Question of the Day: Any Good Stories About Workplace Morale?

We’re working on a new podcast episode about morale in the workplace, and need your help. The episode was inspired a recent blog post in which a reader posited an interesting theory: morale is higher at companies where a lot of employees park nose-in (indicating they’re eager to get to work) rather than nose-out (indicating they can’t wait to get home).

My request here is two-fold:

  • We’ve started poking into the academic literature on company morale but haven’t gotten very far, so please let us know any good leads.
  • We’re also interested in hearing stories about morale at your workplace, be it high or low, and especially any clever/strange indicators of morale and unusual methods that have been used to measure morale.

Thanks in advance!

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  1. Gregory says:

    At my brother’s apartment building the tenants who park nose-out have expired licence plates. I wonder if there’s a correlation between workplace morale and expired auto registration.

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    • mike hunter says:

      I wouldn’t be suprised. People with low pay are more likely to have expired auto registration and low morale.

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  2. Matt says:

    I work at a very small market research firm. There has always been a good, general camaraderie with most of the men in the office but it truly came together when our boss brought in a foosball table.

    Some of the employees had worked at startup tech firms where the playing of arcade games or other distractors from time to time to alleviate stress. They immediately flocked to the foosball table to play quick games at lunch that very day. Over time, more of the employees started participating and now there are a few games each day.

    Our boss took notice and saw our productivity and general morale go up so he went out and purchased us a brand new table!

    Scores aren’t tracked day-to-day or over time but it gets employees talking to each other more and getting to know each other differently. Whenever there is a stressful, high intensity workday it is usually capped by a foosball game just before quitting time.

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    • Greg says:

      Linguistic curiosity inspires this tangent: is your firm all male? (“with most of the men in the office”)

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    • lee d. says:

      I work at a fairly large office and the smaller offices adopted this same policy. it eventually grew to the larger offices. there were some people that truly felt like this was “playing games” on company time and had the nerve to say as much. and then spread rude opinions about those who participated in such activities.

      the vast majority of people were fine with the practice, but this undercurrent of disapproval
      was quite destructive to workplace relationships/morale. I was personally offended when we recieved a veiled mass email that talked in code about things like “focusing on work” and “minimizing distractions”.
      i spoke to my direct supervisor about this stuff because i thought it was out of line and nothing formal ever happened to address the morale issues that this created… it was just left to wither on the vine and die.

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  3. Ben says:

    I’d love to comment here, but I’m too paranoid of repercussions.

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  4. Doug says:

    Slate ran an article about how parking nose-in vs nose-out lightly inferred gender differences and white-collar vs blue-collar differences. So does that muddle the statistics about morale?

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  5. Enter your name... says:

    How do you even define workplace morale, much less measure it?

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  6. BL1Y says:

    Look at compensation in Big Law, not that anyone really cares if Big Law junior associates are underpaid.

    Historically, the model has been 1/3 of the money you bring in goes to your pay, 1/3 to overhead, and 1/3 to partner profits (or at least that’s the story we heard growing up). Nowadays, for a junior associate, you get about 27% of that. It’s a huge difference, more than $30,000.

    Bonuses are making the game much worse. Firms are still giving recession-level bonuses, despite being more profitable than they were before the recession. In most jobs, when you work overtime you get a 50% increase to your pay rate (time and a half); a first year Big Law associate takes a 39% penalty.

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    • Greg says:

      Interesting that you don’t include the word “morale” anywhere in your response … somewhat telling of the synonymity of morale and pay in your eyes.

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      • lee d. says:

        just because the word is not used does not mean its not inferred… if you don’t do a good job in the legal industry I’ll be u get shown the door fast! I assume this b/c of the nature of the competition, but I really couldn’t say for sure.

        Assuming I’m right (easy for me) therefore the successful must produce and the compensation is low and anybody with a law degree would know they are getting the short end of the stick causing morale to drop.

        But aside from that… many law students nowadays go into SERIOUS debt… and compensation is HUGELY important to them… so I can imagine they very much link their value to money. And when they have to take jobs that barely pay off loans… and drive around in a 12 y.o. car sure morale takes a hit.

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      • Enter your name... says:

        I agree that the assumption that income drives morale is telling.

        Lee, the same things are true about people who go into public service professions, and we don’t say the same things about them. For example, beginning schoolteachers have low pay, drive old cars, and similar ratios of school debt to annual salary—but we don’t say that having to pay off student loans while driving an old car ruins their morale.

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      • lee d. says:

        you’re picking on one statement that of course is not the point… the point is there is an expectation to be highly compensated in the practice of law… now when you HAVE to be highly compensated to afford loans and your firm is paying much lower than historical standards then it affects your morale…

        Of course everyone chooses career for a multitude of reasons

        Teachers are typically not highly compensated, but they are — even when not unionized… are typically within a scale. And they usually have summers off and other historical expectations of the way their job works.

        The example of teacher morale would be more apt if you measured what their expectations of their respective jobs: I.e. if their summer vacation timeline changed (i.e. year round schools) or if they are mandated to provide uncompensated extracurricular activities on weekends or things like that… IMO these would be the “deal breakers” to them as opposed to what the lawyer would expect.. they expect long grueling hours which interfere with their lives — but expect it to payoff fiscally.

        I think alot of this goes back to expectations which are societal and heavily perpetuated in schools secondary and university levels. And is also my hypothesis of why occupy wall street occurred… they felt that they did their part and got shortchanged… that will always be a major reason for a drop in morale

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  7. Sarah says:

    I work for a local government agency. As morale started to decline here the first thing to go was the dress code. At this point although our dress code is supposed to be no less than business casual people wear things I wouldn’t wash my car in.

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    • SJ says:

      This would be great to follow up. I just switched careers from government (social work) to private (IT) and the dress code change is remarkable. Both companies have a “business casual” dress code. Government (with low morale) employees sought to get as close to not acceptable dress as possible, even arguing that foam flip flops with “decoration” (meaning anything near bedazzled) constituted as acceptable flip flops. Private (with high morale) employees dress near regular business wear (khakis, button up shirts, skirts, slacks). Seldom do I see flip flops (which are allowed for all employees), tshirts, sweatshirts or other casual clothing.

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  8. pete says:

    At the last company I worked at it seemed that the amount of people actively updating their profiles or jumping on linkedin for the first time seemed to increase as morale was starting to dip.

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