Does Happiness Beget Morale?

Are morale and happiness really the same thing? We say that people at work have high morale when they are happy, but does one always follow the other?

I can imagine that they are linked in some way, but it is possible to have high morale even if you are not particularly happy with your current job.

Since this article will explore subtle differences between these two words, it would be wise to start with an attempt to define each one:

Happiness – is about feeling good. It is a state of well-being, satisfaction, and contentment.

Morale – is about having enthusiasm. It is a state of confidence, loyalty, fulfillment, or common purpose.

Think about some job or activity that you have had in the past that you really did not enjoy very much. You were not cheerful while on the job, but you might have had high morale because it was getting you somewhere.

A good example might be working toward a college degree. I recognize that, for most people, reading textbooks, writing papers, and taking exams are not fun activities.

I remember many times being very unhappy with the stress of being a student, yet while not enjoying the work at all, I still had very high morale because I knew the education would pay off in the end, which it did.

Lack of education does not doom a person entirely, but it severely limits the potential to experience all that life has to offer. This limitation lowers the potential for happiness. In “Kodachrome,” Paul Simon wrote: “…and no, my lack of education has not hurt me none, I can read the writing on the wall.”

Let’s find an example of the reverse situation: Happy, but with low morale.

There are numerous ways this can happen. You might be in a situation where you are working for a leader you do not respect and who tries to bribe people into being engaged in the work by letting them get away with things and giving away perks beyond a reasonable level.

This leader has one thing in mind: make people at work happy. Well, he can accomplish this and make me happy about all the goodies he is providing and that he lets me go home early whenever I want.

Although I may be happy, I suspect my morale would be low after a while. Reason: I am not challenged and am given things that I do not deserve.

Another example might be when working on a specific project that I know is important. I am working in a not-for-profit organization. Here I am happy because my labor is going for a good cause. The result of my work is helping many needy families.

I have to tolerate the fact that my boss is a hopeless micromanager who needs to know the details of everything I do and wants me to do everything how he would do it. I can be happy with my contribution to society, but my morale is low because of the working conditions I must endure for the privilege of making that contribution.

The concept of motivation is more closely linked to morale than to happiness or satisfaction. Motivation is a state of desiring to do something, and for the most part, it is generated intrinsically rather than by external factors.

Some valuable insight about motivation and happiness was provided over 60 years ago by behavioral scientist Frederick Herzberg, who taught us with his “Two Factor Theory,” that the controlling factors for happiness are different from those that generally cause motivation.

Herzberg called the things that keep people from becoming unhappy “hygiene factors.” These would be things like pay, bonuses, nice offices, clean restrooms, comfortable furniture, and parking close to the building. If the hygiene factors are missing, then people are going to become dissatisfied, but piling on more hygiene factors is not the way to create higher motivation or morale.

The “motivating factors” of responsibility, accountability, autonomy, flexibility, caring, and other less tangible factors have more power to create morale and motivation.

We see that there is a general trend that happy workers have high morale, and I grant that is usually the case. The two concepts are not the same, and neither are they hard-wired together.

To have the most productive workers, not only do they need to be reasonably happy, but they must simultaneously have high morale. Leaders need to test for both conditions.

Key Points

1. Most of the time happiness and morale go hand in hand, but it is not always the case.

2. In trying to improve morale or motivation, it is not a simple matter of making people feel happier. You don’t just add more perks.

Exercises For You

1. Imagine you are at a party and, surprisingly, Frederick Herzberg himself shows up. You want to ask him some questions about his Two Factor Theory. What three questions would you ask? How do you think he would respond?

2. Name a good way to make someone happier. Now name a good way to increase someone’s morale. See the difference?

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763

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