Ben Hardy.

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10 May 2011

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Morale in a workforce can impact productivity by between 10 to 20 per cent High or low morale in a workforce can …

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Dr Ben HardyMorale in a workforce can impact productivity by between 10 to 20 per cent

High or low morale in a workforce can influence productivity by between 10 to 20 per cent, and fresh research shows that although low morale can reduce productivity, personal professionalism may keep performance levels up.

Dr Ben Hardy, Research Associate in Neuroscience, Endocrinology & Finance at Cambridge Judge Business School, has completed a four-year study into morale, a ‘commonly used’ term in both business and society but a concept that is both poorly defined and understood.

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In his thesis, Dr Hardy says that morale appears to be an emotional or effective mental state linked to enthusiasm, hope, motivation and drive, but it is difficult to define precisely.

“Positive morale, high morale, seems to be a positive emotion connected to enthusiasm, a will to be active and energetic in the pursuit of objectives and goals. In contrast, low morale is quite a negative experience and people feel lethargic, depressed, don’t want to do anything and have no reason to look into the future.”

His research took him into scores of companies where he discovered among different workforces a continuous theme – ‘a lack of praise and people saying well done’ – they were just expected to do their jobs.

One engineer maintained that he didn’t have to thank his staff. As far as he was concerned their pay cheque at the end of the month was ‘well done’. The same engineer went on to complain that no one said ‘well done’ to him and so consequently he was not prepared to do that for any of the people he managed.

“I think the difficulty is with the way in which you say ‘well done’. A mechanical, reflexive remark doesn’t achieve or mean anything. It has to be meaningful and relevant to what the person has achieved and show an acknowledgement of this achievement and which also recognises them as a person,” says Dr Hardy.

In another plant he discussed high and low morale with an electrical engineer to be told: “When I have low morale I do stuff in series. When I have high morale, I do it in parallel!”

He feels there would be a greater appreciation of the importance of morale levels over a two- to three-year study of performance measured either through appraisals or productivity depending on the nature of the organisations taking part.

“I think people will sit up and take notice if you can put a hard financial number on it. My suspicion is that morale probably makes a difference of between 10 to 20 per cent to productivity, regardless of how you measure it, though it is dependent on the workforce.”