Morale! Who’s Got It, Who’s Lost It, and How You Can Find It!

business leadership morale Jan 02, 2021

I was reading an article from the Society For Human Resource Management and came across this statement. With a daily diet of news about layoffs, foreclosures, bankruptcies, bailouts, and cutbacks large and small – from no raises to no bonuses to fewer flavored coffees in the break room – it is no wonder morale is in a free fall with the economy.

I thought to myself, “This is what I have been talking about!” One of the top issues, if not THE top issue, within the workplace, the home and inside people’s lives is the weakening of morale. The inner spirit is so important, and at the same time, so fragile. We hear about the resilience of the human spirit, and yes, the human spirit is resilient, BUT under enough stress it will be depleted.  When that happens, the desire to fight on, the belief things will get better, the joy of going to work, the desire to move forward, are all under attack. If you listen to people talk, it seems many feel their life plans have been shattered and they are no longer in control of their life. This idea of morale has reached deep into many parts of the human life.

It seems to me we are missing the point on what needs to be done in our emotionally driven transitional society. The message on all fronts needs to be one of Rebuilding Morale, recapturing the human spirit.

As I travel and listen to what is being said, I am hearing a few common threads that I feel are affecting morale.

What is affecting morale today?

There is more to do in the same amount of time. One of the most common statements I hear is, “I can’t ever get caught up. I am behind before I even start.” Do you think those feelings are wearing on the human spirit?

With the cutbacks and layoffs there are fewer people to do the same amount of work. The decrease in the number of people has not diminished the amount of work that must be done. The expectation isn’t “we need to decrease the work load.” It is “you should be glad you have a job and be willing to do whatever it takes to get things done.” Balance those feelings with the fact there seems to be no end in sight, and you find the morale of the people being challenged.

The result of that message is the lessening of people’s willingness to step up to the plate. They feel used and abused and with that goes the resolve of the human spirit. When human capital feels devalued, it affects performance.

What is affecting morale today?

People feel they are operating in the dark. In our world of heightened communication technology most feel they have no clue what is happening within their own company. They get up, go to work and aren’t sure whether they will have a job. This has created a heightened “Fear of the Unknown.” After all, resilience of the inner spirit needs information to remain strong.

This “Fear of the Unknown” is not limited to the workforce. Many of today’s company leaders are challenged by the same fear. The business plan they have been operating with has come unraveled with the changes in the economy. Many are scrambling just to keep their companies afloat.

Resilience takes clear information to remain strong.

In a recent conversation Susan put it this way, “My manager guaranteed me my job was safe. The company was going through cutbacks, but I didn’t have to worry. Two weeks later, I was handed a pink slip. I confronted him and he just said it had to be done. Who do you believe? None of this makes sense!”

Her words were correct. None of this makes sense! How can a company expect their human capital to come to work with the spirit of “Yes We Can We Can Do It” when they don’t know who or what to believe? This lack of clear communication creates a slow leak in the human spirit. With this lack of communication comes the loss of morale!

What is affecting morale today?

Respect for human capital is gone. Time and time again, I have heard from my neighbor Andrew, a tale of love - love between a devoted employee and the job he adores. And now, the latest chapter that he shared with me was one of heartbreak and woe.

Andrew told me, “My manager selected me to be terminated because of my cost to the company. He was under a mandate to cut X amount from the bottom line; and if he let me go, he could keep two others. He said it wasn’t personal; it was just a business decision. But Richard, it was personal to me. I did my work with passion and commitment. I worked extra hours and never complained, because I loved what I did. The two he decided to keep didn’t care about their job or their performance; they didn’t have any commitment to the company. Doesn’t loyalty mean anything today?”

What a great question! Doesn’t loyalty mean anything today? The answer within the walls of many companies is “NO!” What matters is what a person costs the company. The Respect many companies had for those who treated the company with loyalty has disappeared. With this lack of respect comes the loss of morale!

What is affecting morale today?

All the company cares about is the bottom line; those who create the bottom line don’t matter. As I have talked to people, this is one of the most frequently stated feelings I’ve heard. But what happens to the human spirit or morale when a person feels like an identification number, rather than a person? How can leadership expect a person to come to work and give it “their all” when they feel they are viewed as a cost factor, not an asset the company treasures?

