Hostile Work Environment and the Effects on Morale

Who likes to work in the hostile work environment?  The answer for many people (should be everyone) would be, no one.

What is a Hostile Work Environment 1Unfortunately, there has been many individuals, including some of the readers of this article right now, that has either experience a hostile work environment in a previous employment, currently working in one or has become self employed because they do not want to deal with the abuse any longer.

One answer to the main question is as follows:

A hostile work environment is a working environment that promotes anger, disputes and ultimately results in a workplace that is detached.

Since the main question has been answered, let us focus of the effect that a hostile work environment can have on the level of morale, also motivation, with the employees and management in the workplace.  There are many key factors that this topic could have when focusing on the morale and motivation in the workplace, but this article will hit on the biggest key issues.

Effect on Morale

1. System Shut Down

Employees and the management team will shut themselves off to the environment  and when conducting business with clients, customers or the public, they will do the minimum duties with minimum level or without initiative or charisma.

2. Did you hear what happened?

Since many employees are either angry or fed up with the working situation that they are currently in, some may spread rumors or gossip about individuals that they are having issues with, coworkers or managers, to hopefully tarnish their name or just to be a form or retaliation.  No one likes to have someone talking about them behind their back, especially untrue events.  Typically employees that have a higher level of morale and job satisfaction will not try to deface coworkers or managers.

3. I’m sorry, I can’t come in today

What all managers hate to hear, someone calling out, there sick, car broke down, my goldfish died, etc..

Most likely when an office or organization is experiencing a hostile environment, members of the office or organization will try to get out of work as much as possible.  Employees and even managers may call in sick and give other excuses to get out of work. There are direct and indirect issues with this factor, which are as follows:

  • Employees that are covering the shifts and/or the work of employees that didn’t show up to work, will be more stressed and may become more resentful of the employee(s) that called out and the managers that made them cover the extra work.
  • Employees that were covering other employees work or shifts may also create a habit of not showing up to work to get back at the employee(s) that are not showing up and to get back at management for making them do extra work.
  • Management may become frustrated and take out some of that frustration on the employees, which is never a good approach in management.
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Picking Up Manure and Still Motivated

There are many individuals in the workplace that part of their occupation is picking up bags of manure and loaded those bags into customers cars, these occupations could be found in the retail industry, specifically home improvement stores.

Keep Smiling…..?

How is one going to stay smiling and keep motivated if they have to load bags after bags of hot, smelly manure in the heat, under the sun, into customers vehicles?

Picking up Manure and Still Motivated 1If a manager can have their employees motivated while they are conducting such a grueling task, this manager will be sought after and looked highly upon.  People will think to themselves on how someone could motivate people to do something that no one wants to do.

Let’s input another variable into this topic, the word: Purpose.

It will become very difficult, exponentially difficult if you, the manager, the supervisor try to motivate employees, subordinates to do something if they feel as though they do not see the purpose in what they are doing.

Let us keep in mind that Purpose is one of the key factors into the level of morale and motivation within every individual, regardless of their position within a company or organization.

How would anyone instill into their employees that your Purpose is this manure?  Employees may not even want to listen to you, the manager, trying to convince them that their purpose is this manure.

A Generic answer from an average manager would be: I will show them that by doing what they are doing, they are helping the customers.


Nice try, Run Of The Mill Manager, we’ll call you ROTMM from here on out.

Well what ROTMM doesn’t realize is that his or her employees are PICKING UP MANURE!!!  They do not care about the customer at this moment.  Matter of fact being told just to do this job will make them hate the job, the customer, themselves, their lives and so on (this statement is purely subjective), but picking up manure for quite a bit of your day may make someone think about the choices they have made in their life.

This is why flowcharts and logic is needed, something management being an art, is limited and needs the inclusion of science, hence flowcharts and logic.

At this time you may be thinking to yourself on how would you motivate individuals that have to do such a grueling task.  You might be developing ideas on how you would motivate your employees.  By you actually taking the time and logically thinking about how to accomplish such a task, makes you that much better than ROTMM.

There will be an audio and video segment about this topic in the near future as well.  As well as the topic of an ebook.

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Problems with The Candle Problem

The Candle Problem

The Candle Problem created by Karl Duncker in the year 1945, showcases a study done that placed individuals in room with a box of thumbnails, a candle and a matchbook full of matches, all of which are on a table.  The tested individuals are told that if they can attach the candle securely to the wall and light the candle, without having any wax drip on the table.  The Candle Problem

The test demonstrated that the tested group of individuals were slow to come to the knowledge of taking the tacks out of the box, tacking the box to the wall and placing the lit candle in the box so that the wax does not fall onto the table.


In the year 1969, Gluckberg conducted a similar test. There were two test done and using two different type of test subjects, one that would receive a reward for the speed of completion and one that would be only timed, no reward, for completion.

One of the test was fairly mimicking the same test and variables of that from Duncker.

Another test was with the thumbnails taken out of the box, so what was presented to the tested individuals were, a candle, a box, thumbnails and a matchbook.

