Staff Morale - 4 March 2008
Dr Viktor Frankl was a holocaust survivor. During his time in the Auschwitz concentration camp, Dr Frankl discovered that his fellow prisoners responded to their imprisonment in different ways. Some became despondent, others became suicidal, some chose to act selfishly, and a few took the pain they endured out on their fellow prisoners.
But there were some who chose to maintain their morale despite the horrific circumstances they faced. The prisoners most likely to survive were those who were oriented toward the future - those who had meaning.
Dr Frankl learned that having high levels of optimism has little to do with the kind of work you're doing but everything to do with the meaning associated with it. And so it is in the workplace. I've known teams undertaking the most exciting tasks and yet morale has been appalling, whereas others are mired in mundane duties and yet morale is extraordinary.
Meaning manifests itself in three ways:
By creating a work or doing a deed: This refers to achievement. In Dr Frankl's case, he secretly recorded his observations of life in a concentration camp on pieces of scrap paper. He was making progress. Look at your team and see if they're making progress. If they're not getting better, learning more, or making a difference, morale will suffer.
By experiencing something or encountering someone: Just like there were good prisoners and bad prisoners, there were also nice guards and evil guards. The nice guards gave the prisoners hope. What it comes down to is goodness and truth. Go out of your way to create a work environment that is genuinely caring, open, and transparent.
The attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering: Dr Frankl realised that his captors could strip him of everything - his family, his possessions, his life's work - but the one thing they could never take away was his attitude. Don't underestimate the influence you have on your employees. If you're in a bad mood, under pressure, or over it, it all cascades.
All teams go through rough patches where morale takes a hit. The teams that recover are those that can see meaning behind the hardship and hope on the horizon.
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