How to Measure Employee Morale

Posted on April 17, 2012 by Leave a Comment

What’s morale? That’s a tough question. It’s an emotional reaction, and not a visible thing. It’s intangible. This can make morale very difficult to measure. How do you measure something that you can’t see?

Morale in-and-of-itself is hard to describe; fortunately, it’s a bit easier to track positive and negative morale.

People know when they’re feeling positive. Positive morale is a fuzzy energy that makes you feel capable of doing more. By contrast, when morale is low, there’s a sense of apathy; a sense of withdrawal.

You know yourself can probably tell whether your morale is up or down. It may even shift from day to day. But how can you find out about other people?

The simple way to find out is to ask the question! A direct “how’s your morale today?” might not work, but more indirect questions can be helpful. Think first about the ways that positive and negative morale are expressed, and ask questions about that.

Frequent health and safety issues: generally bad for morale. Flickr/Makuahine Pa’i Ki’i

  • Are you happy working here?
  • Do you feel valued by the company?

These are your typical questions that form part of the assessment of morale levels in an organization.

When we talk about positive and negative morale, we pick up on these types of senitments. But to get a true measure, you need to conduct a comprehensive employee survey. There’s more to employee surveys than just morale assessments, and there’s more to morale than employee surveys, but the two do go well together.

In 2009, organizational psychologists David Bowles and Cary Cooper published a book called Employee Morale: Driving Performance in Challenging Times. It mainly focuses on the benefits of improving morale, but has some great definition pieces on how to recognize morale, and how to change it. If you’re thinking about the types of questions you need to ask employees, this is a great resource.

The key areas you’ll want to consider when it comes to morale are job satisfaction, engagement, appreciation, and consideration from management.

This piece started by discussing morale in definite opposites—a dichotomy. Is it positive or negative? In reality, like most measurements, morale has a variety of levels. This is helpful. If morale is already good, you can measure whether it’s getting better or worse, before things are catastrophic. Simple yes and no answers aren’t useful if you can’t foster changes or improvments in your employees and work environment.

The simplest measures use numerical scales. Don’t ask “are you happy in your job?” but rather, “how happy are you in your job?.” Provide a scale of 1–10 or 1%-100%, and ask the employee for the value and a short explanation.

Alternatively, have them answer with by how much they agree with a statement. For example:

Please respond "strongly disagree," "disagree," "neither disagree nor agree," "agree," or "strongly agree," to the following statement: "I am happy in my current job."

With a series of related questions on engagement, values, involvement, and other related concepts, you can get a simple set of measures for morale. Repeat the same survey with different departments, or at different points in time, to track changes and determine variables.

This type of survey need not be restricted to morale. They can work great for leadership qualities, organizational communications, or just about any other intangible area that’s vital to the HR portfolio.

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