Work Morale in the 1990s

By Lindsay, William M.; Manning, George E. et al. | SAM Advanced Management Journal, Summer 1992 | Go to article overview

Work Morale in the 1990s


Lindsay, William M., Manning, George E., Petrick, Joseph A., SAM Advanced Management Journal


Components of Morale

Morale can be viewed as the attitude of an individual, group, or organization with regard to the function or task at hand. A work group with high morale has a strong sense of shared direction and a commitment to peak performance.(1)

Work morale is a function of a person's attitude toward four key factors: the job itself, work group dynamics, management practices, and economic rewards. In his best selling book, A Great Place to Work, Robert Levering characterizes the high morale of great workplaces as consisting of satisfaction that is obtained from what you do (the job itself), enjoying the people you are working with (the work group), and trusting the people you work for (management practices and economic rewards).(2) While these four factors of morale remain constant, the level of morale may vary over time.

These factors, designated by numerous authors and researchers as the major components of the work environment affecting an individual's morale, can be defined as:

* Job design -- importance, challenge, accomplishment, autonomy, variety, feedback, and identity.

* Work group dynamics -- sense of belonging, group pride, and employee teamwork.

* Management practices -- agreement on congruent goals and values, perceived fairness, and managerial concern for employees.

* Economic rewards -- fair pay, benefits, opportunity for advancement.

Morale -- An Urgent Issue in the '90s

The urgency of the morale issue is dramatically shown in a recent book, The Cynical Americans, by Kanter and Mirvis.(3) The authors stated that fully 78% of American workers are suspicious of management and have, in fact, developed an "us against them" attitude -- evidence of low morale. This results in a lack of shared goals within and among work groups, substandard performance, and poor quality goods and services.

At the management level, a recent survey (1990) co-sponsored by the recruiting firm of Korn/Ferry International and the University of California at Los Angeles indicated that 70% of the managers surveyed were dissatisfied with their responsibilities and their accomplishments on the job, an indication that morale problems exist in management ranks, as well as among hourly workers. In the same vein, a Wall Street Journal article(4) reported that in a survey by a Georgia Tech economics professor of over 1,500 middle managers, "Only 27% of their time |was spent~ on traditional management tasks, such as planning, hiring and coaching," Another 30% of their time was spent on tasks that could have been done by secretaries or junior professional staff. While narrow job specialization is undesirable, so are management jobs in which managers' capabilities are underused and in which they have insufficient time to spend on crucial tasks.

As organization structures become flatter and leaner, promotions and raises become scarcer, and workloads become heavier; sustaining high morale becomes a challenge at every level, managerial and non-managerial.

Morale Blockers in the 1990s

In the 1990s, managers will have to develop a keen understanding of the factors that can block morale-enhancement. They must also be willing to concede that they are frequently part of the problem if they want to contribute to the solution. Recently, Newman and Rhee(5) commented on the tendency of U.S. managers to build barriers that prevent them from using the best available management practices to solve their problems. With a slight change of focus, we have adapted this framework to our discussion of morale issues in the 1990s. It is becoming increasingly clear that American managers must get "back to the basics," overcome the barriers to high morale, and adopt, or adapt, the best worldwide management practices in order to tap the productivity of their employees and survive in the 1990s.

Barriers Inhibiting Better Management Practices

According to Newman and Rhee, barriers that inhibit the adoption of the "best management practices" and that simultaneously have a negative influence on efforts to build employee morale include: 1) the time barrier, 2) the complexity barrier, 3) the specialization barrier, and 4) the diversity barrier. …

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