Does workplace morale affect productivity?

by Catherine Fenwick ã 2000

I've always thought that you can feel the morale in a place, you just have to walk in the door and observe people doing their work and interacting with each other to get a sense of how satisfied people are at work. In most of my writing and speaking, I focus on the psycho-social needs of workers, but the question came up as to whether we could measure morale. I recently checked the current research and literature and updated my notes on workplace morale, here's what I found.

The best employers design workplace health programs that focus on organizational issues as well as psycho-social practices of workers. Overall health is the responsibility of the individual worker and the organization. There are many dimensions of wellness which include the individual, organizational, social and cultural factors as well as their interactions. Some of these dimensions are physical, environmental, emotional, social, cultural, mental and spiritual. It is the responsibility of the organization to provide a safe, comfortable work environment. The individual is responsible to care for their personal health and well-being. Enlightened organizations provide an ergonomically sound physical environmental, functional organizational structure and excellent training programs. Our personal health depends on whether or not we take responsibility for our physical, mental and emotional well-being, and whether we choose to participate in our company's wellness programs.

Emotional health depends on our ability to handle stress. Psychologists say that an emotionally healthy person is one who can love, work and enjoy life. A healthy social environment includes honoring diversity, having good interpersonal skills, and a positive family and community life. A healthy mental state encourages continuous learning. A spirited workplace is one in which people feel they belong and that their work has meaning for them and provides a service to others. A spiritually healthy person knows there is a place for them in this life and that their life has meaning and purpose. A healthy organization has its act together and encourages healthy inner and outer practices.

This is a two-sided effort, for best results we need healthy motivated workers in a healthy organizational environment. As you can see, statistical measurement of these issues is very complex. From what I've seen, the best workplaces provide a safe physical space, clear job descriptions with appropriate training, flexibility to allow workers to handle personal and family needs, a positive encouraging atmosphere, respect, recognition, appreciation and sufficient salary to meet the financial needs of employer and worker. This doesn't seem like too much to ask, considering the growing evidence that a healthy workplace is a more productive workplace. Research shows that workers who know what they are supposed to do, have the skills to do it, have a sense of control over how their work gets done, and feel valued and appreciated, are healthier and more productive. They get sick less often, are less prone to accidents, are better able to manage stress and work more effectively.

I found several studies that used measures of job satisfaction, stress levels, injury compensation and absenteeism. A Saskatchewan Health publication, Investing in Workplace Health Promotion: Health and Cost Benefits, documents many such studies, one in particular captured my attention. The founder and president of Husky Injection Molding Systems, with 1800 workers, in Bolton, Ontario, believes in the value of a healthy work environment. The head office is smoke free, has four on-site cafeterias that offer healthy food choices, a fitness centre, child care facility and an excellent library. It offers access to a number of health care professionals including a physiotherapist, massage therapist, naturopath, chiropractor, occupational health nurse and medical doctor. This environment positively influences workplace morale and sounds like a place where I'd like to work, primarily because it seems so ethically sound! Getting back to the statistics, financial benefits are great for the company. They report a saving of $5.3 million per year on workplace injury costs plus a low-injury rebate on their insurance premium of approximately $800,000 per year, and $1.8 million per year on lower absenteeism rates as compared to the industry average. A healthy workplace is seen as a way of life for the workers at Husky Injection Molding Systems. It sends a strong message, I'm surprised that there are still organizations who pay very little attention to wellness issues.

"How do we measure morale and productivity?" There is no simple answer. The following publications and websites give lots of useful information and questionnaires to help:

I believe that morale and productivity can and should be measured. Morale is also something we can feel. Walk into any workplace and spend some time watching people interacting with their work and with each other. At a seminar I led last May, Rebuilding Workforce Morale in the Face of Change and Transition, I asked participants to discuss the question, "What do I like best about my work?" The enlightened CEO of this large organization, which had an excellent physical environment, announced to all of the attending senior managers that the best part of his job was walking around watching people doing work they love. Morale was good in this place because the organization paid attention to healthy workplace issues, hired people who love their work and encouraged them in a caring environment. It sounds like common sense, but I think that common sense is really not that common.

Cathy Fenwick is an author, educator and workplace consultant. She develops and delivers workshops and keynotes on how to get more healthy humour into your life and your work. Her books and manuals include Healing With Humour, Telling My Sister's Story, Workscapes: Keeping spirit alive at work , Building Bridges: The heart of effective communication and Hope for people facing cancer.

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