How Entrepreneurs Can Boost Morale

How to energize your teamand why it matters
Gary Taxali

John Eldred, co-founder of The Wharton School Family Business Program, doesn't think you should worry about employee morale. He doesn't even like the word. "It's arrogant to think that you can influence someone else's morale," he says. That sort of mindset reflects misguided paternalism by employers, he says, and outdated dependence on the part of employees.

Instead, Eldred says, employers should be thinking about spirit, engagement, and energy. It's appropriate and necessary for a company to want its employees to be inspired, engaged, and energized by their work, he says. And it's reasonable for employees to expect their work, their bosses, and their colleagues to help them reach that goal. "The question I like to ask," says Eldred, "is: 'How can you have a high-energy environment, so that when employees are down they can pull themselves up, instead of waiting for their employer to do it?"

There are good business reasons to help your staffers along this road. Employees who are enthusiastic and know their contributions are valued are more likely to be self-motivated and to propose innovative ideas. Staffers who enjoy the company of their colleagues and bosses, and who know that everyone is working toward common goals, are more likely to collaborate. And they're more likely to step back and get some perspective on business challenges if their manager does the same.

A high-energy workplace can mean better financial results, too. David Sirota, co-author of The Enthusiastic Employee: How Companies Profit by Giving Workers What They Want, studied morale (there's that word again) at 28 public companies. Share prices at the 14 companies with high morale jumped 16% in 2004, the last year of his study, vs. only 3% for the 6 where it was low. "People are social animals," Sirota says. "They need social interaction for emotional well-being. On top of that, most work is best done collaboratively. So the human and organizational needs here are congruent."

Sirota and Eldred agree that entrepreneurs have a head start in this area. Small companies are usually less rigid and hierarchical than big ones. Plus, "Good small business owners spend more time getting to know their employees, so there's a sense of community and even of family," says Eldred. "People feel like, 'We're all in this together.'"

You don't need to spend a lot to energize your employees. "I spoke at a company conference once where there were big events every night," says Eldred. "They spent thousands on a country and western night, and when I walked by there was no one there. All people really wanted to do was have a pizza together and bull---- a little."

So how do you get them all together for pizza, at least metaphorically? Below are six companies that found creative ways to support employees and enhance their energy and company spirit. Each relies heavily on employee input and provides fresh perspective, either by taking employees away from their day-to-day work, encouraging them to see their colleagues in a different light, or providing a better understanding of the company.

Remember, energy—positive or negative—feeds on itself. If there's no sense that self-motivation and performance will be rewarded, if the boss lacks awareness about company culture or doesn't foster a collaborative environment, then none of these initiatives will help. But if you're ready to make the most of what high-energy employees can offer, read on.

Back to BWSmallBiz August/September 2008 Table of Contents

Business Exchange related topics:EntrepreneurshipWork-Life BalanceWorkplace ProductivityEmployee Engagement

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