The past year’s economy has made for anxious, uncertain and–for those who experienced layoffs–despairing times. One victim has been morale, both for IT employees and the CIOs who manage them. Though the cause of the despair may be as uncontrollable as macroeconomic cycles or shortsighted corporate axmen, low morale must be managed in every company. In “What to Do When Morale Is Low,” CIOs offer strategies to help in this daunting task (see Page 92).
What lies at the heart of low morale? It is a feeling on the part of the employee that the company no longer values him. That the company couldn’t care less about his happiness or well-being or future. It’s true that companies send signals that a person’s work is not valued–the clearest signal for many IT employees this past year was an increased number of layoffs. Notice, though, that I said the work is not valued, not the person himself. Unfortunately, people equate the value of their work with self-worth.
Whether we are struggling to bolster staff morale or keep our own spirits up, it’s a pitched battle because we have knotted our value as human beings to what we do for a living. Yes, it’s illogical to think that your boss’s boss’s boss, who barely knows you if at all, can render you worthless with a mere signature on a pink slip. People work to make money because money is the key to living comfortably. But few professionals seem able to maintain that liberating perspective. I have seen it occasionally in new mothers who return to work after maternity leave. They realize the job is not such a big deal. They have a child; their value is independent of their employer’s approval rating.
Ironically, you and I may not find our true measure of self-worth until we experience abject failure. I mean, to hit bottom. To have your job taken away, your dream car repossessed. To see a decade of retirement savings lose half its value in a single year. In this blackest of moments, there will be a light as clear as the glint on the edge of a knife, revealing that those things do not define you. You reevaluate who you are–you aren’t a CIO or a project manager or a magazine editor–you are the person, loved by others, who once saved someone’s life and tried to save another. You are the fifth-grader who comforted the kid everyone made fun of when his dog died. You are the high school sophomore who looked after an acquaintance who passed out from too much beer at the senior class picnic, who then became your lifelong friend.
You resolve, defiantly, to go on, to rebuild. Let them take what you have, including your job. Your value comes from within, fully knowable only to yourself. That’s where you’ll find your morale and the strength you need to do what you can with the time that is given to you.