The Moral of Workplace Morale

When it comes to workplace morale, there is no shortage of articles suggesting the ways and means to build and/or enhance cultures that motivate employees to deliver the goods. Beyond their intent to boost morale, the commentaries have one thing in common – the counsel is generic. In other words, the pundits inherently assume that their morale-lifting tactics and strategies apply to any organization, no matter the product or service in which they are engaged. They are correct in this regard. But, there is a catch. One cannot assume a constant success rate because there is more at play.

Allow me to put this notion to the test. If you were looking for a new job, which of the following fictitious companies might you be most interested in pursuing? Which of them holds the least interest?

  1.       Smokestack Tobacco (cigarettes)
  2.       Clean Oceans (conservation technologies)
  3.       Straight Shooter (firearms manufacturing)
  4.       Sun Cycle (solar powered bicycles)
  5.       LNG Partners (liquefied natural gas production)

Even though you know nothing of their corporate culture, I’m guessing that Clean Oceans and Sun Cycle will be at the top of your list, and that Smokestack Tobacco will be at the bottom. This tells me that you favor industries and companies that offer a higher moral purpose. Higher moral purpose is the starting point for higher morale. Moral purpose is inspirational. Unlike motivation, inspiration goes beyond quantitative measurements such as sales and profit quotas that yield employee benefits such as bonuses. The DNA ofClean Oceans’ workforce is going to be miles apart from that of Smokestack Tobacco. Ditto the strategy for enhancing morale.

Years ago, Steve Jobs used one question to inspire John Sculley to leave the corner office of Pepsi for Apple: “Do you want to sell sugared water for the rest of your life or do you want to change the world.” The rest of the Sculley story is irrelevant. Inspiration tops motivation, every time. Inspiration is qualitative. You just have to be a part of it – that’s the driving force.

The vast majority of companies and industries are engaged in products and services that are morally neutral. This is not to say that these organizations are morally neutral or that they cannot deliver amazing workplace morale. They can, and they do. Three financial services companies (Edward Jones, Quicken Loans, and Robert Baird) and three IT firms (SAS,, and Intuit) found a place in Fortune’s top 10 places to work. The list is based on employee perception of trust, respect, compensation, camaraderie, internal communication, training, and diversity efforts.

Not only do these companies integrate their values into the culture, trust and engagement is the cornerstone of their HR strategy. Leaders respect their employees, listen to them, reward them, and applaud them. The extra effort that is the product of meaningful work is the factor that has moved these companies from good to great.

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