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Is it My Fault That Company Morale is Terrible?

I have been extremely fortunate during my life to have had a wide range of jobs, from delivering newspapers to helping the poorest of the poor in Kenya to leading a $130 million public company. One of the greatest opportunities and challenges is being an executive director/CEO/president of an organization.

With all the personal and financial rewards come the good and the bad. During the good times, you get all the credit and life is wonderful. I once remember holding my board of directors’ meeting at Fenway Park watching a Boston Red Sox baseball game. Revenue was exceeding the plan and expenses were lower than projected. Everyone was happy. The only controversy of the day was why did the concessionaire serve hot dogs on a slice of bread instead of a bun.

During the bad times, you also get the blame. It doesn’t matter what is happening in the economy, the region, the industry or the street. If the organization isn’t firing on all cylinders it will fall on your shoulders as the CEO. Morale is no exception. So, I will make the blunt and brutally honest statement that if your morale is bad, and you are the executive director (or CEO/president), yes, it is your fault.

In fairness, it might not actually be your fault, but it is for sure your problem to solve. How you take responsibility for morale or solve a poor morale problem will determine if you keep your job and what kind of leader you are. Consider each of the following questions and answer them honestly to yourself.

  1. Do you truly care about the morale of your organization?

Once I heard a CEO say, “It is called work for a reason. My job is to pay the employees, and the employee’s job is to do the work I am paying them for. If they don’t like it, let them quit and find that it isn’t better on the other side of the fence.”

In all honestly, if you are Google, Disney, Amazon or the only business in town, you can take that approach. Who wouldn’t want to work for those organizations regardless of the morale. But that approach will eventually come back to bite you, as soon as someone new comes into town and offers more than just a paycheck.

Unfortunately if you truly don’t care about your employees, and believe merely paying them is your only responsibility, all the consulting and advice in the world won’t change you. My advice is either get out of management, or buy your own organization so you can be the king or queen you think you are. By the way, if you own your own business or run a family business, hiring someone to run the business for you that really does care about the employees will do more for your organization than you can imagine.

  1. Would it make you uncomfortable or defensive if I walked up to three random employees in your organization and asked, “How is the morale here?” or “Is morale getting better or worse?”

My assumption here is that you are a leader who truly cares what your employees think. If the thought of having an outside person speak confidentially about morale to your employees causes you concern, pause or heartburn, you need to fix that. And don’t say, “We go one step better, we do employee surveys,” because that isn’t the same. Employees don’t trust that survey results are confidential or that the real root of the problem won’t see what they say.

A great leader will always want to hear what they can do to improve morale and how they can be a better leader. Don’t be the CEO who buries his or her head in the sand and assumes all is well and there is no need to ask the questions.

  1. When you ask an employee directly, “How is morale here?” or “Am I the problem?” (or some variation of this), do you get a response like, “Everything is great, wonderful and you should be put up for sainthood.”

If so, you not only have a morale problem, but everyone is afraid to tell you. It is my experience that things can always be improved and if an employee trusts you (or isn’t afraid of you), they will always have a long list of ideas and suggestions.

Employees don’t quit over compensation or titles, they quit when the morale is terrible or the working environment is toxic. Look at my three questions and be honest with yourself. Are you the problem in your organization, and more importantly, are you willing to do something about it? Never forget that leadership and managing an organization is a privilege. FBN


By T Paul Thomas

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