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Leadership Q&A: Morale – The outcome of a perfect storm of change

A recent survey of executives from a company noted that morale was a critical issue. After more than a 023_23 10% loss in jobs at this company, the remaining employees found that they had a heavier load of responsibilities without any increase in compensation. A growing conflict between personal and professional life was contributing to a lowering of morale at this company.

Out of curiosity for what other people thought about the issue of morale, I posted a discussion request at a social network site where I participate. Within just a few short days, over 130 responses were submitted. Not surprisingly, the consensus of opinion centered in the need for the company to be more open, honest and transparent about its dealings with employees and the future of the company.

Is low company morale a product of non-transparent communication?

I’m not one to deny the importance of poor communication to any deficiency in a business’s performance, but poor communication is not the cause of poor morale. It is another symptom of a deeper set of issues.

Morale is a function of a person’s sense of control over their circumstances.

Dramatic, discontinuous, disruptive change is creating a perfect storm of conditions for people to find that both their personal and professional lives are at risk.

In my father’s generation of World War II veterans, job security was, for the most part, a forgone conclusion. The first company he worked for after college, beginning in 1949, was the same company he retired from almost 40 years later. Today, it isn’t just that people change jobs and careers as often as the buy a new car, but that the environment of the workplace and the company as an institution of security and stability is no longer a reality.

So, when once vital companies find themselves in a survival mode, the perfect storm of change is reflected in the attitudes and behaviors of their people.

If you are leader in a company impacted by both a wealth diminishing recession and changes to your industry that are permanent and not very hopeful for the future, what do you do to deal with morale.

First, you have to realize that there is no quick and easy fix to these issues. This is the context for business for the near, and, possibly, long term future. While resigning yourself to this reality, do not be sucked into a longing for a glorified time that is past. Instead, the future must be approached as if it is filled with new opportunities that require levels of innovation and creativity not before found in you or your business.

Second, you need to realize for yourself and then help your people to understand that strength, security and stability are no longer found in the externals of life, and in particular the institution of the business. Whether we are looking at our retirement account or our business, none of these are sufficient to provide us the security we once knew. Now, we must find that security within our own hearts and minds. Resiliency and, what I call, resourceful optimism, are the character traits that are needed to manage the issues of morale in our time.

The Wikipedia reference on Greek Stoic philosopher Epictetus describes his approach to life:

…all external events are determined by fate, and are thus beyond our control, but we can accept whatever happens calmly and dispassionately. Individuals, however, are responsible for their own actions which they can examine and control through rigorous self-discipline. Suffering arises from trying to control what is uncontrollable, or from neglecting what is within our power. As part of the universal city that is the universe, human beings have a duty of care to all fellow humans. The person who followed these precepts would achieve happiness.

Not sense the days of the Great Depression has this philosophy had more relevance than it does today. To follow Epictetus’ is to learn that life is more than the sum of our possessions, experiences and roles we play.

The application of an inner strength to cope with a perfect storm of change is to find a confidence and resiliency that we can make necessary changes in the midst of adapting to the changes that swirl around us.

The key for leaders to create this type of strength in their business is to call upon their people to join them in learning to be creative, adaptive people each day. There is no formula for learning to live this way. There is only taking each moment and addressing it for what it must become, and living with the results.

Third, low morale points to a transition point in the culture of your business. It shows that it is time to change. How doFour Questions Diagram you change? Ask yourself the Four Questions from my Impact Leadership Guides. The key question is What is the Impact we want to create from this situation. Impact is another way looking at creating change. If the way of operating your business is to think that it consists of a set of activities and processes that produce results that are daily repeated over and over again, then the perfect storm of change that we are in will make it difficult for you to cope. However, if you shift your perception to looking at your business from the perspective of creating impact, then you have a way to inspire people in the midst of hard times to be creative and adaptive leaders.

Morale is a function of control. If we feel we can control our own emotions in the midst of change, if we feel we can contribute to achieving a significant impact, if we feel that regardless of what happens I will remain the same person, then we have developed the inner strength that is needed to survive the perfect storm of change.

We are all living at a transition point in human history. The era of the institution as a bulwark against the threats of life is fading. What is replacing it? Two things. Personal inner strength of resiliency, resourceful optimism, creativity and adaptability, and the importance that our relationships both social and vocational are where businesses will find new institutional strength.

Morale – The outcome of a perfect storm of change

About the author

Dr. Ed Brenegar I'm a leadership speaker, writer and consultant who is a mentor and catalyst for change. I assist leaders and their teams in the transitions required to succeed in today's complex organizational environment. I live in Western North Carolina. I'm involved the Boy Scouts, a charitable leadership training group called Lessons In Leadership, an ordained Presbyterian Church USA minister, and am the host of the Say Thanks Every Day social network.

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