My friend Mort said it this way, “Richard, I am so tired of feeling unappreciated. I have given this company my heart and my soul for 18 years, and now they have just thrown me aside like a piece of garbage. I guess they’ve forgotten about all those times I went overboard to help them. I’ll tell you Richard, your statement, Behavior Never Lies, is so true. They’ve lied through their teeth.  They told me how valuable I am, but then, their behavior says I am only a dollar sign to them. What has happened to this country?  How can they treat people like this?”

His question is so important – How can they treat people like this?  The answer is reflective of an attitude of a person being a cost factor, not an asset. When people know that is how they are being judged, do you think that affects morale? Do you think that would play with their spirit? With this lack of value comes the loss of morale!

What is affecting morale today?

Layers of doubt have crept in. When you put all of the above together, the result will be people living in doubt. When your trust, your beliefs, and your faith have been damaged, the result is the loss of respect for those you have put your faith and belief in.  That means when they speak, you doubt they are speaking the truth.

This is one of the most dangerous results in the loss of morale – the bond of trust has been broken. Trust is such a critical part of any relationship. When it has been damaged, it can’t ever be rebuilt to the strength it was. Oh, it can be repaired, but the emotional cracks are still present and visible.

Doubt is such a powerful enemy; it puts everything under the microscope, and when it is examined, it is done through skepticism, mistrust and the feeling you don’t know if you can believe what you are being told. Doubt is an emotional thief, and when it steals morale, it leaves an empty hole where other negative emotions will take up residency. With this lack of trust comes the loss of morale!

What is affecting morale today?

Emotions speed up, reactions become the pathway and things are moving faster than they can be managed. Can you see when this happens there will be emotional collisions? The inability to communicate turns into an emotional war, where people aren’t willing to emotionally slow down to seek a resolution. Again, trust is called into question.

The breaking of trust results in people not wanting to listen; they don’t want to be lied to again. This feeds the anger, the resentment, the mistrust where people won’t slow down.  Conversations refuel their mistrust and their behavior can become very destructive.

At this point there is nothing positive to build on. No one respects the other. The internal customer doesn’t believe management; management doesn’t want to listen to their internal customer; no one is listening and that means emotions are gathering speed, which will fuel the next level of emotional reactions – the declaration of war. With this lack of pace comes the loss of morale!

I’ll say it to you again; the loss of morale is one of the most dangerous things happening to organizations today.

The inner spirit of any organization is its strength. When the inner spirit is strong and morale is high, any organization will be strong, productive and people will be committed to delivering quality.  BUT let the morale diminish and the internal war will steal the positive presence the company has had.

The need is to get back to building morale, not destroying it! It is not as simple as writing the fact, but it can be done. The reward of strengthening morale is an internal calmness that focuses people on their job, not on what is being done to them.

So the question is, What must be done to Rebuild Morale? Six steps, six steps to recapturing the inner spirit that all organizations need to have a positive presence from the inside out.

What must be done to Rebuild Morale?

Making human capital an asset, rather than a liability has to be the starting point. This has to be the first step. The #1 thing a human wants to know is they matter! This can’t be done with words. This has to become the prevailing behavior.

Organizations must understand that their products get them noticed, while their people make getting noticed possible. People create the product that keeps companies in business. Without people caring, the quality diminishes; without people being passionate about what they are doing, business goes down. The spirit of the people must be about being part of a family that may disagree, but is still there for each other.

When people know they matter they will fight for, not fight against, the organization. It all has to start here! When morale is strong, so is the company.

To Achieve This Step:
  • Stop making the bottom line the main focus.
  • Take time to talk to your people about their value.
  • Encourage your people to bring ideas to management
  • Pause and remember: Leadership is about moving people forward.

What must be done to Rebuild Morale?

There must be an openness to address any issue that can affect morale. This has to be the next step. When communication stops, conflict occurs. Anything can be resolved when there is open communication. The secrets within the walls of organizations must stop!

So many times I’ve heard, “Why didn’t they talk to us about all of this? I would have been willing to work with them to find a solution, rather than them just making their decision and dumping it on us. Don’t they respect us enough to talk to us?”

“Don’t they respect us enough to talk to us?” The behavior demonstrated says, “NO!” Too many of the decisions were guided by fear, not respect. There have been too many “what if” games played.

