Does Happiness Beget Morale?

July 22, 2016

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


Two Views of Change

March 7, 2015

Surprised baby boy using a laptop computerAt the start of a new year, many people make resolutions of how they would like to change for the future. A couple months later, most of the resolutions have been set aside. How is change working in your professional and personal life?

When we were babies, change was always a welcome event that made us more comfortable. As we grew older, change became more of a threat that often made us feel more uncomfortable, at least for a while.

We are all aware that change is all around us, and it takes many forms. In this article I want to put two kinds of change under the microscope and discuss why both are important for our lives.

Incremental Change

You have heard the saying, “In every day in every way I am getting better and better.” That statement is describing incremental change because it bases our improvement on what we already know how to do. Moving from our present state of knowledge and making creative tweaks to the formula propels us forward.

There is comfort with incremental change, because the new technique is close to what we already know. There is risk in these steps, but the risk is small, and we can always revert to the prior method if we fail. That is why so many New Year’s Resolutions do not produce permanent change.

The power of incremental change relies on the relentless application to it. If we seek to improve our current process just a little bit every day, then before long we have made fantastic strides toward efficiency and productivity.

One downside of incremental change is that we can always make modifications that turn out to be in the wrong direction. Often we cannot tell until weeks down the road that the change we make today is really a tiny bit worse than what we were doing yesterday. It is often difficult to tell at the moment if the small changes we are making are in the right or the wrong direction.

Revolutionary Change

This kind of change happens when we keep the same objective but throw out the old process entirely and begin a whole new paradigm. The obvious downside with revolutionary change is that the risk of failure is high, but so is the payoff if it succeeds.

A good example of revolutionary change occurred in 1965 in the sport of high jumping. Throughout history, jumpers used a kind of “belly down” approach to getting maximum height over the bar. It was called “The Western Roll.” Jumpers would flatten out with stomach to the ground and kick out at just the right time to get over the bar.

Along came Dick Fosbury, who decided to go over the bar backward with his back to the ground. The technique was called the “Fosbury Flop,” and Dick won the gold medal at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City using his technique. To this day, the Fosbury Flop is the most popular method for high jumping.

We often see examples of revolutionary change in common products. For example, in olden days, people had to tie thin straps around their clothes or fumble with buttons or zippers in winter to keep out the wind.

That was before George De Mestral patented Velcro in 1955. It seems like a simple invention 60 years later, but then it was revolutionary.

The challenge with revolutionary change is that it is so radical we often reject it as being absurd. Even when a proposed revolutionary change fails, there are often parts of it that can be used in a slightly different way.

It is this combination of revolutionary ideas in conjunction with incremental changes that has the most power for organizations.

Whether it be in the products they make or the processes they use, there should be both a constant drive for incremental change as well as the investment and alertness for revolutionary change to maximize forward progress.


Rip Up The Agenda

November 29, 2014

All I needOne of my friends in the consulting business wrote an insightful article entitled “Throw Away Your Integration Plan.” The friend is John Pancoast of Acquisition Solutions, a firm that helps organizations achieve more effective mergers or acquisitions.

His article was about having the flexibility to know when the plan you drew up before a merger was announced should be abandoned for another course of action based on some unanticipated development.

The main idea makes sense to me. No original plan can anticipate everything that is possible to happen, especially in a multifaceted endeavor like a merger.

Sticking religiously to an a-priori version of the path forward will produce suboptimal results at best and may even be disastrous.

It is not just mergers and acquisitions where we need the flexibility to change a plan based on new information. We deal with the need for flexibility in every area of our lives.

For example, the following incident actually happened to me in mid-career, and it illustrated the importance of remaining nimble.

I once spent a day in a workshop with my managers to develop some strategies. We planned the time carefully because time is the ultimate scarce resource. I had published a detailed agenda for the entire day.

When I walked into the room to start the meeting, I took one look at their faces and realized they were not in the same frame of mind as they were when we made up the agenda.

