Why do some people behave like there are sabre-toothed tigers prowling around in the office?

The ability to think intellectually and rationally is driven by the frontal lobe of our brain. When things are running well, the frontal lobe is happy, and we function in a mature, logical manner.

The amygdala—located near the spinal stem—is in charge of our instinct to fight, flee, or freeze. It drives our most basic emotions … especially fear.

When we feel threatened, the amygdala gets fired up, and our frontal lobe starts shutting down. We stop being rational and intellectual and start trying to figure out whether we should freeze, fight, or take flight. Some studies even hypothesize that the IQ drops when the amygdala takes over.

This natural evolutionary response—a response that kept us from being eaten by the aforementioned tigers—can start rearing its head when:

  • Your position is threatened
  • Someone publicly challenges you
  • Your boss is angry with you
  • A project is going wrong
  • You catch someone in a lie

When you, or one of your team, faces any of the above, the reaction may be quite out of character but completely natural. As a leader, when you need to confront someone on your team, try to make sure that you don’t come across as a sabre-toothed tiger. The freeze, fight, or flight reaction, taken too far in the workplace, will almost always end poorly.

It is important to understand the science behind dealing with people. It will help you predict, understand, and manage their fight-or-flight reactions to tough situations.

The Science Behind High Morale

High morale leads to a more cooperative work force, which in turn leads to higher productivity. Its side effects are fewer grievances, more willingness to accept new ideas, lower turnover, and team spirit. It’s what makes the difference between a team that gets work done and one that really achieves desired results.

You can be the most significant factor in whether your team has low or high morale.

How to increase morale:

  1. Find and eliminate the causes of low morale.
  2. Solve morale problems as they develop, before they blow up out of proportion.
  3. Recognize that low morale is contagious and should be kept from spreading.
  4. See to it that solved morale problems stay solved.

 

What Causes Low Morale?

The reasons for low morale can be centred either on an individual or on the organization itself. Managers have the responsibility of determining the root cause and initiating the appropriate action to correct it. Low morale can be caused by personal matters or job-related factors.

Examples of personal causes include:

  • Domestic difficulties and unhappiness
  • Financial problems
  • Poor health
  • Anxiety
  • Lack of self-confidence
  • Lack of goals
  • Substance abuse problems

Examples of job-related causes include:

  • Ineffective leadership
  • Inadequate supervision
  • A belief that one is treated unfairly
  • Dissatisfaction with compensation
  • Lack of a feeling of importance
  • Dissatisfaction with one’s status in an organization
  • Lack of recognition
  • Fear of the boss (or others)
  • Lack of involvement
  • Insecurity
  • Belief that one’s superior is incompetent
  • Lack of understanding of the importance of the work
  • Failure to see the relationship of the job to the total picture
  • Lack of opportunity to use one’s highest skills and abilities

Building and Maintaining Morale

The following are strategies for improving the morale of the people you lead:

  1. Help people see the bigger picture. Show them how their work relates to the success of the organization.
  2. Respect their human dignity. See each person as a human being—as an individual—separate from his or her work.
  3. Demonstrate absolute integrity in all dealings and relationships. Display conviction, courage, and strength of purpose at all times.
  4. Involve people in creative efforts whenever possible. Give them an opportunity to make suggestions and contribute useful ideas.
  5. Create a climate of mutual trust, respect, and confidence.
  6. Communicate effectively to achieve acceptance and understanding.
  7. Empower people. Where possible, broaden their scope and responsibilities.
  8. Maintain a permissive, creative climate. Allow team members to speak up and contribute ideas.
  9. Don’t make hasty, ill-considered decisions, which tend to boomerang. Consider the possible impact of all your decisions upon your people.
  10. Create and maintain an environment in which people believe you are fair, just, and looking after their interests as well as your own.

 

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