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February 03, 2017

The UX of Employee Morale

Recently I was in a leadership meeting where we introspectively evaluated the morale of the company as a whole. Some people felt it was low, and others felt it was fine. What was clear, however, is that we didn't have a common definition of what morale was. Let's explore this a bit. What is morale, what are the factors that contribute to it, and how do you even approach improving it within your organization?

At its core, morale is about identity, which is heavily influenced by one's perception of his value and place in the world. There are four beliefs that contribute to high employee morale. Think of this as a four-legged stool. Take one of the legs out, and its integrity will be compromised, but someone can make due for awhile before finding alternative seating arrangements. Take two of them out, and either someone will be content to sit on the floor or take other measures that can compromise the integrity of the chairs other people are sitting on.

The four beliefs are:

  1. I know and believe in what we're doing as a company.
  2. I am contributing positively to the good we are attempting to accomplish.
  3. I am appreciated and respected.
  4. I am able to make things better.

In terms of measuring morale, it doesn't matter if what someone believes about these statements is true. What matters is the belief. A highly-valued employee, for instance, may believe they are actually not appreciated, if everyone they want to value them is too busy to acknowledge the employee's contributions. 

Even though morale isn't determined by truth, I've never found it helpful to be deceptive. So lying to an employee to make them believe something that isn't true is unsustainable. If you or they lack something, either help them see the truth or help to change the reality so that it is the truth.

  1. Have a heart of compassion and integrity.
  2. Have an ambition to be something great. 
  3. Know and be able to confidently articulate who you are and what you want to accomplish.
  4. Socialize and refine this articulation.
  5. Ensure buy-in by hiring the right people who rise to that standard or have the ability and will to make everyone better. This fosters camaraderie and fellowship among your employees, as well.
  6. Give people the tools, education, and resources they need to do their jobs; encourage ownership, not only for their jobs but the systems and processes that affect their ability to do their jobs.
  7. Ensure people know what's expected of them in their jobs and hoped for them in their careers.
  8. Ask the people around you what you can do for them to help them achieve their goals.
  9. Use failure primarily as a means to facilitate improvement. But be vigilant and self-aware. Sometimes you have to recognize that you have to let someone go.
  10. Show your appreciation. Make a point of it. People expect different things, but they are cognizant of fairness. If you explain the rules and follow through, people will learn to play by them.

As with interfaces, the key to ensure people know they're on the right path in each of the four beliefs is to provide visibility, utility, affordance, and feedback. Your employees need to have a vision for the big picture and know where they are in relation to that vision. They need to know what they can do and have the tools to do it. They need to understand that working overtime, if they must, is worthwhile to achieving the greater good, with people who they respect and who respect them back. And they need to know that either what they have done has had a positive impact, or the confidence that if it did not move things in a positive direction, they can learn from their mistakes and try again. - Cam Beck


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