Morale, also known as esprit de corps when discussing the morale of a group, is an intangible term used for the capacity of people to maintain belief in an institution or a goal, or even in oneself and others. The second term applies particularly to military personnel and to members of sports teams, but is also applicable in business and in any other organizational context, particularly in times of stress or controversy.
Morale is unrelated to morality (the ability to distinguish right and wrong).
In a military sense, there are two meanings to morale. Primarily it means the cohesion of a unit, task force, or other military group. An army with good supply lines, sound air cover and a clear objective can be said to possess, as a whole, "good morale" or "high morale." Historically, elite military units such as special operations forces have "high morale" due to both their training and pride in their unit. When a unit's morale is said to be "depleted", it means it is close to "crack and surrender", as was the case with Italian units in North Africa during World War II. It is well worth noting that generally speaking, most commanders do not look at the morale of specific individuals but rather the "fighting spirit" of squadrons, divisions, battalions, ships, etc.
Factors affecting military morale
Despite the intangible nature of morale, improvements in material factors (such as remuneration, food and shelter) can improve the morale. However, history is filled with stories of the self-will and determination of a poorly supplied army maintaining morale to the very end, such as the Army of Northern Virginia in the American Civil War.
Military morale can benefit from
- Adequate quantity, and quality of food, water, and shelter.
- The quality of military leadership.
- The quality of military training.
- Having a volunteer military, as opposed to a force made up of potentially less motivated draftees.
- A belief in the values the military represents, and fights for.
- A belief in, and loyalty towards the nation and culture the military fights on behalf of.
- How often the army wins or loses a confrontation with the enemy.
- A sense of pride, belonging and inheritance by its members of the traditions and honour of a military unit or corps and a determination to live up to those traditions.
- Creating a sense of camaraderie between the members of a unit. In the past this has been done by recruiting units locally, for example the Pals battalions of WWI with brothers and friends fighting in the same unit, or other selection criteria for example the Sacred Band of Thebes. The advantage of such units is that since cowardice or desertion would mean the abandoning of friends, loved ones, and family to die, such units would continue fighting long after the call of prudence. The disadvantage of such units is that any disaster will have disproportionate effect on a community. In modern militaries camaraderie is fostered through shared experiences, hardships and deprivations in training.
National public morale in war
A nation's population is likely to retain high wartime morale when:
- The objectives of a war are clearly understood by the public.
- The objectives of a war are valued by the public.
- A public believes the war can be won.
- A public believes the war is worth winning.
- A public fears the consequences of losing the war.
- Clear signs of success in the war show.
The morale of a civilian population can also increase or decrease due to exposure to propaganda from their government or opposition forces, respectively. Psychological warfare is a major part of modern warfare. Nation states, politically motivated individuals, religious activists, and secular pressure groups employ psychological warfare to target the minds of citizens in nations and cultures they are opposed to.
Since at least the time of Carl von Clausewitz' On War, maintenance of morale has been considered one of the fundamental "Principles of War". Sir Basil Liddell Hart regarded morale even more fundamentally:
- The aim of a nation in war is to subdue the enemy's will to resist,...
Morale in the workplace
Workplace events play a large part in changing employee morale, such as heavy layoffs, the cancellation of overtime, canceling benefits programs, and the lack of union representation. Other events can also influence workplace morale, such as sick building syndrome, low wages, and employees being mistreated.
Factors influencing morale within the workplace include
- Job security.
- Management style.
- Staff feeling that their contribution is valued by their employer.
- Realistic opportunities for merit-based promotion.
- The perceived social or economic value of the work being done by the organization as a whole.
- The perceived status of the work being done by the organization as a whole.
- Team composition.
- The work culture.
- Alexander H. Leighton, Human Relations in a Changing World: Observations on the Uses of the Social Sciences (1949)