opinion poll, follow-up interview and exit interview as morale builders in industry


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    ROBERT N. McMURRY Chicago, Illinois

    Most industrial relations problems which beset industry today have their roots in poor employee morale. Typical of these problems are excessive turn-over, ab- senteeism, unnecessary spoilage of the product, insubordination, theft, stalling on the job, limitation of output, and outbreaks of labor trouble (sit-downs and strikes). These evidences of poor morale are seriously interfering with wartime production and are also contributing greatly to increased production costs in de- fense plants.

    Five factors contribute largely to the creation of poor employee morale. The first of these is careless or superficial employee selection and placement. By this is meant the acceptance of men and women who lack adequate motivation to work (those who have other sources of income, etc.); those who do not have the requisite intelligence, aptitudes, or proficiencies; those who are midly or seriously maladjusted emotionally; and the failure to place these persons in the jobs for which they are best suited in terms of whatever intelligence, aptitudes, skills, and temperaments they may have. As a result, persons with below average intelli- gence are frequently placed on jobs requiring them to deal with abstractions and to plan and organize complicated work schedules, while persons with superior intelligence are placed on dull, routine, repetitive jobs. As a result, there is fre- quent and marked job dissatisfaction.

    Second, little or no effort is made to aid the new employee to adjust to his work or establish good relations with the company, with his associates, and with super- vision. Rarely is he introduced to his foreman or fellow workers. All too often he is given no systematic training. Instead, he is simply pushed into his department and left to sink or swim. Unfortunately, he more often sinks than swims.

    lhird, even granting that employees have been properly hired and placed, they are given poor treatment after they are put on the job. For example, they may be victims of company policies which are willfully designed to exploit them. In other cases, the policies are inherently sound, but have not been adequately interpreted to them. In consequence, they may be subjected to numerous in- dignities, are often mercilessly exploited, or are forced to work under conditions which are constant sources of dissatisfaction.

    Fourth, even the well selected, placed, and adjusted employee not infrequently finds himself subordinated to persons who themselves are not well adjusted. It is a constant source of irritation to him to be subjected to the whims of an execu- tive or supervisor who is sadistic, paranoid, moody, hypochondriacal, or in some other way seriously maladjusted.

    Fifth, very few companies provide any outlet for employee dissatisfactions. There are no facilities through which accumulating resentments may be drained off or diverted into harmless channels. As a result, these hostilities which have their sources in poor placement, bad or misinterpreted company policies, and


    personality conflicts with supervisors or others, tend to accumulate. This in turn creates a generalized attitude of antipathy toward management because these aggressive tensions cannot find relief harmlessly as rapidly as they build up. In time, this leads to the formation of very strong hostile sentiments toward the employer. It is this antagonism toward the company that underlies absenteeism, waste, insubordination, and labor unrest.

    If these industrial relations problems which grow out of poor morale are to be dealt with intelligently and a permanent solution for them is to be found, the underlying roots of employee dissatisfaction must be determined and eliminated. The sources of poor morale can best be ascertained in three ways: ( I ) Through the employee opinion poll. Here a questionnaire is given all employees which enables them to indicate what they like and dislike about their jobs, their super- vision, and the company as a whole. (2) Through follow-up interview. Here a representative of the personnel department talks with them confidentially and encourages them to express their likes and dislikes about their work, their super- vision, and the company, and to reveal their problems both inside and outside the work situation. (3) The exit interview. Here employees who are leaving the company, voluntarily or through discharge, are also asked their likes and dis- likes. The exit interview, however, has a second function. This is an attempt to salvage employees who are leaving voluntarily whom the company regards as desirable. In a number of organizations, the use of a properly conducted exit interview has resulted in the retention of from 30 to 40 per cent of all employees who are leaving voluntarily.

    By means of these three techniques, used in conjunction where possible, man- agement can inform itself of most of the conditions which contribute to poor employee morale. Almost invariably, it will be found that important as causal factors are not only such major items as poor pay and grossly undesirable working conditions, but of equal if not greater significance are an infinite number of trivial annoyances such as time clocks, drafts, inadequate lockers, unpleasant but preventable odors, uncomfortable chairs, dirty toilets. etc. None of these is in and of itself a serious source of dissatisfaction, but when it is recognized that they occur in conjunction with one another, and are repeated day in and day out, their cumulative effect is to create serious dissatisfaction.

    Among the foregoing sources of poor morale, one in particular is of major im- portance. This is the personality conflict between the employee and his associates, and his supervision. A prolific source of these conflicts are emotional maladjust- ments in supervisors and employees. To make conditions worse, very few foremen and supervisors have been given adequate instruction in job relations, i.e., how to handle other people in the work situation. The Government, through the Train- ing Within Industry Division of the War Manpower Commission, has sponsored an excellent training course in Job Relations. Unfortunately, it is only ten hours in length and few companies have made much effort to follow it up to insure that its teachings are actually used.

    A third contributing element is the fact that practically no companies provide


    their employees with facilities to aid them to talk out their problems. They seem unaware that a t least one-half of the average workers grievances can be re- lieved and resolved by simply giving him a chance to discuss them. The cathartic effect of talking has been little recognized in industry. Furthermore, it has not been generally discovered that through talking with the employee in an informal manner, insight may be obtained into his problems outside of the work situation which may influence his attitudes and behavior on the job. Actually, if allowed to talk, the employee will not only obtain relief from his tensions, hostile and otherwise, but often much can be done to help the dissatisfied employee to cope with the unsatisfactory conditions which lie in or outside of the work situation.

    By means of the employee opinion poll, the adjustment or follow-up interview and the exit or termination interview, it is usually possible to obtain a reasonably clear picture of the conditions which contribute to employee dissatisfaction. Nevertheless, management should not limit its activities to discovering the sources of employee dissatisfaction. It must go further. Having detected the nature and location of the sources of employee dissatisfaction, whether they may lie in selection, placement, company policies, supervision, or need for grievance drainage, management must be willing to take the steps necessary to eliminate them,. It is bad tactics to fail to act upon the information obtained, not only because dissatisfaction will continue to exist, but because this failure may in itself beco,me a new source of antagonism. Employees who report their likes and dislikes in good faith without tangible results are prone to believe that they have been betrayed, as indeed they have.

    Unfortunately, it is not always easy to bring about the changes which the findings of these studies of employee opinion and attitudes indicate are necessary. Existing procedures are hard to alter. Many company policies are long estab- lished and persons in supervisory positions are often difficult to replace. It is even more of a task to change their personalities and habits of response. Never- theless, if management is to better its employees attitudes toward their jobs and supervision, and thus free itself from the problems which poor morale brings with them, those in charge must be willing to make an honest effort to act upon the findings of these opinion polls, follow-up interviews and exit interviews. Actually, the application of these principles, i.e., the determination of the sources of poor morale and their elimination will tend not only to eliminate employee dissatis- faction with its attendant hinderances to production, but it may even lead the workers to begin to identify themselves with management and increase their pro- ductive efficiency many fold.


    University of Chicago

    To understand many of the problems of the adjustment of the individual within industry, it is helpful to look a t him as adjusting within both the social context of the plant and the social context of family and community outside the