Amelia Brown is a graduate student in the Master of Public Administration program at Brigham Young University. She is studying local government and nonprofit management. She participates as a research assistant in the Public Service Lab, serves as the Development Director for the BYU Grantwell program and works as a lead advisor in the MPA student mentorship program.
Amelia is passionate about the community and promoting change. Her experiences working in the nonprofit, local government, and private sectors have taught her the value of pursuing dreams, setting goals, and striving to make a difference in the community. When she is not working, studying or change-making, she can be found running, skiing, hiking and writing her life goals on sticky notes.
The water is boiling over on the stove while I’m responding to LinkedIn requests on my phone, a TED Talk presentation is playing on my laptop, and I’m asking my roommate about her day. In today’s fast-paced world, it’s easy to feel like you’re overbooked, overscheduled and overworked, like there are not enough hours in the day and like you’re giving up activities that really matter to you to accomplish less meaningful tasks. This is true even in the work place, so an important question for employers to consider is how to influence employee morale and company culture for greater success.
Unlike most business students, I have the unique opportunity to be studying administration in association with government and nonprofit work. Although there are many differences between government or nonprofit work and the private sector, many of the underlying themes for employee morale and company success remain the same. To successfully increase and maintain employee morale and promote a strong company culture, employers and managers should:
A recent article published in the Public Administration Journal addresses the importance of promoting values beginning by selecting the right employee. Interestingly enough, the authors of the article note that influencing employee morale starts long before actual employment (Christensen, et al., 2017).
In terms of public service, administrators should vet potential employees who already have an affinity for service. Once the best candidate is selected and hired, managers should take steps to create a supportive work environment and a place where employees have an opportunity to serve. Researchers found that as these steps are taken stronger ties are developed between the organization and the employee’s values and goals (Christensen, et al., 2017).
In addition to selecting the right employee, Michael, the owner of a small business, says that a lot of success in employee motivation comes down to the large overview of company culture created through well thought-out policies and procedures. (Brown, 2017). When the policies and procedures are well thought out and clearly presented to employees, the employees have more opportunity to capitalize on the benefits and guidelines outlined within the policies.
From the very beginning, employers should promote company values. This promotion could involve providing formal and informal opportunities for new employees to learn about organizational values and expectations for employee behavior, conducting preliminary company training, and encouraging mentoring throughout employment (Christensen, et al., 2017). Managers should also be sure to provide clear expectations and provide employees with the tools they will need to accomplish each task.
As managers articulate the mission and vision at the beginning of the employment, and continue to promote the mission and vision, they should also have a passion for promoting value-based leadership – helping employees understand how their work relates to the overall mission of the organization. Once the foundation is built with the right employee, the employer has the unique and crucial role of creating a connection for their employee.
Much like helping employees to develop a connection with the company mission and vision, it is vital for employers to help employees develop a relationship with a team, with other employees and with their own work.
Recently, a recreation center in Utah has gone through a transition of leadership, which has had a critical impact on employee motivation. Alicia, a supervisor at the recreation center notes the importance of connecting with a team. “I think there is tremendous value in creating a team, where there really isn't one. The more I can connect my individual staff members, the more they feel connected to the Recreation Center and to a sense of pride for working here” (Christensen, 2017).
Alicia continues by explaining the importance of uniting as an organization. The recreation center where Alicia works has an employee association that hosts 2 parties a year. She explains,
We make parties out of opening new facilities or parks or other random speeches from the mayor, etc. When everybody is invited to that you feel like part of something bigger. Within the department we have a couple parties each year, full-time staff meetings/events and holiday parties. So, we have at least 1-4 events each month that get you out of the office doing something different while on the clock. We also have committees. I am on the wellness committee and the sustainability committee. We host events and programs for employees and try to stay abreast of the most current policies, etc. All of these opportunities connect me with others in the city outside of department (Christensen, 2017).
Employee organizations and outside-of-work get togethers can be a great way to provide employees with needed interactions both within and without their own departments. These types of interactions are pivotal in creating a well-knit and cohesive employee group that fosters open inter-departmental communication and an effective company culture.
Connect with Work
Research also suggests a strong tie between employee morale and meaningful projects. Multiple studies have shown that when an employee has a strong connection to the project that he or she is working on, or has an opportunity to ultimately see how the project impacts beneficiaries, morale is greatly increased.
Travis is the founder of startup school designed to empower teenagers by giving them entrepreneurial skills and boosting their motivation to start their own businesses. He noted, “Everyday is a new adventure and there is no telling what new things or new skills I will need to acquire in order to get the job done and that is also something that is very fulfilling and very exciting, while at the same time completely and utterly terrifying” (Lish, 2017).
Because he has the opportunity to work directly with the participants and see their growth and development after each session, Travis has an intense connection with his work.
Alicia serves as a supervisor to multiple employees and recognizes the importance of learning what type of communication works for others to help them feel connected to their work. “I know what works for me and I know what works for others. I think it is important to incorporate all of those aspects into motivating employees and ultimately engaging them and ensuring that they have positive feelings associated with the work that they do” (Christensen, 2017). Managers should identify beneficiaries of specific jobs, programs, and organizational missions and create opportunities for direct contact between employees and beneficiaries. In addition, employers should also be aware that autonomy is an important factor in the relationship between an employee and their work.
Many employers and employees alike have noted the often difficult to navigate area of the job --autonomy. It is important for employers to find the right balance between too much direction and not enough, but once the sweet spot is located, autonomy is a powerful influencer in job success. As a supervisor of 15 administrative service personnel, Aundrea has mountains of experience with developing communication with employees and establishing effective and autonomous boundaries. She says, “I think you boost morale when you give added responsibility, but it’s a balancing act, because giving too much responsibility without also increasing pay or job title can backfire” (Hill, 2017).
