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How true should (or does) this statement ring for developers? Many people I've talked to say "it's like this everywhere", while a similar number treat it as practically an invitation to resign. It's a bewildering statement, and I'm curious if anyone has experienced this and has ideas on how to approach a manager that holds this viewpoint.

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closed as off topic by rjzii, Caleb, Morgan Herlocker, Aaronaught, Eric Wilson Sep 7 '11 at 18:03

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Some general employment questions do have an angle that's unique to programmers, but I don't think this is one of them. – Caleb Sep 7 '11 at 17:41
Is there a better stackexchange site for this question? – insta Sep 7 '11 at 17:53
I don't know if there's a better site - but that doesn't make this site a good place to ask this question, sorry. – Cyclops Sep 7 '11 at 18:00
How is it fair for one employee to take on the feelings of a collective? An employee's morale is the employee's responsibility is way different from leaving out that article, IMO. – JB King Sep 7 '11 at 18:05
It sounds like this might be appropriate for the Professional Matters proposal @ – Thomas Owens Sep 7 '11 at 18:30

6 Answers 6

A manager will work you to death if you give him/her the ability to do so. Upwards management is a large part of the key to a healthy morale, which is driven by the employee, not the manager.

Those who don't understand it tend to be unhappy and bounce from job to job only to find that it is quite similar anywhere you go (well, in the case of top employers anyway). Those who do get it tend to stick around because they're happy with the career that they've forged for themselves.

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Oh thats a bit strong. There do exist enlightened managers who want to see their staff happy, motivated, and getting enough rest! – quickly_now Sep 8 '11 at 11:03

What, precisely, is the job of a manager if not to maintain the employees working under him?

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In my company, managers are more like 'product owners' in the agile sense... they hardly manage people... – c_maker Sep 7 '11 at 17:35
Employees are not livestock. – blueberryfields Sep 7 '11 at 17:44
Oh, I don't know, perhaps to co-ordinate deliveries, manage clients and keep that sort of crap out of the developers way? – Jon Hopkins Sep 9 '11 at 10:16
Maintaining by keeping them happy is just one way. Making them feel like they aren't worth enough to go anywhere else is another. Yes, its evil, no I don't believe in it. Happiness as a responsibility of management is more of a cultural (company) artifact in most companies. – Jim Rush Sep 9 '11 at 12:35

If one is to consider this statement to be true, then I must agree that it seems to be an invitation to resign, especially if told to an employee who currently had very low morale.

There are many factors which can play into employee morale, some under the control of the employer, some under the control of the employee. What you are working on, who you are working with, company culture and how you fit in with it, among others. If you are being over-worked, or due to the needs of the company have kept taking on different tasks until you are doing something that may not be the best use of your skill-set, I would consider that to be a failure of management, and something they would need to address.

Of course, management can not address any issue that they do not know about. Some onus is on the employee to bring it to management's attention if there is a cause of low morale that management can reasonably do something about. You can't assume that management will take care of you. They're here to run a business. If they pay attention to their employees is nice, but not something to rely on.

While low morale can be caused by conditions within the workplace, it can also be a mental thing. Placing undue priority on work, for instance, may result in low morale if you don't feel you are performing up to the standards you place on yourself, or perceive others place on you. For internal causes such as this, I would consider it to be the employee's responsibility to talk themselves out of their funk.

If factors at a job are the cause, and management can not or will not do anything about it, the final option of resigning is ultimately in the employee's hands.

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It's a bit of a catch-22. Employees are responsible for their own morale, ultimately. If you find yourself unhappy and unmotivated in what you do, it's up to you to do what it takes to change that, up to and including switching to a more rewarding position or employer. Ultimately, it's the employees' life, and relying on an employer to be ultimately responsible for important components of what make it a happy and rewarding one, whether it's right or wrong, simply doesn't work.

That said, what employers, coworkers and managers all say and do, does play a very significant part in employee morale. The negative effects trump the positive ones (according to some studies, by a ratio of 10:1), so the most important, top priority for those with authority to change the work environment is removing/avoiding all the possible drains or sources of poor morale.

In the same way that, ultimately, it's the employee's responsibility to make sure that he is producing good work and management can either make it easier for the employee to do his job, or harder, it's also the employee's responsibility to maintain a high level of morale, and those in management positions can either support or hamper the efforts.

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Curious to read one of those studies, you wouldn't have a link would you? – CaffGeek Sep 7 '11 at 17:45
"Loss Aversion" would be the term if you want something to Google on this. – JB King Sep 7 '11 at 18:02
This very true. A few flippant comments from a manager has destroyed the moral in my development team and the whole team is now looking to move on. Managers can and will destroy your morale without thinking about it. Its up to you as an individual how you respond to that. – Phil Murray May 30 '13 at 9:31

Employees morale is one of manager's main responsibilities.

Motivation is employees most powerful working force.

Manager and employees need to share a common vision before everything else.

You must have the feeling to be working in a team of people where everyone has the same importance regardless of his position, and everybody support each other, your manager before everyone else.

Failing to understand and achieve this will severely affect your working structure.

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A manager's main responsibility is productivity. In most cases, morale as part of a motivation is a significant factor in productivity, but it doesn't have to be. – Jim Rush Sep 9 '11 at 12:01
"it doesn't have to be"? You serious? People are full of problems in their personal life, do you think that having a bad working environment with a manager who only think about money will make them productive? Your work must be something you enjoy, because everyone is passionate and willing to share something common, starting from the manager, who should be nothing different than another teammate. – Jose Faeti Sep 9 '11 at 12:08
I quibble with your first and main statement. Given the goals of for profit businesses, that isn't a main responsibility. As for my personal opinion, I'm not that type of manager (I'm at the other end of the spectrum). However, demotivational approaches can actually create a good ROI for many businesses. For an entertaining bit of sarcasm that has more than a bit of truth, check out "The Art of Demotivation." As for the morality of being that kind of manager, I'll leave it to others. – Jim Rush Sep 9 '11 at 12:31
@Jim: now I'm curious about that book, I will read it, but doesn't sound good at all... :) Anyway, I'm firmly convinced about motivation and morale as the main source of good productivity for everybody. – Jose Faeti Sep 9 '11 at 12:35
Dry, dark humor. If those words typically don't work for you, you won't enjoy the book. I've seen places where morale is in the toilet for long periods of time and work is getting done in a cost effective manner. This doesn't necessarily mean highly creative work, but much of software development doesn't need to be highly creative. Enjoy. – Jim Rush Sep 9 '11 at 12:43

An employee is responsible for their own morale, their own attitude. However, a manager is responsible and accountable for the morale of their team as a whole. Part of this may entail doing things that improve the morale of individuals in the team to get them to perform at their best within the team. A manager who fails to bring out the best in their team is a failure as a manager.

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