The results from this modified test, thumbnails taken out of the box, demonstrated that individuals were much faster in discovering how to attach the candle to the wall and not having the candle drip wax onto the table.

Glucksberg also ran the test with individuals that were only timed and did not receive a reward.

The test results demonstrated that the individuals that were told that they could receive a reward for accomplishing the task in a certain amount of time, accomplished the task at a much slower rate than compared to the group of individuals that were only timed and were not given a reward.

The Issues with the The Candle Problem

The issues with this test and the notion that incentives will aid in the speed and human ingenuity are taken from a standpoint of one self.

Every human does not have their own version of the candle problem.  The candle problem is not domain dependent either.  The candle problem test has a significant pressure factored into it.  If you complete this in a certain time, you will receive an X amount of reward and if you complete the test the fastest you will receive 4X amount of reward (rewards and their amounts are unknown).  This may work for short run tasks, but for a long term notion that this test could work for a one or five year milestone of a company is outrageous.

If money was the motivator for a task that could take 5 minutes or less, the pressure of the money may become a great distraction and for the subjects that conducted only timed tests with no reward, they had no such distraction.

Ones that are timed may not have been shown how long of a duration they were taking, which lessens the anxiety level and removes a great distraction.  Imagine if you had to do the candle problem and in the room with you was a timer, would your anxiety level rise, would you be distracted and look at the timer occasionally, maybe.  This is the distraction that was given to some of the test subjects (if you finish the fastest you get the largest reward).  The test subjects were most likely thinking of the reward incentive moreover the task at hand.

Not only is the money a distraction, it is subjective as well.  From test subject to test subject, one could have been in more need of a monetary reward than another, one could have been poor and another one wealthy.  This could have greatly effected the test and test results.  A test subject that needed money to feed his or her family would have either tried harder or would have been too anxious to produce a valid test result.  Without having test subjects that are fairly equal in regards to socio-economically, the candle problem test was broken from the start.

The Price is Right Effect

A little something that I like to call, The Price is Right Effect

Telling someone that you maybe able to receive a fairly nice reward if you complete the task could jeopardize the test, since the level of anxiety in those test subjects may be much more compared to ones that are not receiving any type of reward.  Imagine if the game show, The Price is Right, was only timed with no reward (first off that would be boring, granted), contestants should be experience less anxiety and less stress, compared to being offered a reward if the test is accomplished.

But if you look at most contestants they are quite anxious, breathing heavily, perspiring and displaying other signs of anxiety.  Being close to receive a reward if the test is accomplished, sometimes a very expensive reward, may hinder the contestant’s skills, since the contestant is distracted with the reward.

Wrongfully Broadcasting to the World

How one can think that this test could relate to high productivity and higher motivation in the workplace is astonishing?  It also does not help when individuals such as, Dan Pink, announce that these type of tests are viable in today’s business and standards.  Dan Pink and other individuals that are proclaiming this test as the golden rule are not taking into consideration the many issues the human’s stress response can generate within individuals, such as lower problem solving abilities and lower creative thinking levels.

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Military Motivation

Military and Motivation are getting harder and harder to reach the level that most commanders and sergeants would like to see in their squads, platoons, companies, battalions and divisions.  Especially where military deployments are becoming more and more frequent and servicemen and servicewomen are having to spend less time with their families.  How is motivation going to be improved if these men and women are not happy and many are simply depressed.

Military Motivation 1

Questions that individuals in higher ranks may ask themselves when dealing with a group of low motivated servicewomen and servicemen:

  • How can I raise the level of motivation if some of my subordinates are going through a divorce?
  • What can I do to ensure that the level of motivation stays high?
  • Why are my subordinates experiencing low motivation?
  • Is the reason why my subordinates experiencing low motivation because of me?

In the midst of deployment a leader will ask themselves these types of questions and many more that revolve around motivation.

How do you motivate individuals that have just seen their fellow servicemen and servicewomen killed in the line of battle, let alone the issues that they may be experiencing in back home, divorce, family illness, death in the family and more?  You have to trust that their minds are in the game, so when shooting breaks out, that their minds are with the battle not home.  This could be a very difficult ordeal to take on and ensure that it is corrected to a healthy level.

Potential Solutions:

1. Look at Yourself

How can one motivate others when they are not motivated themselves?  To learn more about how to motivate yourself read through the collection of articles focusing on the topic throughout this website.

2. Think Logically

There is no where in the world of business where thinking logically trying to raise the level of motivation is more important than in military.  If A, then B or If A, then B, else C, else D and so on; this concept is ideal for devising avenues of approach to discover underlining issues on why there are low motivation levels in your company.  Within, there are Flowcharts that focus on the thinking logically with motivation in the workplace.

3. Be a Role Model

If you are placed in a leadership position most of your subordinates may be younger than you.  It would be an optimal approach to demonstrate to your subordinates how things are done, not just by telling them but showing them as well.  This will help build the confidence level within your subordinates greatly, which is ideal especially if you are deployed.

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