Whether you work for a Mom-and-Pop business or a massive corporation, you will encounter and experience the effects of morale. High morale can be momentum to get you through the down time at work, as well as provide mental anesthesia for the rough times. Little to no morale at a workplace can be stressful, and have one reading the Classified Ads in the break room at lunch time.
As I have mentioned, it can’t be artificially generated. Corporate meetings and memos will not make it manifest itself in the workplace. There are a few factors that can have a direct bearing on whether or not it exists.
I think the biggest factor is how realistic the work load is for each employee. A worker must have the perception that they can get the daily tasks completed. Some slack should be given if the person is training or is still orienting to the new role, of course. However, we have all had coworkers who have an easily managed list of tasks that they can never seem to get done – even with generous amounts of sneaky delegation or avoidance of some jobs to others. Other workers have the incredible ability to easily handling their own workload, then either look for more work to keep busy OR cover for others to avoid seeing anyone (or their department) in trouble. The lazy workers are enabled, as they are not likely confronted. Those actually working get frustrated or angered at working harder than they have, to cover the slackers. That is definitely a morale killer. Add in the potential dynamic of a lazy coworker that everyone, including the manager, knows about but refused to confront – that is even worse for morale. Morale can also suffer when the workload is impossible, but management either does not care or – worse yet – actively takes steps to take away resources which make the job even harder. Water cooler talk ends up being gripe sessions. Venting about a tough day becomes complaining. While one may bond with coworkers over a tough time, it makes it harder to carry around your own stress – as well as the stress of friends during such times.
The last thing that can kill morale is the unfair application of the rules. As we all know, the employee handbook is something that we likely sign-off on upon hire. However, some may not know that it is a legally binding agreement. Your employment is a contractual agreement with terms that have to be met by both parties. For those companies that do not have handbooks or a Human Resource department, the employer is still bound by Federal laws around fair hiring and employment practices. Unfortunately, working for a company that does not fairly apply rewards or consequences to all of its employees usually means having to leave to escape the problems. Confronting the problem makes you vulnerable to potentially being singled out and targeted for arbitrary things to write you up. Even if you legitimately have a grievance – especially one that breaks Federal law; pursuing it makes your relationship with your current employer adversarial. You may or may not get justice, but going after an employer with litigation essentially ends your job. Which, for those who are emotionally close to coworkers, means losing your “work family.” Choosing whether to stay or to go can be very tough. However, my suggestion is that if one does decide to leave an employer; it should be done discretely and thoroughly. Research to find out the requirements of how much notice to give, along with what the process is around leaving. Give your two weeks (or whatever) notice on paper. Be polite. Be civil. Say nothing negative or bash your current situation. Line up references. Move on. When it comes to the new employer, remember the phrase, “I am exploring new opportunities.” This comes in really handy when the new employer asks why you left, esp. if you have been at the rough job for a long time.