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Morale: What Is It and How Do You Promote It?
By Lieutenant Dennis Burns
Published: 04/02/2012

Employeeofmonth Morale is a topic which is often spoke about but tends to get mixed results when we attempt to promote it among our employees. Before we begin, let’s first look at the definition of morale: Morale is the state of the spirits of a person or group as exhibited by confidence, cheerfulness, discipline and willingness to perform assigned tasks.

Your employees, who come from a variety of disciplines, frequently find it frustrating to not be acknowledged for a job well done. I come from a Custody background and have close to thirty years of experience. A large portion of my work performance stems from being the line staff worker. During my tenure as line staff, I was constantly placing myself into a position which would provide my supervisors a good picture of what I accomplish while on the job. Sometimes my commitment was rewarded with a pat on the back or a good performance review or getting selected for an incentive award. Other times my work went unnoticed. Regardless, I continued to perform all of my assigned tasks to the best of my ability based on my own work ethic.

Then I took the next step and assumed the responsibility for being a supervisor. During the few years I have been a leader, I have sought various avenues to embed in the staff under my direction the importance of doing their work professionally and competently. I strive to provide recognition for a job well done to any staff member exhibiting good work ethics. I provide leadership to those who seeking the euphoria which accompanies being recognized. I also provide negative feedback to my subordinates in a manner which leaves them their dignity and pride, as well as a method for becoming more productive.

Some of the methods I incorporate are not new for recognizing staff. One such method I use daily is to provide at least one form of significant information to all the staff at my Institution via E-mail. This information provides everyone an opportunity to become aware of occurrences throughout the world of Corrections which they can adopt in their daily work routines. Not all staff may be accepting of this avenue, so I am forced to look for other ways to provide training and recognition.

A second method I use on a daily basis is to make myself available to the staff on their posts. During my rounds, I provide one-on-one training for searches, counts, what-would-you-do-if incidents and provide answers for any questions or concerns brought to my attention. This interaction allows each employee the opportunity to interact with me and let me know how they are doing. It is also a venue they may use to address any issues or concerns they may have and, as a bonus, it provides me an outlet to personally provide them information useful to their success in performing their duties.

Another means for recognizing staff is to send photographs of contraband recoveries out to all staff. This serves several purposes. It shows staff what type of contraband inmates are making and hiding. It provides staff a useful tool to aid them while searching areas frequently used by inmates to hide items. It also provides a positive reinforcement to the staff finding contraband. I know I always enjoyed being recognized for items I recovered during my shift. It made me feel good and it made me want to find more. This type of recognition almost always increases the motivation level for other staff as it increases the morale of the movers and shakers going the extra mile to find the elusive item being secreted by an inmate.

A fourth tool I use as a matter of habit is to make myself personable. I enjoy addressing the people I work with by their first name. While in this day and age some would refer to this as a thing of the past, I look at it as an opportunity to let staff know they are a part of the Correctional family. I don’t know about you, but I had admiration for the supervisors who addressed me by my first name. It gave me the impression that I mattered in the day to day operations, so I gave a little bit more of myself in completing tasks assigned to me.

Finally, I like to submit Officers for incentive awards to formally recognize their efforts. This type of morale booster has a significant impact on the entire Institution. It clearly shows an employee has accomplished something of importance. It also provides him or her some significant information for inclusion in their applications for furthering their career advancement. Additionally, providing a plaque for ‘Officer of the Month’ or providing a ‘Certificate of Appreciation’ provides the employee something tangible to hold onto and reflect on during his or her work career.

These are just some of the many applications I use in my attempts to instill morale among staff who I work with on a daily basis. I believe my efforts have been productive based on the positive feedback I get from my supervisors and my subordinates. I truly believe if you are professional in your work environment, provide a positive attitude, maintain credibility and ask for a person to do their best, you will be successful in your endeavors and morale will become better over time.

In closing, I would enjoy receiving your opinion and or comments regarding your personal choice for instilling morale around the people you work with. By sharing our information with each other, we can only excel in our proficiency of being true professionals in a career frequently referred to as a thankless job. Morale instills motivation, which results in a happier work environment with increased productivity and professionalism.

Corrections.com author, Lieutenant Dennis Burns, is currently employed with the Federal Bureau of Prisons and was previously employed at Iowa State Penitentiary. Cumulatively, he has 30 years of Correctional experience. "Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of the Federal Bureau of Prisons or the Department of Justice."


  1. blackjack21guy on 10/03/2015:

    We have this problem at our facility. The morale is very low and most of the front line staff have a "Nobody helps me, so I'm helping nobody" attitude. Our administration and management are poor leaders, the policies are just getting worse, and front line staff continue to make it worse by calling off continuously and missing prolonged periods of time. Ten years in corrections and this is the worse I've seen it. My top priority is getting the front line staff back on the same page, or at least the same book, and get rid of this "Screw the next guy" attitude.

  2. jamestown0509 on 04/02/2012:

    Good article on a very important subject. One of the morale boosters that I wanted to see was having the Superintendent come to the dorm, floor or tier once in a while just to say "thanks for being here and I am proud of what you are doing." Unfortunately that only happens once in a blue moon and sometimes when a subordinate is in trouble for doing something wrong. I don't think the person in charge of a facility or department should forget who is working for them in the jail, after-all its a large part of the budget and it generates revenue from housing state and federal inmates. Rewards like you are giving are a good idea, it shows the other officers that you are recognizing them for outstanding duty. Corrections is not like other careers in law enforcement. It has many stressful days and nights for officers because of inmate interaction and sometimes due to conflicts between staff and supervisors. I do think that emails are a good way to inform staff of important corrections news, changes, etc. The only issue I have with email was when a supervisor I wanted to ask an important question to said, "just send me an email." I think your talking to the officers using their first names is appropriate although perhaps its not something inmates/prisoners should hear because they are not supposed to use officer's first names.

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