Measure of morale and ourselves

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany -- Morale is an elusive phenomenon but is often defined by its relative position -- high or low or with an individual's ownership. Webster defines morale as "the level of individual psychological well-being based on such factors as a sense of purpose and confidence in the future," which appears to be very relevant to how we view morale in the Air Force. 

When the equal opportunity office conducts a unit climate assessment, the survey is structured to capture the essence of the human relations climate in the unit, which ultimately provides a measurement of morale or overall work-environment satisfaction based on the perceptions of unit members. 

The UCA is a commander's "assistance tool." Its use and dissemination is at the commander's discretion with minimal exception. Factors such as cohesion and pride, motivation and morale, supervisory support, perceived discrimination, overt discriminatory behaviors and command equal opportunity/equal employment opportunity policy are all assessed using a Likert's measurement scale of seven to one, seven being "strongly agree" and one being "strongly disagree." How does morale factor into these selected areas? 

If cohesion and pride are evident throughout a unit, it is reflected in productivity. It indicates there is a common denominator between purpose and mission. The commander has clearly communicated his focus, which aligns with the wing's mission. All Airmen understand the mission and how they fit in to that mission. 

Pride comes with feeling a connection through individual contribution or association. When we hear "Sabers," the resounding response "Seek, Attack, Destroy" demonstrates pride. That pride is reflected in each unit's robust chant, the reverberation of a gong or the more traditional echo of a horn. 

Unit personnel, who offer suggestions on how to improve selective processes or customer service, seek to better their respective units through innovative contributions that instill ownership. It's important to acknowledge input and recommendations, no matter how trivial or seemingly insurmountable. Members appreciate feedback that affirms their efforts to enhance task efficiency. 

Supervisory support, according to Air Force Pamphlet 36-2241, paragraph 10.16, "Followers need to know they can count on their leaders when the going gets tough." It goes on to state, "Leaders demonstrate belief in their subordinates by maintaining or enhancing their subordinate's self-esteem, listening carefully to their subordinates and responding with empathy, and asking for their subordinates' help and encouraging their involvement." 

In addition, Airmen look to leadership at all levels, to provide the resources to do their jobs; informed/rational decision making and above-the-bar standards worthy of replication. Followers look to supervisors for performance feedback, fair reports, and a system to reward their efforts and mentorship. According to Air Force Policy Directive 36-34, "The perception of what constitutes supervisory support is unique to individuals and situations; however, be mindful that followership is endless and the expectation -- reciprocal respect." 

When there is a perception of discrimination, overt discriminatory behaviors and no clear understanding or compliance with command EO/EEO policies, the work environment can erode professionally and become hostile for those who have to endure the lack of common courtesy. This area of the UCA should always have 100 percent "strongly agree" in these areas. 

Inappropriate jokes in the work environment along with any form of harassment or preferential treatment impacts productivity. Members who are subjected to the lack of sensitivity projected by co-workers experience stress, isolation and are distracted from the mission. The policy throughout the Department of Defense is "zero tolerance" for any form of discrimination. 

The Air Force selected these areas as significant indicators to assess the climate of an organization; however, there are many other factors that impact the level of individual psychological well-being: working extended hours, substandard infrastructure, family separations and relationships, existing policies, low self-esteem, perceived obstacles to future goals, and impressions of leadership. 

Commanders are endowed with the authority and the ability to influence behavior, a position of responsibility that is integral to mission accomplishment. The "climate" of an organization is a reflection of the leadership. In the book entitled, "Sharing Success -- Owning Failure," written by former 52nd Fighter Wing Commander Col. David Goldfein, he states, "While building an environment for success, you will not win every competition and you will not accomplish every task with perfection. There will be times when you will fall short both individually and as a unit." 

Although commanders are responsible for the good order, discipline and morale of the unit, the duty to try to sustain a condition where everyone experiences positive cohesion and pride, a heightened sense of motivation and morale, where supervisors have the time and resources to execute their charge, is an insoluble challenge. 

The UCA is a tool for commanders, and although some may view it to be reflective of leadership, the mirror image looks like you and me. Perhaps morale is not so elusive, it evolves with courage to do the right thing, recognizing personal pride in a job well done, and most importantly, remembering why you are here -- the answer to your nation's call.