“The Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves”

Two men try to reach across the divideA T-shirt bearing this phrase was given to me almost 25 years ago when I was President of Earle Palmer Brown/Philadelphia. It was given “lovingly” by a respected employee, Betty Forte. But in every joke, there is always a kernel of truth.

Let’s start with the basic truths:
1. Morale is important
2. Low morale yields less productive employees and high turnover
3. High morale yields more productive employees and a stable workforce.

We all know these truths to be self-evident, right? Moreover, a recent survey on morale also says it is so.

In business, we are now 5+ years past the point where business was at the edge of the cliff (Great Recession) when most employees, good or bad, kept their head down, worked hard, and were grateful for continued employment. But with a stronger economy and lower unemployment, there are increased job opportunities. That’s particularly true in the ad agency business and doubly true among those with strong digital skills, where the industry is moving.

So here are excerpts from the survey and the recap article titled, Survey: 70% of employees at low-morale ad companies are job hunting

First Annual Campaign US Morale Survey, says lack of leadership is driving down morale — and driving employees away.
The first annual Campaign US survey on morale in the advertising industry reveals that employees working for companies they classify as having low morale are 3.5 times more likely to be job-hunting than those who work at companies that they say have high morale.

Among respondents who rated their company’s morale as low or dangerously low, 70% said they were actively job seeking. That number plummeted to 20% for respondents who rated their company’s morale as good or excellent.
Overall, more than one-third of the survey’s 211 respondents — 37% — rated morale at their company as low or dangerously low, while only 29% said it was good or very good. Thirty-four percent said it was satisfactory. And there is evidence the mood is worsening: Fifty-eight percent said morale at their company is lower now than it was one year ago.

The single greatest factor driving down morale is management, said the respondents. Lack of advancement opportunities, salary and work-life balance were also highly cited.The factor most commonly contributing to good morale was work-life balance, followed closely by satisfaction with work. Salaries were a distant third.

Jay Haines, founding partner at GraceBlue, a global executive search firm for marketing and communications companies, noted that the findings reflected an emerging emphasis on culture and leadership among today’s creative workers.

“If you look at the reasons for morale being low, three of the four can be fixed by high-engagement leadership, personal care and vision for the organization,” said Haines, who was not involved in the survey. “The work-life balance question only becomes an issue when the leadership or purpose of the company is lacking,”

But the survey offered evidence that salary may be a greater factor than people admit. Respondents with a salary of $100,000 or more were least likely to rate morale at their company as low (32%). Those making between $50,000 and $100,000 were most likely (40%) to do so. In the middle were people making less than $50,000 a year or less (35%). There was virtually no correlation between morale and the number of years someone had been working in the industry.
Still, the sense of frustration with leadership — and the lack of patience among employees to bear with an unhappy situation — were made clear. Employers looking to retain good talent should prioritize culture and morale, Haines said.

High morale won’t help you retain every good employee. Turnover, to some degree, is a fact of life. However, despite the wisdom on the T-shirt, the continuance of beatings until morale improves may not be the best business strategy.

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