By Rebecca R. Hastings, SPHR
High morale may not correlate with retention, recent studies suggest.
Consider these seemingly contradictory results: Eighty-one percent of 443 U.S. based employees described morale at their organization as “very good” or “good” in a November 2012 Accountemps survey. In a Right Management survey of 760 employees in the U.S. and Canada, however, 86 percent of respondents said they “intend to actively seek a new position.”
The Right Management results are similar to findings released in 2011 and 2010. In 2009, by comparison, 60 percent of employees said they intended to seek a new position in the new year.
“The survey findings are a sign of considerable job dissatisfaction,” said Owen J. Sullivan, Right Management CEO and president of ManpowerGroup Specialty Brands, in a news statement. The threat of downsizing and the need to do more with less has increased employee stress levels, he noted.
“The levels of discontent we’re now finding have to be without precedent,” he said. “What we’re finding is what behavioral psychologists call ‘flight cognition’—a wish to depart a situation, not necessarily an indicator of actual employee turnover.”
“Nevertheless, when more than four out of five workers seem so unhappy it ought to concern top management,” Sullivan concluded.
Communication Is Key
Accountemps offered four ways managers can gauge employee attitudes:
- Talk to employees. Check in with employees on a regular basis to ask about work challenges and employee attitudes about work.
- Observe behavior and performance changes. When employees who were once highly engaged don’t speak up in meetings or participate in group activities, it could be a sign they no longer feel connected to the company’s mission or to their colleagues.
- Survey employees. Ask employees regularly if they have the necessary tools and management support to succeed in their jobs, as well as how the company can improve the work environment. Be sure to act on the feedback received.
- Conduct exit interviews. Provide departing employees with the opportunity to suggest ways to improve morale and the work environment.
“High morale makes good business and economic sense,” said Joe Laipple, senior vice president for Aubrey Daniels International, in an e-mail to SHRM Online. “Help employees connect what they do on a daily basis with business results. Ask employees to tell you their story of what they did and what impact it had. Encourage them to tell you the details. See how much excitement and passion for the work is there if we are there to encourage it.”
Keep the dialogue informal, experts say.
Brian Massie, a communications consultant with American Timing Group LLC, suggests employers eliminate buzzwords when communicating with employees. “The key here is not to dumb down the message, but to talk straight,” he wrote SHRM Online in an e-mail.
Laipple recommends touching base with employees on a daily and weekly basis. “Approach people when things are working and running rather than when there is a fire, crisis or problem,” he said. “Ask questions to encourage employees to talk and then listen—not just about the work, but about what is important to them.”
Rebecca R. Hastings, SPHR, is an online editor/manager for SHRM.
SHRM: Job Security Is No Longer Top Driver of Satisfaction, SHRM Online Employee Relations, October 2012
Leader Communication Could Be Better, SHRM Online Employee Relations, August 2012
Money: It’s Not All Employees Want, SHRM Online Employee Relations, August 2012
Employee Engagement: How to Get It and Keep It, SHRM Online Employee Relations, June 2012
SHRM Employee Communications Resource Page
SHRM Online Employee Relations page