Alicia has also seen the impact that autonomy can have on employee relationships and morale and states,
I know that autonomy is a huge factor in job satisfaction, so I try to be assertive, but flexible with every single employee or volunteer. I also want each and every staff member to feel like they are making a contribution. I try to boost morale by talking to my staff and getting to know them and providing as much flexibility in their job as possible. If someone is not feeling challenged, then I have to come up with ways to make them feel challenged again (Christensen, 2017).
Travis has experienced effective autonomy first hand and reflected about his relationship with his employer,
The relationship that I have with my employer is fairly unique because he is very hands-off, but at the same time he is donating a lot of money to see a result. He gives me almost complete control over what I’m doing, which is very empowering and allows me to not be limited by somebody else’s expectations. I recognize that the only thing keeping the school from growing is, in a big way, myself. As you can imagine, this is very motivating and keeps me working hard each day (Lish, 2017).
Giving employees more freedom and responsibility can motivate them to work hard to complete their assignments, be innovative, and strive to promote the company vision, while building company culture and morale. Yet, as has been brought to light by professionals in the field, it is important to find a balance between too much and too little autonomy, and that’s where feedback fits in.
It is important for employers to develop open communication with their employees. As illustrated by Alicia’s experiences in the following statements, this open communication enables the employee to feel comfortable seeking feedback on projects and performance and to have moral boosted as needed.
As Alicia’s organization experienced a change in leadership, she reflected,
It is a critical role of middle management to offer that boost during tough times. My boss' role in my morale is HUGE. My previous boss made me feel like I was doing awesome things and I was motivated. When I don't have a sounding board or collaborative support, my morale goes down. My new boss is learning, but during the interim, I to talk to the director to get boosts. Both my previous boss and the director know how to tell me that I am doing well and to keep up the good work. They also foster a sense of creativity and innovation (Christensen, 2017).
Additionally, employees and supervisors alike have expressed the benefit of holding evaluations with the appropriate balance of critical feedback and positive encouragement. Alicia stated,
My morale has been boosted simply by yearly evaluations with positive responses and ways to improve. I have instigated bi-monthly meetings with my new boss so I could have him as a sounding board. I do like working for him, but he is incredibly efficient and rarely wants to make small talk and brainstorm together. It's typically very brief and doesn't often include words of praise or encouragement (Christensen, 2017).
Offering praise and encouragement for the things that employees are doing well is a critical part of the feedback processes. Aundrea noted, “I try to always focus on the positive and catch people doing things well, because a positive environment goes a long way” (Hill, 2017). Effective leaders who are looking to increase employee morale should be sure to offer more positive feedback than negative and seek to find the good in the work their employees are performing, while also being aware of areas that need improvement and addressing those areas accordingly. A tool that can help in the process of building positive performance is an effective incentive program.
One of the most powerful ways to build company culture while also boosting company morale is the to implement and incentive or recognition program. Many employees that have worked for organizations that implement such a program have experienced the positive outcomes first-hand. Alicia also commented on the importance of having a working incentive system. “I definitely try to have an incentive system to motivate people. I want it to serve its function, instead of promoting the wrong behaviors. Thus, I try to think of real indicators that instructors can look to show them that they are successful” (Christensen, 2017).
Once employees understand the behaviors that are being measured, they can increase their performance and when possible, discover innovative ways to contribute to company goals and objectives.
Supervisors have also noted the importance of remembering that employees are people and have lives and families outside of work. Michael agrees that sometimes the smallest things make the biggest difference in work culture and employee morale. He said, “Beyond the benefits that employees get such as vacation days and pay, some of the little niceties that you can add such as an office lunch or an extra half-day on a holiday can go a long way.” He adds that it is important to get to know your employees on a personal, yet professional level by doing things like taking them to lunch, making time to recognize them for their work, and remembering the little things such as Secretary’s Day (Brown, 2017).
Aundrea offered a similar response regarding her team of administrative personnel.
I also believe that adults aren’t much different from children. Just getting ‘atta girls’ isn’t enough, but it definitely helps. I’m a fan of gift cards, because I think it says, we know you have a life away from work, and we hope we’re contributing to that life in good and helpful ways. Also, people need to be recognized as individuals, not just as a number, so it’s good when a manager takes time to get to know each employee (Hill, 2017).
Many companies offer formal employee incentive programs that include gift cards, paycheck bonuses, and formal recognition. Research in this area suggests that employers and managers should create a program that works specifically in association with employee values and lifestyles if it is to be effective.
While there are many factors to consider when deciding the right path for boosting employee morale and forming a strong company culture, it is important for these values and programs to be formed around the founding values and mission of the company as well as to reflect the priorities of the employees. It really is a balancing act that will continue to require small changes throughout the history of the company and program, but as managers promote values, create connections, encourage autonomy, provide helpful feedback and engage employees in an effective incentive program, they will have the tools necessary to build a solid company culture with energized and committed employees who can balance more than just boiling water and TED talks – who can help build a company from the inside out.
Brown, M. (2017). Personal Interview. Conducted July 8, 2017.
Christensen, A. (2017). Personal Interview. Conducted July 10, 2017.
Hill, A. (2017). Personal Interview. Conducted July 11, 2017.
Lish, T. (2017). Personal Interview. Conducted July 10, 2017.
Christensen, R., Parlberg, L., Perry, J. (2017). Public Service Motivation Research: Lessons for Practice, Public Administration Review 2017.