‘Morale’ is a well-known term. In informal discussion at work it can feature a lot — usually, for some reason, when ‘morale is low’. More formally, the term is little used, except with reference to troops and, to a lesser extent, sports teams.
Generally one doesn’t get invited to conference presentations or workshops on morale. ‘Morale’ isn’t a buzzword. ‘Motivation’, yes; ‘engagement’, yes; but not ‘morale’.
Perhaps we feel that the term is too woolly and too old-fashioned.
But research by Ben Hardy suggests that all this needs rethinking. His studies suggest that term can be rigorously defined — and that the phenomenon has relevance to things that talent managers care about.
What morale is
According to Hardy, morale has three core components. In an article with Tanya Alcock and Jon Malpass he characterises morale as ‘an emotional state which has three elements: how people feel about themselves, the future and those they are working with’. On this basis the authors propose that morale can be defined as:
an emotional state which integrates an individual’s feelings about their personal worth, their future expectations and their relations with colleagues.
Why and how morale matters
In a study of contact centres in an international media company, the researchers examined ways the three components can be managed to improve morale. They also studied the relationship between morale and performance:
Morale affects performance … In a customer service environment, high morale individuals are more cheerful, willing to help customers and, when carrying our more demanding tasks such as debt collection, are more resilient to customer demands.
High morale individuals will also put forward more discretionary effort. They will take on additional tasks, use any slack time productively and try to improve the business.
individuals with high morale will collaborate and communicate more effectively, sharing knowledge and fostering the social glue of teams.
Overall, they conclude that ‘a workforce with high morale is capable of achievements beyond simply improving productivity’.
All in all, Hardy’s research suggests to me that morale is a concept, and a phenomenon, that talent managers need to pay more attention.