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!


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.


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.



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


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?

Enter your name...

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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Paolo Tedesco

"Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams" ( is a book with many interesting remarks about what makes working environments good, and teams successful.
Even if the authors' experience is mainly in the software field, and therefore all the examples are somehow software-oriented, most of the conclusions they reach can be applied to any working place and team.
It's a great book indeed, and I think that anybody in a management position should be obliged to read it :)

Another interesting resource is this "RSA Animate" talk about motivation at work:

Hope this helps, and, since this is my first comment, all my compliments for one of the most interesting books I ever read, and for the great blog.


I once worked at a company, a government contractor, where moral was so bad that that started a committee to help improve morale. The formal name of the group was "The Committee to Make Things Better". There wasn't much that the committee could really do, due to regulations on how money could be spent. But there were some significant accomplishments (setting a sick leave sharing program where employees could donate sick leave to other employees in hardship conditions, such as needing to go to weekly cancer treatments and the sick employee had used up all his/her paid time off) and less significant (like giving every employee a turkey each Thanksgiving). At least the company was honest about the goals of the committee.

Theresa Pele

As in other industries, architecture is ladened with many meetings regarding upcoming calendars, projects, teams, name it. Our office employed approximately 90 employees and by most standards would be described as a very upscale/posh environment where everyone may not be friendly, but most interactions were polite at best. During my 3 years there, I survived 2 layoffs before I received my fate on the 3rd go round. Within these 3 times, I noticed a trend. The principals would often host "social" during work hours, where we'd have ice cream, snacks, etc. and then a short meeting would be held where they'd inform everyone that business was great and more projects were coming our way. I noticed that I wasn't the only one that had reservations about "the great news". These announcements would always be followed by employee chatter, during and after office hours dissecting body language and verbiage. Workers would remain on eggshells until that fateful day, where 1 by 1 employees were called into the conference room to be given a "release package". The layoffs seemed to have a cleansing affect on everyone. After layoffs, principals would hold another meeting 'justifying' the layoffs and guarantee that everything was "really ok" now. The cycle continued and almost 4 years later, I understand that this is the morale roller coaster that the company continues to this day.



This PR firm has morale figured out.

"The beatings will continue until morale improves"


SAS Analytics ( has a reputation for fantastic worker morale. Check them out.


I agree with the poster below: Define "morale".


Maybe the company has a great Health & Safety culture, and parking nose-out is a requirement - not a joke, an absolute fact in many oil/gas/utilities companies I work with !

Not sure how that figures with morale....


I have always wondered about the morale implications of raises. Specifically the idea that if you bring someone in at a slightly lower pay than you may be willing to give them from the start, then increase the salary after say, 6 months, to your original max you would be willing to pay them; I wonder if that increase would, across the board increase workplace morale because it feels like the boss is recognizing them.


I've worked a number of jobs, and nothing kills morale more than insistence by management that people maintain a "positive attitude". Positive attitude means they want yes-men, and that they don't want to hear how what they're proposing might go wrong, or even might be likely to fail. Then when things blow up on them, they absolve themselves of blame because "no one warned me. I couldn't have seen this coming." Of course people could see it coming, but you've trained them not to tell you.

I find this dovetails nicely with what Levitt said about how no one in business can ever admit they don't know. It's all part of the same fabric. Business management success is largely based on blind faith in your own success, without thinking critically about what actually made it work, attributing luck to talent. Then trying to repeat that success regardless of circumstance. Since people are always trying to attach themselves to success, you can go a long way before really being tested.

When I started writing online as @MeetingBoy, I thought I was just bitching about my boss's empty rhetoric and lack of real accomplishment. But what I've written has resonated far and wide, and now I have 130,000 followers and my stuff gets picked up all over the web and even in Readers Digest of all places.

I'm not just some crank-- I've been at places with good morale, and even liked my job for long stretches, years even. What makes for good, lasting morale-- healthy skepticism. Not cynicism, but just not over or underplaying what's really going on. Positive attitude or praise when unwarranted is just a lie the boss tells the department, and they know it. When you lie repeatedly to people, they don't feel they are part of your team, and real teamwork is what morale is all about.

I'd love to contribute to any upcoming post or podcast, and would gladly promote the results. Just let me know via email.



I've noticed that as morale declines, the number of people calling in sick increases.