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Taking a Closer Look, Part 1 - Workplace Morale

By Dixie Wright on November 15, 2017

We know improving your workplace morale is an undertaking, to say the least. But let’s think about this deeper, shall we? Imagine you’re at war, preparing for battle with your fellow soldiers. Your commanding officer is giving the platoon a before-battle pep talk, instilling confidence, dauntlessness, and helping you tap into your undying commitment to victory.

He’s saying, “You’re ready, you’re trained for this. And if all else fails—if the war or nation you’re fighting for isn’t enough motivation to put your life on the line or to attack the enemy—fight for the man to your left and the man to your right. Your comrades’ lives are counting on you.”

What’s your commanding officer doing here?

He’s boosting morale, something success on the frontlines depends on. He’s trying to connect with whatever connects with you to cultivate purpose, trust, and dedication.

We do know workplace morale works the exact same way—but we’ve taken a closer look. How we’ve done it? We’ve used morale among soldiers as our bouncing board in comparison to shed new light and show that from the U.S. Army to Johnson & Johnson, all organizations need high morale to succeed. Read on to learn the what, the effects, the statistics, and the solutions, all on workplace morale to increase employee satisfaction and engagement in your company.

Let’s Define It: What’s Workplace Morale?

According to Business Dictionary, workplace morale (or more so, employee morale) is defined as the “description of the emotions, attitude, satisfaction, and overall outlook of employees during their time in a workplace environment.” Proven to have a direct effect on productivity, employees with high job satisfaction are believed to be a high-performing organization requisite. (This is why the U.S. Army spent $287 million in attempt to make troops more optimistic and Johnson & Johnson saved $250 million over the past decade due to their wellness programs, proving just how necessary it really is—whether you’re at war or in an office—to feel good.)

Employee morale can truly be the deciding factor between a flourishing business and lost profits, akin to soldiers’ lives and entire wars depending on the enthusiasm within platoons.

Let’s Get Into The Science: Physiological + Psychological Factors

Low morale not only hinders mental strength and performance, but it also takes its toll physiologically and psychologically. According to studies published in the book, “Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements”, unhappy employees dreaded the work day and were twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression. These employees were also at greater risk for heart disease, along with the myriad of other health issues that come with consistent levels of high stress such as high blood pressure and blood sugar, suppressed immune systems, and so on.

Moreover, financial stress among employees severely compromises morale in the workplace, an affliction which accelerates mental and physical health decline for over 90 million American workers. Those living in financial stress have 3 times the digestive tract problems, double the rate of heart attacks, and 44% more migraines. Research also shows 1 in 4 Americans experience PTSD-like symptoms from financial stress resulting in characteristics like denial, avoidance, and anger. Inevitably, this catapults health care costs into unmanageable territories for both employees and employers, hindering overall engagement and workplace morale.

Let’s See The Statistics: Studies on Workplace Morale Tell All

The Iraq, Afghanistan, and the U.S. military morale “crisis” tells us quite a few things about the importance of morale within organizations. According to Brookings (mentioned earlier in this reading), “Despite a six-year, $287 million effort to make troops more optimistic and resilient, an Army survey found that 52 percent of soldiers scored badly on questions that measured optimism, while 48 percent reported having little satisfaction or commitment to their job.”

Brookings explains, while it’s necessary to put the “crisis” into context—such as the Army dealing with low morale since the defense drawdown of the 1990s, and even though poll numbers are dismal, “the sky is not falling”—morale was still at an all-time low, nonetheless.

Why? The speculations vary and all likely play a part: Military Times polling data shows only 27% of troops believe their senior leadership has their “best interest at heart”, pointing towards a disconnect between leadership and troops, naturally lowering morale. A study conducted by the Center for Army Leadership reported that only 26% of Active Component leaders believed the Army was headed in “the right direction”, showing lack of faith, purpose, and trust.

Possibly the most telling statistic of all? A Military Times study found that the troops “feel underpaid, under-equipped and under-appreciated” due to military benefit cuts (a surefire way to devastate morale among soldiers and employees alike). Let’s look at other studies to solidify:

  • An Oxford Economics survey found that using cubicles in the workplace—a common practice which allows employees minimal space, quiet, and privacy—actually negatively affects job satisfaction, ultimately reducing productivity and engagement.
  • University of Warwick conducted a study on 700+ participants which concluded happiness led to a 12% spike in productivity. (Mentioned, Google even rose employee satisfaction 37% by investing in employee support initiatives and various benefits.)
  • According to Ben Waber’s research, companies can increase productivity by up to 25% by making small changes such as overlapping lunch breaks and moving coffee stations.

Let’s Talk Solutions: What You Can Do Now

Considering what we’ve covered, it seems clear: Providing a healthy, positive work environment for those employed—whether a soldier or an employee in an office—is essential. But how? How can you cover all the bases, cultivating a happy work environment and offer the right benefits?

Here are 5 easy ways you can jumpstart boosting employee morale in your company today:

  • Make sure your employees know they’re making a difference. It’s only human nature to lose motivation if you feel what you’re doing every day is meaningless. Frequently tell your employees the positive impact they’re making in the company and the world.
  • Incorporate fun into the workplace to keep employees engaged. Throwing parties or finding creative ways to celebrate employee accomplishments improves happiness and engagement. Morale naturally increases when workers feel fond of their employer.
  • Always promote/offer advancements within the company. Anyone who views their job as a dead end road isn’t going to feel satisfied in the workplace. If you’re able, show employees they’re always progressing by offering promotions for higher morale.
  • Implement an awards program to congratulate high-performers. When workers are rewarded for great work, it makes them feel like a truly valued asset and offers a higher incentive to perform optimally. In turn, company loyalty and morale is increased.
  • Offer a financial wellness benefit to relieve employee financial stress. The highest stressor for Americans today is lack of financial independence and stability. Offering employees a simple, fair financial benefit shows you truly care, increasing morale.

45% of Americans identify financial matters as the most stressful issue they face in life, 40% have difficulty meeting their household expenses each month, and 55% say their top concern is not having enough money saved for unexpected expenses (1). As a result, employers who lack the necessary financial wellness benefit to offer a real-time solution—namely, on-demand access to earned-but-unpaid wages—fail to relieve one of their most intimate, pressing issues.

With PayActiv, employers can offer a benefit which not only increases morale from showing employees they care about their well-being, but it provides a comprehensive solution to boost morale in all aspects of life. Offer employee financial wellness and high morale with PayActiv.

Check out the next post in this series, “Taking A Closer Look Part 2: Engagement”, that dives into employee engagement: why it’s lacking, how to improve it, and how to maintain it.

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