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Are Workplace Morale Boosters Really Meaningless?

2327243497_b0b6baede9_m.jpgIn his blog, a shel of my former self, organizational communication expert Shel Holtz plays off a recent blog post by David Spark that "calls BS" on some companies efforts to boost employee morale.

Holtz gives a good example of an experience from his time at Mattel and boils his argument down to this:

There is only one way to improve morale in any organization: Identify and fix the conditions that have led to lowered morale in the first place.

So, are the recognition practices employed by many businesses really worthless? Well...maybe. Here are a few thoughts:

  1. "Morale boosters" won't make up for underlying problems. Just as the best marketing in the world won't save a poor quality product, having a company party, or handing out certificates of appreciation won't make employees forget about bad leaders, inadequate compensation, frustrating policies or poor working conditions. In an earlier post, I commented on a story in The Onion that made this point brilliantly. Fix the underlying problems -- don't just try to gloss over them.
  2. Do you know how your employees like to be recognized? Ask them. Certificates, parties, ribbons and other tools can be effective, if employees actually value them. If not, they can come across as cheap, superficial and meaningless. Similarly, if an employee is embarassed by being singled out for public recognition at a big company event, that's not really a motivator, is it? In fact, I'd bet that employee will go to great lengths not to get recognized again. This highlights the importance of starting with a good assessment and involving employees in the process of designing, developing, implementing and refining workplace programs and policies, including recognition practices.
  3. A healthy workplace culture fosters engagement and performance. In a recent post, Dr. Matt Grawitch commented that a "quick-fix mentality has taken over in many organizations," since slapping together a new program is seen as faster and easier than trying to change the culture. Employers who truly understand the link between employee well-being and organizational performance focus on creating a healthy culture, where employees are proud to be part of the team, find meaning in their work and feel valued for their contributions. These organizatons not only see better morale, they also support employee well-being and achieve better business outcomes.

How do you recognize employees in ways that are meaningful and sincere? As a leader, how can you help your team members succeed? Leave your comments -- the best response gets a trophy.

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If the subjects of "morale boosting" efforts universally hate these calculated attempts to Band Aid-improve company morale, then why do they still continue?

Has anyone had one of these morale boosting efforts and then looked at morale and said, "Oh, I guess the picnic/awards/clown was a good idea. Look how well morale has improved."?

BTW, on a related topic, check out this article. Similar concerns about communications:

16 Annoying Communications that Must End in 2011

Recognition is vital, of course; in study after study, recognition has emerged as a more important factor than pay when it comes to motivation. (Pay is what gets you to show up.)

But when morale is low, recognition is the solution only if lack of recognition is the problem. While I'd never argue against effective recognition programs and processes, as you note, addressing low morale requires action on the causes. In the case of the story I told on my blog, 90 days of rallies and banners would have come to an end and the sources of the low morale would still have been there long after the last of the confetti was swept away.

Thank you for your insights Dr. Ballard. I've found that the most effective morale boosters are those that recognize employees' talents and abilities and help them feel valued by the company.

Praise works wonders, whether individual or as a group activity. It's also helpful if top leadership commits to boosting morale in a meaningful, long-term way.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Dr. David Ballard published on January 20, 2011 6:35 AM.

Call for Student Poster Presentation Proposals was the previous entry in this blog.

Pre-Conference Training: A Pragmatic Approach to Creating a Wellness-Oriented Work Culture is the next entry in this blog.

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