Thursday, September 20, 2007

Quick Guide To Improving Morale

You go to work every day and you love your job because you work with bright, motivated, and interesting individuals who dedicate themselves to getting the job done. However, after a while, a shift begins to occur so slightly gradually that you don't even notice how it came upon you or why until it is far too late to do anything to prevent it. By the time you notice it, it is already overpowering you and your job, and you feel overwhelmingly hopeless against it. You notice that the once bright, motivated, and interesting individuals you used to enjoy working alongside have become indifferent, lazy, and dull. What's worse, you perform a quick self-diagnostic and realize that this dark wave of despair has even affected yourself.

This scenario is more common than you might think. It happens from time to time in every workplace, but more often those that are run or managed by incompetents. In fact, the problem is so prevalent that it even gets addressed in business schools and concerns are raised by corporate heads who like to pretend that they still have a few shards of human decency left within them. The problem is that the workplace is suffering from low morale.

You may recall me bitching about the concept of morale
before, but just because few people know how to handle, measure, or harness it doesn't mean that it's bullshit. The problem comes in when corporate-level bosses try to affect morale, particuarly because I have yet to see one who effectively can. They don't know how to affect morale because they don't even have a clear concept of what morale is, but they want to try to harness it into something that serves their own ends with the least amount of effort. What managers fail to realize is that morale isn't something that they can control; it's actually an indicator of how well they're doing their job.

Morale is a result of their efforts, not something they can put effort into improving. You can't improve morale by holding meetings to make employees accutely aware of the concept of morale. You can't improve morale by simply telling workers to be happier. You can't improve morale through teambuilding exercises and picnics that take time away from the job which will have to be made up later, at the their expense. Only one thing truly affects morale, and that is the company itself. If the company's policies are fair and respectful, then the employees will be happier to work for the company. If the company treats their staff like human beings and not so much commodities, the staff will, in turn, respect the company.

There was a time in the country when morale wasn't such a concern in companies. Granted, some companies were corrupt as hell and the morale sucked, but most of those have either changed their policies or caved under their own inadequacy. Now that morale is a measurable commodity in business and a concept taught in business schools, there's really no excuse for it to be ignored, yet it so often is, until it becomes a problem.

I think the problem is that most corporate executives primarily write policies which directly benefit themselves first without fully considering the effect it will have on their workers. The problem that they're overlooking is that of a very important social paradigm, that people are inherently selfish. It's human nature. Everybody is looking first and foremost for what's in it for themselves. This concept is the businessman's worst enemy, but it can also be his greatest ally. It's a foe because it causes people to become bitter when they sacrifice themselves in a workplace solely to the benefit of some detatched entity that is profiting from their hard labor. However, this weakness of selfishness can be very exploitable if the executive writing the policies is willing to give a little in order to gain a lot.

If you have salary employees, you reward them with time. Their pay is the same whether they are working or not, so if you have to take a few hours of overtime that they're not getting paid for, then you give them a few hours off when the workload permits it. Nothing kills morale faster for salary employees than having to work late when there's work to be done, then being made to stay at work when there's nothing to do and they could be taking care of other pressing concerns in their lives outside of work.

If you have wage workers, the balance is more difficult to achieve. Letting a salary employee leave early when there's no work to be done costs you nothing more than it would if they were at work doing nothing. To achieve the balance of give-and-take with wage earners means that you have to lose a little of your most coveted assets to your employees — money. If you let a wage worker go home early, you are taking money directly out of their pockets. Some of them don't care as much about the money if it means they don't have to be at work. This could be the result of their own laziness, but it isn't nearly the case as much as when when the workplace morale has died. You simply have to reward your top performers with some sort of pay incentive, which means you're just going to have to suck it up and take money out of your own pocket to do it. Welcome to business management, assholes.

An extra fifteen cents per hour for your top performers would mean nothing for you to lose, but it would mean a great deal for an employee of minimum wage, or slightly above, to earn. At forty hours a week, that would come out to an extra $6 a week. That's two extra meals a week at McDonald's. That's an extra case of beer a week for having to put up with all the retarded shit work makes people go through. For someone like me, that's, like, 18 boxes of Wal-Mart brand macaroni and cheese. That's enough for me to eat for half a month. If you don't want to give a permanent wage increase to your top performers, an incentive-based bonus program would be just as effective. People want to know that their hard work is appreciated, and they want a little something in return for it. Plus, when all the other employees see someone getting rewarded for their work, they will want the reward and the attention, and they will be more likely to emulate that employee until everyone is working harder, getting rewarded for it, and enjoying their job. Once someone pushes themselves to their limit and survives, then their bar is set higher and they can not only keep doing what they already did, but push themselves even harder to do more. To ensure the system is fair, mangers need to set up clearly defined and realistic expectations and reward the employee who has met or exceded the expectations for the specified time period.

This shit's not difficult, and I don't even have a business degree. What I do have is experience in a fast-paced work environment and at least a basic understanding of humanity. I observe and analyze people. I connect the trends and strip away bullshit, and it's a pretty standard statistical rule that the most common examples are also the most accurate when forming blanket conclusions. If I want to say that most people are motivated through their own selfishness, it's because most people have proven to be, regardless of how inclined they are to admit it. Therefore, it has a statistical probability of working, far more so than the current assumption that people will keep busting their ass for you to gain more and them to gain nothing in the way of recognition.

np: Genesis - "Second Home By The Sea" (Live, 1998)

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