When those at the top are more fearful of the shareholders than they are respectful of their greatest value – human capital – they are not leaders; they are fearful participants in the internal destruction of the organization.

When Wall Street, Boards of Directors, Shareholders and stock value are the main focus for what decisions leadership makes, it is challenging for many to look past the bottom line to see their people. Not many CEOs are going to jeopardize their salaries to rescue their people. Can morale really improve, without leadership being willing to make changes?

Real leaders fight for their people! They don’t sacrifice them out of the fear of what others might think or do! When morale is strong, so is the company.

To Achieve This Step:
  • Stay focused on the value of people.
  • Treat your people with respect, not as an evil necessary.
  • Educate your people on where improvement is needed.
  • Pause and remember: Leadership is about moving people forward.

What must be done to Rebuild Morale?

One must revisit the purpose of being in business. Is the purpose of being in business to simply make a profit, OR is it to build a business through the efforts of committed people where profit is the result? Too many companies lost sight of why they are in business. Profit is a result! It is the result of the right people coming together with the right product to create a presence of value that drives the customer to doing business with them.

Too many companies started believing their own press. They got caught up in their history and believed the product was what made them successful. The truth is the product is only as good as the people who make and represent it. When people become disposable, the quality of the product weakens. It is not an “either/or” situation; it takes both parts. When those who have been charged with leading the company see the product as the most important part of their business, their behavior weakens the morale of those who are charged with creating a great product.

The longevity of business is the result of having a presence that is present when you are not present. That takes committed people who are passionate about what they are doing and every day bring the quality of their presence to the creation of the product. When morale diminishes, the passion of people weakens. That will affect the quality of what they produce. When morale is strong, so is the company.

To Achieve This Step:
  • Staying focused on the value of your people.
  • Treat your people as business partners
  • Express your gratitude to your people for their commitment.
  • Pause and remember: Leadership is about moving people forward.

 What must be done to Rebuild Morale?

A spirit of family must be recreated. I have been a loyal customer of Delta Airlines for over 30 years. They have been my airline of choice. When I first started building a relationship with them, the thing that impressed me the most was the family attitude. When you talked to anyone at Delta, they referred to the Delta Family. I remember when that started falling apart – it was when those at the top made the decision to outsource baggage handling. It was like they had thrown one part of the family away. That sent a message throughout the rest of Delta – we are no longer a family; we are individuals who are a cost factor, not an asset.

Since then, I have watched the “Spirit” of Delta be weakened by the break-up of the Delta Family. People who are united in a crusade are stronger than people who simply have a job.  Outsourcing has become an enemy to the inner strength of companies and organizations. So many of the outsourcing decisions have been made to put more money to the bottom line, rather than strengthen the internal commitment to keeping the “family spirit” strong.

Have you ever watched what greed can do to a family? It destroys that spirit that says, “We are in this together.” It takes away the attitude that says, “We can fight with each other, but don’t attack one of our family members, or you will have to take on all of us.” When family no longer matters, the disgruntled family of negative emotions sets in. The result is a feud, not a family spirit. Without that Family Spirit, morale, the spirit of togetherness, disappears.  There must be a return to the Family Spirit! There must be a return to the attitude, “We are in this together; through thick and thin we will stand together.” That is a huge part of the foundation of presence, the strength to longevity. When morale is strong, so is the company.

To Achieve This Step:
  • Spirit of “togetherness” must be strong.
  • Those in any position must feel valued by leadership.
  • Enthusiasm must be showed through a caring spirit
  • Pause and remember: Leadership is about moving people forward.

What must be done to Rebuild Morale?

Looking up and seeing the value of the people must be more important than looking down and staring at the bottom line through the eyes of greed. Greed is a monster that once it gets a foothold in an organization destroys it from the inside out.

I am not opposed to making a profit; that is the purpose of being in business, BUT when profit is the single most important thing in a company, people are going to be sacrificed.

Let’s go back to the statement, it just doesn’t make sense! Here is what doesn’t make sense to me. When do the producers of the product become the sacrifice and those who are called “leaders” are financially rewarded for the destruction of the company? Does that make sense? Leaders LEAD, they don’t destroy. 99% of what has ruined organizations is the lack of leadership. When organizations stopped selecting “people sensitive” leaders and replaced them with people who only saw dollars, the inner design of organizations took a turn away from “caring” to “using.” People are the human capital that produces the dollars that result in profit. When the human capital begins to feel disposable, the inner organizational spirit weakens and results in the loss of morale.

