How Do YOU Measure Morale in The Workplace?

I was once asked by best-selling business author Jim Horan “How do you measure morale?” I rarely hear others bring the question up I bring it up frequently –

How do you measure morale in the workplace?

First – What is morale anyway?

From we have this – “emotional or mental condition with respect to cheerfulness, confidence, zeal, etc., especially in the face of opposition, hardship, etc.: the morale of the troops.”

Cheerfulness, confidence, zeal, ETC? Here’s the thing – most(?) of us know what morale is and most(?) of us know, subjectively, what the level of morale is in our workplace most of the time.

Second – Why is morale important? More importantly:

  • Why is good morale important?
  • How do you really know if morale is bad?
  • How can you tell if/when morale is improving or disintegrating?

Having good morale is important for productivity – no government subsidized study needed there. Look at your personal experience – when you feel like crap you don’t do the things you need to do the way you need to do them – productivity is down.  Having good morale is important to safety – when people care they tend to care about others as well.  When people don’t care – they really do not care about others first.

But how can you prove to the others, the ones that don’t get it that, morale is where it is? When I answered Jim Horan’s question about this I honestly stuttered. I said “Hell, Jim, everyone knows when it’s bad. People smile less!”  He replied “So you could stand at the entrance and count smiles and such as people walk by?” Yeah, I get it, pretty lame for a number of reasons.

But over the time since that question was posed I constantly ask others, and myself “How do you measure morale in the workplace?” Here are some indicators we use:

  • People take more time off with less notice.
  • Workplace theft, either of product or office supplies.
  • People show up late and leave early.  This one is especially true of that exceptional person that gets in early and stays late because they love what they do – now they will just show up and leave on time.
  • The number of near misses goes up (from the safety perspective).
  • Dress code limits are pushed.
  • If you are monitoring personal time off (PTO) watch that being used up more rapidly.
  • Behavior shifts in the workplace – you know from paying attention what a persons normal demeanor is and if the get meaner in their demeanor it’s a sure indication that something is going on.
  • There’s even one guy out there that says the way people park is an indicator of morale. He says if they park facing in it’s all good. If people back into their parking spot and face out they want to leave as soon as they can.

I want to point out most of us “get” what morale is and at what level morale runs.  It’s also my belief that a shift in morale is often the first indicator to some people that morale even exists – it brings attention to it.

So the import of asking and answering the question of how to measure morale is great for several reasons:

  1. Some people don’t get it – they cannot even subjectively get what morale is.  It’s not that they are dumb or that they are bad people – it’s just that their behavioral style is probably detail and fact centric – not people centric.
  2. Some people are out of the loop – as an example, executive management may not be aware of morale issues in a remote factory location.

Looking at [2] above – What are they measuring and what is that telling them?  Typically they are focused on numbers that indicate sales, expenses, bottom line, their bonuses.  When those numbers that indicate profitability is falling are getting larger – then what does management say? Costs are going up! Sales are down! It’s the economy! It’s productivity! People need more training, incentive, motivation, firing, etc.

But does anyone ever ask “What’s the morale like down there and why is it that way? And what’s morale like in our great locations and why is it that way?”  Shouldn’t those be a standard business questions?

My thinking is that in today’s world of fast information processing and sharing the answers are there for people to see – but they have to be looking for it. While I don’t think that you can place an absolute value on morale – but you can place a relative value on it.

Another question is “Is management even looking at morale?”

How do YOU measure morale?

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  • Luke


    What do you think about surveys that ask employees about their morale? Do you think that it sends the wrong message to the team? And how would you suggest improving morale?


    • Bart Gragg


      Thanks for stopping by and especially, thank you for the question.

      Morale is a case by case issue. Understanding the cause of lower morale in an organization is the key to looking for ways to improve it. Would a survey work? Maybe. My thoughts are that surveys, especially where morale is already low, are not really going to yield the answers you need. One of the major reasons morale is low in almost any situation is that people feel that they are not heard. And as much as we want to be efficient, in this case surveys are impersonal. Mother nature is the best way to go – face to face.

      Here’s why:
      Interpersonal communications is 75 to 85% body language. The rest are split between tone of voice, and the words we use are the least of the equation. Now, roll that into a survey, paper or electronic. The ONLY thing you get from feedback are the words. And while you may learn a lot, how much of it is the truth, and how much of it is their ability or inability to communicate in a written form?

      Then look at check boxes. Which are either Yes or No or Rate this on a scale. The thing about scales is this: The ends of the scales are always dictated by the individuals personal life experience. If a previous boss was the perfect boss then 10 is perfection… You see where this is headed.

      In having direct communication with the employees you get to understand their perspectives about you or the org. You begin to build trust. Safety is not just about physical well being or sexual harassment – it’s about trusting someone else enough to begin to open up.

      Finding the issue with low morale takes time, effort, and self control because they are going to test you. One key thing here – the employees have to be given reason to believe that working with you, the morale fixer, is actually going to yield results. They want to know that the top of the management chain really does intend to fix things. Fixing things may be as simple as changing the employees’ perceptions, which may not be easy. As Charles Duhigg says people want to believe in a higher power. And that higher power is upper management.

      I hope this answered your questions. If you want more information, feel free to contact me. I would be more than happy to talk with you about this. Bart

    • Bart Gragg


      I have one other thought for you. If you see the idea of changing morale as a mountain, that’s okay. What is critical is that you start up the mountain. You don’t have to charge straight up it to the top; instead, try walking around it and moving up each time you make a circuit. That way you see the whole picture and as you go up the focus gets narrower and clearer.

      A good place to start is simply by engaging in normal, everyday conversations with your people. Help them feel that it is safe to talk with you about anything, sports, their families, work, whatever. Never get defensive, always respect what they have to say even if their perspective isn’t the whole picture. When they begin to feel safe having normal conversations, they will begin to hint at the issues. Let them. Give them time. Don’t force anything. Now, that said, there may come a time when someone unloads on you. The first thing they say may or may not be the truth. It is an opportunity for you to say “I want to know more about that. Tell me more. I don’t know if I can help you, but I can promise to just listen.”

      And do just listen without judgement. Then ask for clarification. Make sure when you do that the questions you ask don’t put them on the defensive. There will be facts. There will be emotions. Some of each are valid. Both are part of life.

      Let me know if there is anything else I can help with, and let me know how your experience goes.

  • Hans E. Shelton

    Morale is a way of describing how people feel about their jobs, employers and companies, and those feelings are tied to the behaviors and attitudes that employees exhibit in the workplace. When employees have good morale, they feel committed to their employers, loyal to their jobs and motivated to be productive. They work harder, produce more, meet deadlines and give it their all.

  • Morale is what makes you strong and positively guides the journey of your dreams. Initially, a fresher in any profession is self motivated. The charm and the concept of ‘apples in the eye’ is there. But with time, cruel reality and struggle in life, it becomes difficult to continue the high spirit. It is where the concept of ‘Morale’ breeds in! Morale keeps you going…with pace, with spirit and with competition.
    The importance is immense 🙂
    Thanks for sharing wisdom, it is such a thought provoking article, very beautifully written.