Employee morale is a term that is often used loosely by professionals and laypeople. Morale refers to employees’ shared attitudes toward and identification with the elements of their job, working conditions, fellow workers, supervisors, and general management. As a group-level term, morale is akin to the affective climate of an organization. Although morale is often equated with intrinsic job satisfaction aver-aged across a work group, department, or organization, more technical definitions posit that morale refers to a summary evaluation of a broader range of job-related attitudes (e.g., organizational commitment, employee loyalty, job involvement, employee engagement, and employee well-being). Whereas some of the evaluations an employee expresses toward the organization are unique to himself or herself, members of one’s work group may have similar views as a result of sharing common experiences at work. These shared perceptions tend to be reinforced and maintained by the group. Hence, morale is often influenced by factors present in the work environment that are common to all employees in the group or organization.
The use of employee morale surveys is a relatively common practice among businesses. Management’s concern for employee morale was heightened as a result of the Hawthorn studies at the Western Electric Company from 1927 to 1932. These studies suggested that the feelings and sentiments of being a part of a special work group had a greater effect on performance than changes in physical working conditions such as illumination, incentives, work hours, and rest breaks. In addition to recognizing important social motives, these findings implied an important relation-ship between morale and productivity as suggested by the well-known adage of the happy/productive worker Along this vein, morale is often assumed to relate to motivation in general and to intrinsic motivation and pride in one’s work in particular. Although some research has demonstrated a relationship between morale and performance, the relationship may be reciprocal, such that being a member of a high-performing team actually enhances morale. On the other hand, low morale is assumed to be evidenced in high turnover, high absenteeism, tardiness, and customer complaints.
Research on Morale
As a result of its long history and multiple meanings, the empirical research on employee morale is difficult to summarize. For example, research claiming to examine morale has often operationalized morale as a specific attitude (e.g., job satisfaction, organizational commitment) at the individual (rather than group) level. Recently, researchers have begun to examine group-level organizational phenomena such as organizational climate. In light of this research, consideration should be given not only to workers’ average scores but also to the consistency between scores (e.g., intraclass correlation coefficient, rwg), which indicates the extent to which employees share a common perception of the workplace.
Although research has largely neglected the underlying structure of employee morale, some empirical evidence suggests the following five basic dimensions or patterns of attitudes:
- General management: This dimension relates to employees’ relationships with general management and the organization and includes identification with the organization and a sense of security for the future. It also represents an evaluation of communication within the organization and management’s competencies and concern for employee welfare.
- Immediate supervision: This dimension relates to attitudes toward immediate supervision and includes interpersonal relations and people skills, as well as the administrative aspects of supervision.
- Material rewards: This facet deals with material rewards in terms of pay and benefits.
- Fellow employees: This dimension relates to friendliness, motivation, and cohesion among employees.
- Job satisfaction: This dimension relates to the intrinsic motivation and satisfaction associated with the nature of the job. Related to this, employees feel that the job is worthwhile, provides a meaningful service, and affords opportunities for personal growth and development.
Empirical studies have found that employee morale (loosely defined) is positively associated with customer satisfaction, particularly among employees who have direct contact with customers. Research also suggests that the closeness of employee-management relations is related positively to morale and teamwork, especially when combined with feedback, incentives, and autonomy. Research further suggests that the reduced morale of survivors following an organizational downsizing may undermine any expected gains from the restructuring, presumably because it destroys trust and reduces employees’ sense of empowerment.
The trade literature offers several suggestions for improving employee morale. For the most part, these suggestions for improving work group morale have not been empirically examined.
- Compensation: Provide formal, fair, and accurate performance evaluations and merit systems, paying attention to shift differentials and overtime pay. Clarify the link between achievements and rewards.
- Benefits: Provide benefits such as paid holidays, vacation and sick leave, pension and retirement plans, health care coverage, and life insurance. Consideration may also be given to providing tuition reimbursement, paid parking, employee assistance and well-being programs, and child care.
- Communications: Provide employees a chance to express their opinions and concerns by forming employee committees, holding regular meetings with management, conducting attitude surveys, instituting employee recognition practices, publishing newsletters, and putting up bulletin boards. Let employees know when management has considered or implemented employee suggestions. When people work hard to complete a project, make sure their accomplishments are acknowledged.
- Respect: Make sure guidelines for staff behavior are reasonable and appropriate. Staff participation in the formulation of workplace rules can reduce management’s efforts to reinforce compliance with unpopular regulations. When making a policy ruling, explain its purpose and enforce it fairly. Be tactful with discipline; reprimand should be private rather than public and should address the specific fault rather than the person’s character. When they are forced to downsize, companies that provide outplacement services, training, and career counseling have a better chance of retaining the loyalty and trust of survivors.
- Conditions, facilities, and services: Provide employees with safe, clean working conditions and reasonable workloads. Work underload and overload can be equally damaging to morale.
- Personnel functions and policies: Provide an orientation and early socialization program to help employees feel welcomed and valued by the organization. Ensure clear and fair performance appraisal systems, grievance procedures, promotion systems, and training opportunities. Hold regular work parties or company retreats. Provide family-friendly practices. Promoting from within demonstrates that management believes talent already exists within the organization.
- Abbott, J. (2003). Does employee satisfaction matter? A study to determine whether low employee morale affects customer satisfaction and profits in the business-to-business sector. Journal of Communication Management, 7, 333-339.
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- McKnight, D., Ahmad, S., & Schroeder, R. G. (2001). When do feedback, incentive control, and autonomy improve morale? The importance of employee-management relationship closeness. Journal of Managerial Issues, 13, 466-482.
- Mishra, K., Spreitzer, G. M., & Mishra, A. (1998). Preserving employee morale during downsizing. Sloan Management Review, 39, 83-95.
- Viteles, M. S. (1953). Motivation and morale in industry. New York: W. W. Norton.