Something traumatic had just happened with one of the benefits programs, and their faces told me they were preoccupied trying to deal with the damage.

I held up the agenda on a single sheet of paper and said, “I can see by your body language that this is not where you folks want to spend your time today. Am I right?” They all nodded kind of sheepishly.

So, with great fanfare, I ripped the agenda into tiny pieces and threw the confetti into the air. I’ll never forget the look on their faces as the simulated snowflakes fluttered to the floor all around me. We had a good and constructive meeting after that.

This article is not suggesting that making plans is fruitless. We need to have a nominal plan for every activity under the assumptions we are aware of at the time.

We must always test whether that plan is still the right course when we attempt to execute it in the future. Here are a few tips to remember:

1. Be alert to changes in body language. Often you can read anxiety with a current plan in the faces of your coworkers.

2. Build trust. Create an atmosphere that is real rather than one of playing games.

3. Ask for opinions. If you ask, people will tell you if they are concerned.

4. Verify the plan is current. Test to see if conditions or assumptions have changed.

5. Be willing to rip up the agenda. It creates a significant event and sends a message of care rather than rigid implementation.

6. Use a revision date. Plans change with time, so if you have a file with the plans, use a revision date so people are aware they are subject to changing conditions.

Make your plans carefully and logically, but be prepared to change them when conditions require flexibility. Doing so will keep you nimble and relevant to current conditions. It is a great way to be effective.


Surfing the Chaos

March 1, 2014

Surfer On Blue Ocean WaveIn any organization there is going to be a certain amount of chaos. It is an unpredictable world, and the global pressures have made mere survival a constant struggle.

One can pine for the good old days when we could go to work at 8 am and check out at 5 pm, but those days are gone forever.

We can wish that people would always do right, or customers never get angry, or the weather habitually cooperate, but none of those desires is realistic.

To keep from going insane or just withdrawing, we need to invent new defenses from the reality of our time.

Chaos is going to happen.

You are going to have at least three crises in the next six months and so am I. The good news here is that with practice and cunning, we can learn to ride the waves of chaos like a surfer does the ocean waves.

Rather than fight back against the incredible power of the sea, the surfer uses the momentum to climb up and make a game of it. That is what we need to learn how to do in business.

Success belongs to those who can practice some simple precepts.

1. Train Well – An unskilled surfer is a danger to himself as well as others. You need the proper gear and you need to know how and when to use it to be successful. Trying to navigate a complex outsourcing decision without solid international experience is as ridiculous as going out to surf using snow skis.

2. Be nimble – Have the systems set up so that you can move with the vicissitudes of the current conditions. Anticipate as best you can what may happen, but be ready to veer off path at a moment’s notice. Consider it a core competence to not be thrown off the surf board, rather cut and weave with the wave not only to survive the pounding surf but actually enjoy the ride.

3. Be flexible – See your own paradigms and be willing to modify them or even let go completely to catch the next wave. The fluidity of changing conditions can be like a choppy sea that you are forced to fight against, or you can begin to recognize there are patterns and start paddling long before the wave is breaking upon you. Have bright creative people on the team who know how to keep from being submerged and actually “shoot the curl” or “hang 10.” Having these wonderful people is not enough; you must be prepared to listen to them and support their ideas.

4. Be undaunted – Unexpected things are going to surface like jellyfish in the water. You need to take all possible precautions and be vigilant, but there is a time to be courageous and strong as well. When you fall, and you will many times, learn from any mistakes you made, but by all means get back out there for another try. If you give up because of a specific failure, your muscles will stiffen and you will become calcified by the fear.

5. Be Alert – know the danger signals well and watch for them like you would a shark in the water. Courage is one thing, but being foolhardy with too much risk is likely to lose you a leg or more.

6. Be Smart – Great surfers know that each wave is different. They have the innate ability to know which wave to catch and which one to let pass. In business, you need to make decisions on engagement every day. Knowing which opportunities not to pursue is as important as knowing which ones to chase. To do well in this dimension, you need to have a great strategic plan. The strategy tells you both what to do and what not to do.