Hear me! There must be a Rebuilding of Morale. There must be leaders who see their human capital as valuable and reinvest in recreating that Family Spirit. When morale is strong, so is the company.

To Achieve This Step:

  • Stayed focused on those who create your reputation.
  • Treat your people with respect.
  • Educate management on the value of their people.
  • Pause and remember: Leadership is about moving people forward.

 What must be done to Rebuild Morale?

Everyone must be aligned around a common agenda that produces respect and the feeling of being valued and appreciated. Let me say it to you one more time – the #1 thing a human wants to know is that they matter! All human lives collide at the point of agendas. When people are not on the same page, there will be emotional collisions that result in divisions, cliques and the loss of quality. When that happens you get parts of the person, not the total person. The result will be an organization struggling with a morale issue. People must feel leadership appreciates whom they are, values what they do and respects the commitment they bring to the organization. When morale is strong, so is the company.

There are very few things more powerful, more productive, more effective than a partnership of people committed to a common purpose where they march together in unity toward a clear vision that all are committed to, no matter what their position is in the company, in order to achieve an organization that is alive and well because of the morale that connects the people.

LIVING PROOF:

I have a golf buddy who works for one of the Fortune 500 companies. He started with them right out of college and has been with them for 26 years. Recently, we were in the Club House after a round of golf, and I was sharing with him my idea for this article.  He looked at me with this sad expression and said, “Let me give you a real life illustration. What you are talking about is my life.” There were a few moments of silence as he stared at the window and then, returned to looking at me.

“Richard, I am as loyal as they come. Since the age of 22, I have given them my heart and soul. You want to talk about a company person? You are looking at the real McCoy. I love my company and up to a year ago have been 100% supportive of what they did.  Then, we got a new CEO and boy, did things change in a hurry. It was made clear to all of us that our jobs were not secure. It was made clear that the focus was on the bottom line and if it didn’t improve, there would be some major changes.”

Again, he paused as he just sat there and shook his head.

“Richard, we made an ungodly amount of profit last year, but it wasn’t enough. Several of us got together and questioned our manager about what was happening. We were told to just keep our heads down, our mouths shut and do our job. Doing our job was what we always did. It is apparent that WE aren’t as important as the bottom line. It is as if the new CEO has to prove himself to the shareholders, even if it means punishing those who make the bottom line happen. What kind of message does that send? What do you think that has done to our spirit?”

He looked me in the eyes with one of the saddest looks I have ever seen and said, “For the first time in 26 years I don’t feel like the company cares about me. I am just a body to be used, not a person to be respected. Our entire division has changed. You can feel it! The energy, the morale you are speaking about, is gone.  People show up to work; they don’t come to work. There just isn’t the feeling of respect and appreciation there once was. Know what? I am beginning to think it is time for me to leave. I don’t want to, but how can you support a company that sees its people as a cost factor, not an investment in improving the company?  How can you support that?”

His question – “How Can You Support That?” – is THE question!  The internal design of a company creates what the company can deliver. As much as many may think you can replace humans with technology, it can’t happen. The greatest value a company has is its human capital! When that is bankrupt, the company becomes a cold environment where there is little commitment to quality, where there is an exodus of those who are the mental and emotional backbone of the organization, and a void of a spirit that says through its behavior, “We care and are here to be the best we can be.” I believe in advancement through technology. It is a “tool” to help companies become more efficient at what they do, BUT a “tool” is a “tool” cannot bring the spirit of “Let’s continue to work to improve.” Humans bring emotions that translate into a spirit that makes every product a living, breathing part of who and what the company is. With out the human touch, a company can become a cold wasteland where people also become merely a “tool” to be used. Think that xB affect morale. Think that might affect quality?

To Achieve This Step:

  • See the value the human touch creates.
  • Touch the lives of your people in a positive, caring manner.
  • Educate your people on “improvement,” not change.
  • Pause and remember: Leadership is about moving people forward.

How important is morale? Just look at what is happening to companies today, and you will see the answer. Isn’t it time we turn the light from a total bottom line stare to reinvesting in the greatest of all assets – human capital?

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