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Knowing What Makes Morale High

There are several factors that contribute to high morale in a work environment. Employees must feel that they are:

  • treated fairly
  • valued and appreciated for their work
  • recognized for their work
  • paid a fair wage for their work
  • doing work that is important

Employee morale study. In one study, employees were asked to rank 10 items, in order of importance, that they wanted from their jobs. Their employers were then asked to guess how they thought their employees would rank the same 10 items. The results, set out below, were surprising.

Employees'
Rank

Item
Employer's
Rank
1 Interesting work 5
2 Appreciation and recognition 8
3 Feeling "in on things" 10
4 Job security 2
5 Good wages 1
6 Promotion/growth 3
7 Good working conditions 4
8 Personal loyalty 6
9 Tactful discipline 7
10 Sympathetic help with problems 9

(Niebrugge, Vicki, Declining Employee Morale: Defining the Causes and Finding the Cure, NOVA Group.)

Notice that employees ranked "interesting work" as what they want most in their jobs, although their supervisors thought that the employees would rank "good wages" as the most important. In fact, "good wages" were ranked only fifth by employees.

So what does it mean? For one thing, it's good news for you, since working for a small business tends to mean employees have to wear a lot of hats and have more interesting jobs. It also means that factors such as feeling "in on things" and having their work appreciated mean a lot more to employees than you may think. While these types of perks seem easy to give to employees because they may not cost a lot, if you're interested in keeping your employees happy and productive, take these "soft issues" seriously.

Some skeptics say that it's all about money and that if you pay people enough, that's all that matters when it comes to getting employees to be productive and loyal. But pay usually tends to become very important only when the employee feels his or her pay is below standard for what similar workers earn elsewhere. If your pay is in line with industry averages, chances are that your employees' job satisfaction hinges more on the "soft issues" than on the fact that they may earn a few dollars more or less than their peers.

Steps to take. There are a couple of steps you can take to figure out whether employees are happy and what to do about it if they aren't: