Morale is a trinity

I suspect morale is going to be a hot topic in the workplace in 2009 and I imagine the usual suspects will be blamed.

Fear of redundancy, poor leadership, pay freezes, budget cutbacks, lack of advancement are some of the key factors.

Employees often put the onus on the employer to maintain and improve morale but I would argue that morale is everyone’s responsibility. You are not an open-beaked chick in a nest waiting to be feed scraps of morale. Morale is partly the employers responsibility, yes, but the individual employees have to play their part, as do their team mates.

Boosting your own and your team’s morale doesn’t mean ignoring the problems, but it does mean not whining. By whining, I don’t mean “complaining”. The Cambridge dictionary provides the following definitions of  the verb “complain“:

  1. to say that something is wrong or not satisfactory
  2. to tell someone formally that something is wrong

Whereas the following is one of the Cambridge definitions for the verb “whine“:

  • DISAPPROVING If you whine, especially as a child, you complain or express dissatisfaction continually

I would expand on that definition:

  • DISAPPROVING If you whine, especially as a child, you complain or express dissatisfaction continually and ineffectually in order to express personal frustration rather than to effect change for the better

chocolateNot whining is not enough, however. Each employee should actively be involved in maintaining the team’s morale. The team should buoy the morale of individual members when they are feeling low. Cracking jokes, having a team lunch once a week, taking an interest in each other’s hobbies all contribute. In one office I used to buy chocolate for the team every Wednesday because I felt that was the day everyone was at their lowest ebb (it turns out I was right and a lot of week-long training courses are designed to take that Wednesday dip into account).

Of course, this does not let the employer off the hook. In fact, it places the employer very firmly on the hook to do their part.

Employee – Team – Employer.

I asked management consultant Paraic Hegarty and career consultant Rowan Manahan what their thoughts were on this topic and this is what they had to say:

In many cases, morale will be low because huge effort will be required just to stand still, so effort that in other times would result in praise, bonus payments, etc. will only result in the status quo during a recession. It’s the disparity between the effort and the rewards that can be demoralising.

Regardless of the dictionary definition, I know what I consider to be whining – it’s complaining without suggesting how the problem could be fixed. Just raising an issue without helping to solve it is “passing the monkey” to your manager or team-mates.

Morale is a fragile little beast and very easily damaged. I find it fascinating how so many employees ‘surrender’ their control over this and expect management to somehow telepathically understand how they are feeling. Too many employees won’t communicate anxiety or insecurity up to management for fear of sounding whiny or needy. You need to recognise that no-one, not even your mother, cares as much about your feelings as you and take the control back. Talk to your manager, get a dialogue going and keep it going.

Where management get this wrong is when they disappear into the bunker to talk about the future and don’t offer any information, much less reassurance, to their employees when they come out. Where staff get this wrong is in assuming that management do care or should care – which experience has so often shown is not the case.

It comes down to expectations. If you have ‘trained’ your manager to communicate with you, then he/she will continue to do that through difficult times. If you have trained your manager that every time he/she communicates with you it leads to tears and whining, don’t be surprised if he/she stays schtum during difficult times.

I like Declan’s thoughts on the simple things we can all do to contribute to a good working atmosphere – I have found chocolate to be a particularly powerful morale booster over the years. 🙂


  • Don’t whine
  • Talk to your manager
  • Do your bit

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