The Company Morale Pie Chart

(originally published in Screen Magazine 5/16/12)

Company owners – let me ask you what may seem like odd questions. Would you bring in pie every Friday afternoon if you knew it made your employees happy? Would you buy employee’s T-Shirts emblazoned with dumb sayings like “Friday is Pie-day”, if all that pie camaraderie had a positive impact on company morale?

Is company morale even important these days when many, if not most employees are happy just to have a job at all?

Back in the day (which means something different to everyone, so let’s say mid 90’s), creative shops placed company morale near the top of their priority list. I’m wondering where it ranks now on any company’s priority list, or if it made the list at all.

Believe it or not, some companies (and of course the military) still list “Morale Officer” as an actual job title. I performed a quick search for this elusive “Morale Officer” position on Simply Hired, and my search resulted in zero opportunities. It appears this job function has been eliminated along with many other roles. I did find the word morale included in the essential functions of executive management positions though. Call me crazy, but I’m not sure if a CFO is the person best suited to inspire fun in the workplace. Then again, I know a very talented CFO named Jim Cowhey at Optimus (a Chicago creative services company), who would excel in the capacity of a morale officer, but I digress.

Back in 1992, my official job title was Shipping & Receiving Manager at Editel/Chicago, but it might as well have been Morale Officer. I helped organize our softball team, ran our NCAA pool, set-up and performed on our stage for a variety of events, and a little basketball game I started (with a crumpled up piece of newspaper) grew to become the annual Pig Tournament with a hundred or so clients and staff cheering on the final four competitors.

You see, I believe positive morale in the workplace can be accomplished with something as small as serving pie in the lunchroom on Fridays, to something larger, like taking all of your employees and their families to Hawaii for a week. Thanks Oprah! I had a great time.

There’s no question that a happy employee is a productive employee, but who is in charge of making sure employees are happy?

I think employees should be responsible for about 85% of their own happiness, and the employer should look out for the remaining 15%. Of course, that assumes both parties are relatively normal, respect one another, and enjoy their role in the organization.


pie chart

And by enjoy their role in the organization, I mean both the employer and employee should like their job to begin with. For example, when hiring a bookkeeper, I want to make sure that this person loves to reconcile accounts, can’t wait to prepare financial reports, and embraces payroll with an unbridled passion. Once I find this bookkeeper (which is not so easy) I assume that the 85% employee happy quota has been reached. Now all I have to do as the employer is hold up my end of the bargain, and sustain the happiness all around.

In other words, it’s my employee’s job to want to be at work. It’s my job to make sure they want to work for me.

So next time you are driving to the office, stop by and pick up some pie & ice cream. It can make a world of difference in the morale department. I recommend the Whole Foods apple pie. That’s good eatin’.

Staffing Up

My advice to employers:Don’t fall in love with your employees.

The first time I was going to hire someone, I made a list of everything I needed to “complete me.” Right or wrong, I thought hiring someone was the professional equivalent to getting married. I had these grand expectations that my new receptionist would be with my company forever. She would finish all my sentences, share my work ethic, and care about the success of my company as much as I did.

I learned these expectations were too high to place on an inexperienced staff person. I was essentially setting her up to fail. I fell in love with the idea of what an employee could bring to the table and was heartbroken when my expectations weren’t met.

After several years, I came to the simple conclusion that most employees use the employer to better their career and most employers use their employees to better their business. I know it sounds harsh, but it’s really a “win – win” for both parties. Everyone gets what they want – success. Knowing this helped me make better staffing decisions (meaning, decisions without emotion involved.) Your employees have a plan for their life and some sense of direction. That direction might include your company and might not. But if they don’t have a plan, maybe you shouldn’t hire them to begin with.

It’s up to you to make sure a potential employee’s plan and skill set is a good match for your needs and goals. Recently, fans of the Bulls have been complaining about Carlos Boozer’s defensive skills. Yes they’re sub-par, but I would remind everyone that he was brought in primarily for his offense and not his defensive abilities. I’m sure the Bulls management isn’t surprised or concerned with what they’ve seen. They’re getting exactly what they thought they would when they brought him on. It’s no different in the creative industry. Your new employees aren’t going to magically re-invent themselves simply because they’re working for you. So practice due diligence and interview as many qualified candidates as possible; just don’t over think it. Follow the same instincts that made you successful in the first place. Employees need to be difference makers regardless of their responsibilities. They need to make your company better and they should know this from the start. I’m guessing you didn’t start your business with the goal of being average.

My advice to employees: Take initiative and make a difference. Put yourself in your employer’s shoes, and know that they’ve made an investment in you and they’re expecting it to pay off. The money set aside to pay you could easily be going to pay down a loan, purchase new equipment, expand space, or many other things. Respect this fact, and work your butt off. Most importantly, make yourself invaluable. Put your employer in a position where they can’t live without you. Be so dynamic that any move they make, or are considering making, has to include you. Take advantage of every minute you’re there, and every resource at your disposal. That means instead of updating your Facebook page, try mastering a new piece of software. Expand your knowledge to other areas of the industry, work on your people skills, and contribute as much as you can to the company’s success.

Don’t Let The Air Out

Whose fault is it that your employee have lost their enthusiam? Initially, this person showed up early and left late because they were passionate about the contribution they were making to your organization. It seemed they cared just as much about your company as you do. Now, not so much. Something is missing, and it’s your fault. Your employees passion is like air in a baloon. You should be aware of how much air/enthusiasm they are working with, and do your best to raise that level.

The best way to do this is to start by hiring difference makers. People who have built in passion for your industry and the responsibilities they were given. From there, lead by example and show your own passion everyday. I know it’s a job, but it doesn’t have to be work. Don’t let the air out of the baloon.