Each month, “The Balance Sheet” provides questions and answers from experts on a topic that’s important to you as a manager. Please feel free to share this information with other colleagues who also manage people.
Q. Some employees seem to have morale problems. My problem is that "poor morale" is a hard thing to document or describe. Is poor morale something upon which I can base a supervisor referral, or is it a symptom of something else?
A. Morale is an emotional condition of enthusiasm, confidence or loyalty of an individual or group. With this definition of morale, it may be something you can't quickly or easily measure. Poor morale affects performance and is undesirable, but you are right, it is an issue you can't easily label as a duty, responsibility or “essential function.” You should be concerned about employee morale, but it will be easier if you determine what behaviors demonstrate enthusiasm, confidence in the work organization and loyalty to the work unit or organization (or a lack of these behaviors). Use these measures to intervene, and if necessary make a referral to BJC EAP. As you endeavor to ensure that individual employees feel good about their jobs, you may discover issues within the work environment over which you have control that also affect morale. Don’t overlook interventions that may resolve them.
Q. There is a lot of stress in our organization, and many managers complain about morale problems. My employees do not appear to have morale problems, and I think it is because of me. I communicate well and pay attention to their needs. Should I take the credit?
A. Claim the high ground. Whether morale is positive or negative, it can often be attributed to leadership style at the supervisor level, even in high-stress work environments. Unfortunately, it can be easy to blame upper management while ignoring the influence line managers have. Communicating frequently with employees and demonstrating that you sincerely care about them meets an important psychological need. As a result, they trust you. This is what inspires positive morale. Studies have shown that once positive morale exists, it tends to stick around. Employees who experience positive morale may be more forgiving of your mistakes, and those of the organization. However, the opposite can also be true. Negative morale is difficult to change. If positive morale exists, you are likely tuned in to your employees' needs.
Q. My boss says I need to develop better ways to motivate my staff. But I think I do a really good job of explaining what they must do and what’s at stake. Doesn’t that make me a strong motivator?
A. There is more to motivating employees than telling them what to do and why it matters. You also need to arouse their passion about work. That requires an awareness of their “hot buttons” -- a keen understanding of what they value most. Examples include recognition, money, flexibility, job security or freedom and independence. The only way you can identify what drives someone is to listen and learn. Chat with each of your employees to find out their goals and aspirations. Try to determine what special skills and talents they want to apply more fully to their jobs. Be sure to ask what causes them to feel motivated. They will tell you. In the meantime, assume that enjoying personal growth in one’s work, earning sincere praise and doing meaningful work are three core motivators for just about everyone.