of motivation – fear and punishment, rewards or incentives and attitudes or self-responsibility. The first two are effective on outside-in people because they are outside-in motivators. Inside-out people perform not because of threats or the promise of rewards but because it’s just who they are – they are self-motivated and don’t need your threats or promise of rewards.
So, again if you have a lot of outside-in employees your dominant culture will be driven by these two (and I will add) temporary approaches to achieving high performance employees. Both of these approaches increase the level of stress on individuals. So if your culture is a heavy top-down management style people wait to act. They wait to decide. They wait to make suggestions. And why do they wait – the need for approval, acceptance or the avoidance of negative consequences.
Stress keeps people in a panic tension state causing them to hold back, wait and avoid negative outcomes based on actions or decisions.
As a result, a culture of poor morale prevents growth, creative problem solving, right decisions and a whole lot more that is needed for an organization to grow, profit and succeed.
A top-down management style tends to increase the uncertainty and lack of control employees feel that have which only adds to their perceived stress.
A management style of heavy ego or constant arrogance just feed this flame further causing people to feel insecure, fearful and lacking control over their career and therefore their life.
Poor morale just as good morale is contagious and in general has little to do with reality but their perceived reality. In other words if people think it is true – whether it is true or not – they will act accordingly.