Donuts Don’t Build Morale

by: Merrick Rosenberg

We all talk about workplace morale. Is it high? Is it low? Is it improving? Is it breaking down? But what is morale?

The Gallup Organization defines morale as, “The emotional attachment or sense of engagement a sales person has for his or her job.”

Others view morale as environmental spirit or a measure a unit’s psychological strength. Morale can be viewed as how a group feels about itself and the quality of its overall work environment. For others, morale is considered to be the state of confidence and cheerfulness in an environment. Some use the expression, “Esprit de corps” to explain morale, which in itself can be defined as the spirit of a group that makes the members want to succeed.

The military defines morale as the willingness to perform assigned tasks. For example, the military might view morale as a measure of a combatant’s willingness to take actions on the battlefield.

Morale then, is not what you do, it’s what you perceive. It’s an internal feeling about the environment and the people in it. Morale is more about who you are, then what you do.

Common sense tells us (and studies repeatedly reveal) that higher levels of morale lead to higher productivity, higher employee retention, and greater levels of profitability. Surcon International found that 40 to 50 percent of an organization’s profit margin fluctuations are predictable based on employee feelings and opinions.

Therefore, we can expect that low morale directly impacts absenteeism, turnover, commitment, quality, productivity and ultimately, a company’s financial success.

What doesn’t build morale?
Many well-intentioned managers have spent thousands of dollars on token gestures such as prizes, giveaways, and pizza parties. Some have even increased bonuses thinking that more money will make people happier. However, money is not a motivator (though it can be a demotivator if people feel as though they are not being compensated fairly). Physical, tangible gifts and parties do not build morale because morale is neither physical, nor tangible. In the end, donuts don’t build morale.

Morale is a feeling. It’s the spirit of the workplace. Morale is a symptom of the core issue that people’s emotional and psychological needs are not being met in the current environment. All disappointment in life stems from one’s expectations not being met. Therefore, identify where expectations are not being met and fill-in the gap.

What builds morale?

To understand what people want from their workplace, we must understand basic human needs. People want to feel appreciated. People want to grow. People want to be respected. People want to feel secure.

These needs can be satisfied as followed:

Set the tone: In many ways, creating a positive work environment is quite easy… be positive yourself. All of the basics that we teach our children, such as saying, “Please” and “Thank you” and greeting each other with a simple, “Good morning,” each day go a long way. Grumpy people break down morale. Upbeat people build morale. Recognize that life is 10% what happens and 90% how we deal with it. Make the choice to add positive energy into the work environment and deal with those who make the wrong choice.

Show appreciation: Staffing firm Robert Half International found that “limited recognition and praise” was cited as the most common reason for why employees left the company. It was rated higher than compensation, limited authority, personality conflicts and all other responses. Providing positive feedback to staff doesn’t cost anything, but its emotional and financial benefits are real.

Provide clear expectations: People need to know where they stand. They need to know if they are achieving a level of results that will allow them to retain their position in the organization. And further, people want to know if they are performing at a level that will allow them to advance in their careers.

Develop your people: Workplace loyalty has changed over the past thirty years. While older Baby Boomers stayed at one or two organizations for their entire career, Generation X & Y rarely stay at one organization for more than seven years. The model has shifted from lifetime employment to lifetime employability. Therefore, if people do not feel that they are growing in their career they are likely to leave. Ironically, many managers feel that if they develop their staff, they will take their skills and go. In fact, the opposite tends to be true. If you develop your staff, they will stay because it is good for their careers to develop their skills.

Provide the big picture: People need to feel like they are a part of something bigger. We need to feel like our contributions have meaning. Each person should be able to state how their role helps the team, department or organization meet its goals. Help each person make a direct link from individual performance to larger, group success.

Respect the people around you: It makes sense that people will be happier in an environment of respect than one of disrespect. Yet poor treatment of others is a toxin that poisons many workplaces. Managers need to reward people for positively supporting each other. Conversely, managers cannot tolerate disrespect in any form. For example, this means that gossip must stop. Talking negatively about others cannot continue. And people must truly listen to each other without judgment.

Be accessible: One of the major complaints that individuals have about managers is that they are never around. People often say, “My manager is always in meetings.” If managers want to create an environment with high morale, they must be in touch with their staff. Managers must make time to speak with their people each and every day.

It’s all about caring

Life is a circle. The more you give, the more you receive. The more you care about the people around you, the more they will care about you.

It is said that darkness cannot survive in the light. Thus, you will create a more positive environment when you respect the people around you and focus on the positives.