7. Be adaptable – every surfer knows there are new techniques being invented every day that can change the whole game for everyone. When there is the opportunity to learn a completely different way to do the job, dive in with full energy to learn it.

If you can practice these seven skills, then the waves of chaos and change will be stimulating aids to your success rather than the source of burnout or failure.


Is Happiness the Same as Morale?

March 23, 2013

Laughing out loud croppedAre 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, usually, but I suspect it is possible to have high morale even if you do not particularly like your job.

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 books, writing papers, and taking exams are not fun activities. I remember being very unhappy as a student many times, as the stress would get to me. 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.

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. It is not hard to imagine my morale being rather 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 the contribution I am making to society, but my morale is low because of the working conditions I must endure for the privilege of making that contribution.

Most of the time we see a linking of happiness and morale. Workers who are satisfied usually also exhibit high motivation, but it does not always have to be so. In fact, Frederick Herzberg taught us over 60 years ago, with his Two Factor Theory, that the controlling factors for satisfaction are different from those that generally cause motivation. He 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.


Losing Control

May 20, 2012

The role of supervisor is one of the most challenging positions in the working world. Reason: Supervisors walk the fine line between losing control of the employees or losing employee motivation by being too strict with rules.

In any organization there are going to be norms or rules that people are supposed to follow. Let me illustrate my point with a specific example. Let’s look at the length of the morning and afternoon breaks. Let’s say the standard break in the organization is 20 minutes. That seems simple enough, everyone in the group is supposed to adhere to the 20 minute break.

What you will see if you actually time the break is that most employees stop work let’s say at exactly 9:30 am. They then go to the bathroom down the hall to wash up before going to the break room. They arrive at the break room at 9:40. They get their coffee or whatever and sit down to chat with friends. Since they arrived at 9:40, they take the full 20 minutes and chat till 10 am. Then they go to the bathroom again to get rid of the coffee they just drank. They loiter in the hall and get back to the workplace at roughly 10:15. So, the standard 20 minute break is now more than double the specified length. The afternoon has the same pattern.

This pattern is typical rather than the exception. The supervisor has a difficult time trying to control this situation without seeming to be an ogre. It can go uncorrected for years, costing the organization a huge penalty in productivity.

Supervisors are continually challenged by people to meet their individual and collective needs, even if it means bending some of the rules. If they let one person come to work a bit late because of a child with special needs, then other people are going to come in late with less valid reasons. First thing you know, nobody is showing up on time. Once people begin to see the supervisor is “reasonable” with exceptions to stated rules, he is on a slippery slope in terms of long term control. Trying to get out of the cycle can be vexing because if the supervisor takes a strong stand on rules, then he becomes despised, and people start finding other ways to cut corners.

Here are seven rules that can prevent the erosion of discipline while, at the same time, showing flexibility and respect for individuals.

1. Be alert to the concept of rules being there for a reason. Know the reasons and communicate them when needed.

2. Let people know what the rules are by well-timed reminders, but avoid getting anal about it.

3. Allow open discussion on how the rules should be applied. This has two benefits 1) it serves to remind people of the specific rules, and 2) it gives people some say and creative input into how the rules should be applied in your area.

4. Be consistent on the application of rules. Do not bend for one person and not another.

5. Allow exceptions only when there is good justification, and explain to people why you decided to bend a rule in this case.

6. Intervene early if there are abuses of the rules. Do not let bad habits continue for months before taking action. Reason: if you wait too long, when you finally do try to enforce the rules, you are subject to ridicule and over reaction.

7. Treat people like adults, and they will act more like adults.

My observation is that the best supervisors are those who really care for people enough to expect them to follow the rules and call them out when they do not. A gentle but firm hand that is applied with kindness will work in most cases. That attitude creates long term respect and trust.