The Morale Mandate

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If you’ve worked with Nash Consulting for ten minutes, you’ll have heard our favorite quote by Dr. Stephen Covey: “You can pay employees for their backs and their hands, but they volunteer their hearts and their minds.

We might come across a little obsessed with the topic of workplace morale…mostly because we are.

If you’re a manager, employee morale ought to be near the very top of your job description, your daily “to do” list, your personal evaluation form, your yearly goal worksheet, your list of company values, your yellow sticky notes – you get the picture. Morale isn’t the only thing that matters in the workplace, of course, but here’s the bottom line: If employees aren’t “volunteering” their hearts and their minds – if they’re just showing up in order to get a paycheck – you’ll never get the things you really want.

What things are we talking about? What is it that organizations say they want most, and how are those things related to morale? Let’s make a list.

Employee retention. Check. Your best employees, if they have low morale, are more likely to leave. And your less healthy employees, the folks who seem to enjoy stirring pots and creating drama - yup, they’re more likely to stay put.

Great customer service. Check. Low morale employees will generally broadcast their frustration and discouragement to your customers, often without even knowing they’re doing it. And high morale employees will exude a contagious positivity and will be more willing to solve difficult customer-related issues.

Engagement. Check. This is the “golden egg” of management seminars across the globe. How do you get employees to engage, to buy in, to take ownership, to care? There are lots of strategies, many of which we’ll be sharing with you here in subsequent editions, but the foundation of every one of them is employee morale. Here’s a truism, supported by years and years of research: You can’t get employees to care more or truly have their skin in the game (engagement!) by paying them more or by punishing them more.

Quality. Check. Employees with high morale (who, as a result, are “volunteering” their hearts and minds) will be much more likely to take pride in their work product, will self-correct, will speak up about roadblocks to quality, will be more creative in finding solutions, will work more safely, and will generally produce higher-grade work.

A positive workplace environment. Check and double check. Let us put it simply: Employees with low morale will generally have trouble bringing their best selves to work, while high morale employees are more apt to bring trust, respect, positivity, tolerance, patience, openness to change (or at least less “freak out” about change), a willingness to let go of past disappointments and offenses, and more of a glass-half-full attitude. You’ll see fewer junior high behaviors, people will be more likely to assign good motives to others instead of assuming the worst, and recreational negativity in the form of gossip and free floating complaints can be kept to a bare minimum.

Success. Check, with a big black Sharpie. Everything listed above relates in one way or another to your bottom line, whether that be financial profits or excellent client services. Disengaged employees who aren’t volunteering their hearts and minds won’t work as hard, won’t problem-solve, won’t treat customers and clients the way you want them to be treated, and won’t support change in a positive way. That all costs you time, customers and money. Did you know that each time an employee quits it costs you between 50% and 200% of their annual salary in recruitment, training, lost time, lost institutional knowledge, ramp up periods for new employees, and more? Employees who love working for you, who feel supported and cared about, who are being managed by skilled leaders, and who therefore are relatively high on the workplace morale scale are so much more likely to work harder and smarter, to treat customers like gold, to bring creativity, collaboration and resilience, to avoid or fix costly problems, and to speak highly about you and your organization out in the real world, where your next star employee might hear and come running.

Have we convinced you that morale matters more than almost everything else? Or are we preaching to the choir? Either way, check out episodes one and two of our Managing with Mind and Heart Podcast, where you’ll hear Mike and Ethan discuss both the results of morale (either high or low) and where workplace morale comes from.