There’s often confusion between management terms associated with how staff feel and how staff behave. Feelings and behaviour are linked – but they’re not the same.
And morale is possibly the least well understood. Staff know it when they feel it. But managers find it more difficult to sense.
Here’s a model that aids understanding and shows morale constrains employee behaviour.
Manager – Employee Relationship
The relationship an employee has with their manager is complex. Behaviour comes from motivation, modified by feelings. Motivation comes from the job done and can be reduced by management action. Clarity in definitions is needed before managers can take action to use feelings and motivation to improve outcomes.
The link between the job an employee does and their motivation, between motivation and behaviour and between behaviour and performance is well established. For further explanation of the various relationships and models see our page on Motivation and Performance. Performance is the outcome that managers want in employees. After all, it’s why staff are hired in the first place. They’re paid to do a job and contribute to the overall capability. Performance the outcome that performance appraisal attempts to assess.
Ultimately, there are four motivators – the job that an employee does, their own internal motives, external motives that they choose to recognise and the leadership that they accept. But the primary variable here is the job that the employee does. The job done can be designed to be highly motivating.
Motivation is the result of in-person cognitive processes that gets the employee going, determines what they choose to work on, sets the effort level for that activity, determines if they continue to work in that way or stop. For more on motivation, see our blog on Revolutionising Motivation Training.
Morale can be thought of as a set of beliefs, attitudes and feelings held collectively by the staff body that, for any one employee, moderates the link between their motivation and behaviour. Morale has the ability to act positively or negatively to strengthen or degrade the motivation-behaviour relationship in the person. It determines whether the person’s motivation is allowed to translate into behaviour.
Morale is bound up in ideas of relationships, management support, resources available, justice and equity. If, for example, an employee feels that he or she is being treated fairly, the motivation-behaviour relationship will be enabled. If the employee feels that they are being treated unfairly, the relationship will be degraded.
Morale does not determine the motivation-behaviour relationship – it moderates it. If there is low motivation, there will be low behaviour (and hence low performance) – regardless of how good the morale is. But if there is high motivation but low behaviour, it may be that low morale is getting in the way and reducing the effect.
And of course, we need to add in here the economists’ phrase – all other things being equal – because, in the real world, there can be other variables at play like the tools available and the politics of the organisation.
The diagram below shows the variables and their relationship.
Morale Constrains Employee Behaviour
Using an electronics analogy, morale is the voltage at the gate that controls the electrons that can flow between source and drain. A high voltage (high morale) maximises the electron flow. But in the end, a high number of electrons (high current) can only flow if the circuit allows it.
As a result of this moderation between motivation and behaviour, an employee can love the job they do but perform badly. It’s for the manager to intervene to correct this situation.
In a perfect world, staff must be motivated and experience high morale for ideal behaviour and maximum performance.
If you’re experiencing low morale in your firm – or if you feel your morale is high but your staff still don’t perform, call us now. We can help put interventions in place to achieve that ideal world.