We often talk about morale in the workplace. It’s a factor we strive to improve. Even without formal measurement, employers and their staff equate high morale to high performance. Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, “Morale is the greatest single factor in successful wars.” But why? How much impact does morale truly have?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines morale as, “the mental and emotional condition (as enthusiasm, confidence, or loyalty) of an individual or group with regard to the function or tasks at hand,” or, “a sense of common purpose with respect to a group.” Morale is more than just employee happiness or satisfaction, and it impacts performance in the workplace.


What affects morale?

As individual employees, we all come to work with a finite amount of mental energy to spend. It’s as if we each have a bucket and it is full at the start of our work day. Your bucket has two spigots, or valves, through which your energy may flow. One valve funnels the energy into success, or productivity – your tasks and job. The second spigot diverts this mental energy into self-maintenance and repair, or coping. Stress often opens this valve to some degree – the more stress you feel, the wider this valve opens, siphoning off valuable energy that could be flowing into the productivity valve. And, with both valves open, mental energy drains faster. To avoid being drained too quickly, the productivity valve will slowly begin to close.


The impact of stress on morale and subsequently performance is real. If you want to increase performance, we need to keep the productivity valve open and minimize coping. There are countless ways to do this, including:

  • Having a clear purpose and goals for your job or task.
  • Connecting with others in the workplace, or feeling part of a team.
  • Communicating clearly and effectively between individuals and groups.
  • Having decent work-life balance.
  • Feeling confident in your ability to complete the task at hand.
  • Using your skills to their fullest potential.
  • Seeing clear career opportunities.
  • Having enough resources and being able to effectively prioritize your work.

For example, an employee named Jen has four projects with the same deadline. She stays late at night to continue working to meet the deadline, but she feels like she’s missing out on valuable “home” time with the family. That stress lowers her overall morale, which may affect her work on other projects.


Measuring morale

The most efficient way to improve morale is to identify what’s causing the coping spigot to open. If there’s a specific type of workplace stress triggering a decrease in morale, you can take steps to address the issue. In Jen’s case, she might be missing key information that would help prioritize her four projects.

Measuring stress and morale doesn’t have to be complex – there are several assessments and tools available that can identify performance blockages.

You can even get basic measurements by creating your own survey. Simply asking for an individual’s morale, on a scale of 1 (terrible) to 10 (excellent), can allow you to determine if there are factors present that are opening the self-maintenance spigot. Checking employee morale on a regular basis is important for creating and maintaining a healthy workplace.

What steps do you take to improve morale?