Camaraderie vs. Morale

A few weeks ago I was in a meeting and someone asked a common question, “How’s morale?” My colleague Dave Bock responded, “Well, morale is low. Camaraderie is high.”

The distinction blew my mind and it’s something I’ve given a lot of thought to in recent weeks.

Whether it’s because a new feature launched and isn’t going as well as expected, sales took a hit, a decision is being made, or maybe it’s just a boring Tuesday, we’ve all asked – and been asked – “How is morale?” It’s one of the key ways we judge how everyone is feeling, and its answer has vast implications.

So what exactly is someone asking when they ask about morale? To me, it encompasses a generic sense of how everyone in a group is feeling towards something. In our industry it is often aligned with how everyone is feeling about the company, which often results in a generalized definition based on relative responses. (Specific instances could be how everyone feels about the company’s product choices, status, direction, and so on.)

While the definition of morale can be generic and fluid, we all know what bad morale looks (or perhaps sounds) like. One indicator I’ve seen is that employees start to look outward as opposed to inward – voicing their concerns at the watercooler, asking more pointed questions in meetings, perhaps even starting to talk to recruiters (and sharing such considerations).

The good news is that morale ebbs and flows. It can take a huge hit and can be built back up. Sales took a hit in Q1? Well it’s booming in Q2, and the recruiters are back on hold! Everyone is laughing in meetings and people go home proud. But what happens if sales doesn’t pick up in Q2? What keeps everyone from rushing for the exit?

Enter camaraderie.

Camaraderie is different from morale. Whereas morale is fluid in definition and relative in recognition, camaraderie seems much easier to define: do people get along and trust each other? Its answer is much more binary, which means it’s something that is pretty easy to recognize if you’re present and paying attention.

So how does camaraderie relate to morale?

Whereas you can enter a company that is thriving (or not) and morale is felt immediately, camaraderie takes time. It should. It’s personal. But once it is achieved it can having amazing affects, particularly during lulls in morale. Not only is camaraderie something that can help a company survive hits to morale, but it is also often built and strengthened in such times. It’s organic and it lasts.

I’ve seen it and it is special. An example of low morale with high camaraderie might be qualified with this distilled, albeit common conversation:

Person A: “How’s morale?”
Person B: “Eh, not great.”
Person A: “Then why do you stay?”
Person B: “The people. I love the people.”

Obviously low morale isn’t ideal, but the negative effects it has can be overcome with good camaraderie because good camaraderie can’t be beat. Some of my coworkers might say camaraderie gives you all the feels. For better or worse, that’s true.

Nothing feels better than strong camaraderie, but nothing hurts more than when camaraderie takes a hit.

As Pat mentioned, you feel it when a part of the group leaves. Yet what often happens in that situation is you lean on the rest of the group to return to equilibrium. That becomes harder to do as the group that leaves is larger, more personal, or more sudden. (Or all three.)

So how do you handle that? Well, you do what you can to keep that camaraderie intact. And we have tools today that make that easier than before. For example, almost two weeks ago we had a really rough day at LivingSocial. Yet within minutes, a new slack group was created and people came out of the woodwork to lean on and support each other.

At first it was really hard for me to see that because I was – and still am – not over what happened. But a conversation with one of my coworkers helped me view it differently:

Me: This slack depresses me
Friend: It actually has the reverse affect on me
Friend: I still get to talk to the people that I communicated with daily here

So as it turns out, while camaraderie can bring you out of a morale funk1, it’s also the best remedy for itself after taking a hit. And as I do for so many things, I have a lot of good people from LivingSocial to thank for that.

1: You could say improved morale could help as well, but 1) it doesn’t feel the same; and 2) I’d argue that it would take a huge event for morale to make up for the hit to something so personal as camaraderie.