Morale – Small Steps to Success

In any workplace, morale can do with a boost and my workplace is no different.   I teach in a college in the UAE, actually two colleges that are side by side, one for men and one for women.

I have always wanted to work in an environment where morale is high, one where respect is shown to colleagues and students alike, but I’ve learned that that environment has to be created – and I, like everyone else am responsible for its creation.  I am not always good at this; I think my way is the right way.  It has taken me a lot of time, training and reflection to learn to ask others what they want, to find out what is important to them and to try to figure out how to help them  get what they want, rather than discount it because it is different from what I want.   I am not there yet, I am waking up, I am more aware and as a child of the ‘60’s, I see that as the first step.

How does one begin to boost morale?  I’ll don de Bono’s yellow hat, as I am prone to do, and begin to think of what we do well.   What can we focus on that is positive, that draws us together?  How can we build a civil society in our little corner of the world?

My first vision is a bulletin board with accomplishments, photos, websites we have found helpful with a header that proclaims some euphemistically positive quote – be the change you want to see in the world (Gandhi).  That one has been popular for a while – or something equally inspiring.

I think of this, because I believe that sometimes, a silent assertion is the place to start.  A space where people can share the good things that are happening or what is working for them in their work.   This enables us to make a strong statement without engaging in a discussion of what’s wrong.  It focuses our attention away from any problems as those of us who are Appreciative Inquiry practitioners are wont to do.

The next step is talking to colleagues, asking what is working – where are the successes?

Gene Klann in From Building Your Team’s Morale, Pride and Spirit (2007) says that ‘… social needs generally have two components:  the desire to be validated by others and the desire to be part of something that is greater than oneself.’ 

One way to validate people is to help them achieve their goals.  I wonder if I choose one or two colleagues to work with.  These might not be people I have worked with before, but they might be people I admire or am curious about.  If I work with them to help them achieve what they want, encourage them to pursue their ideas and use my strengths to assist them, perhaps this will make a difference.   This may seem like a small step, but I think it is a step in the right direction.  It will give me a focus and give them a greater chance of success.   While we are working toward success,  I know that the complaints will drop away.  We will be engaged and busy – two attributes of happy people.

James Autry, in his book, The servant leader: how to build a creative team, develop great morale, and improve bottom-line performance (2001) talks about the importance of working in a comfortable environment.   We work in cubicles and I’m amazed at how my colleagues have decorated them.  They have photos of children, pets, vacations, art prints, printouts of PowerPoint slides with information they have found enlightening, schedules are displayed so colleagues know where and when one can be reached.  Candies and fruit are set out on filing cabinets for everyone to indulge.

In their book, The great workplace: how to build it, how to keep it, and why it matters, (2011), Michael Burchell and Jennifer Robin discuss the importance of pride in one’s work.   On days when we can’t see the forest for the trees, it is helpful to seek out graduates in the community to see how well they are doing, how they are contributing and making a difference and to remember the role we played in their development.     Our work matters to the world, something Burchell and Robin say instills pride in employees.

Another way to increase morale is to recognize the uniqueness of every employee.  Our college has faculty from around the world, many of whom have worked in several countries.  They bring a wealth of experience to their jobs and a myriad of stories about places they have worked or travelled.  Anywhere I want to travel, I have a ready source of information.  From Johannesburg, to St Petersburg, from Oslo to Singapore, from Madrid to Buenos Aires, my colleagues can share the highlights.   On board we have mountain climbers, world class runners, artists, videographers, researchers, drama coaches, upholsterers, and yogis– you name it, we have an expert.

Because we are a small college, we are a tight community; we see one another on the weekends, run into each other at the grocery store, in the local Starbucks or Nero’s, while exercising or at the camel races.  We have moved beyond the one dimensional role of colleagues to friends and confidants.

I think each of us is responsible for morale.  Although each of us is a small cog in the wheel, if we use our time to make a difference, this will inspire others and morale will improve.  Please let me know what you think…

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