By Kerrie Herren, Province President
Chapters with high morale run smoothly and find common goals that provide direction for the chapter. What happens if this is not the case? Members argue over every small detail and have difficulty finding common ground. If this is the case, you may be struggling with chapter morale. There is not an easy fix to this problem but it deserves the highest level of attention. Low chapter morale can also be the root cause of many other issues such as paying dues, attendance at functions, effective meetings, etc.
There are a number of reasons that chapters struggle with morale. A few common causes are poor leadership, heavy workloads, or a high stress environment. Chapter leadership plays a vital role in morale but the blame should not be solely paced on the executive committee. At times, it may not even be the officers that cause the problems. It may be a few members without officer roles that hurt chapter morale but the leadership is not addressing it properly.
Many smaller chapters may also struggle with morale because there are fewer members that share the chapter’s heavy workload. Smaller chapters have the same workload as larger chapters, meaning that the weight of the chapter is shared by a few members rather than spread across many. When this is the case, it is impractical to give detailed attention to all chapter responsibilities, which can quickly add stress and anxiety for members. Lastly, a high stress environment can be a cause for low chapter morale. Chapters that struggle with the expectations that stem from their university or headquarters may become overwhelmed. Meeting these expectations takes time and commitment. When it takes longer than what members feel is appropriate to meet these expectations, members begin to quickly play the blame game. It is human nature to point the finger when things are not going well, but this is the last thing one should do as it will dissolve any morale that is left within the chapter.
The responsibility is shared by all when resolving morale issues. Remember Robert Morrison’s lasting quote – “To do what ought to be done but would not have been done unless I did it, I thought to be my duty.” If you see a problem with chapter morale, it is your responsibility to help find a solution. Here are five helpful steps to improve chapter morale:
1. Communicate. Be upfront with the issue and address it publicly with the entire chapter. Ask members how the chapter can improve morale and create a plan that includes benchmarks that can be assessed and met on a regular basis. Ensure that members are listening to each other and not placing blame. Again, each member is accountable for improving chapter morale.
2. Keep a balanced calendar. The master calendar should be well balanced with the responsibilities of the chapter (community service, social events, chapter meetings, etc.) but not so demanding that members have obligations each night of the week. Be cognizant of everyone’s time when adding events to the calendar. Sometimes less can be more when managing the master schedule. This may mean you have to say ‘no’ to requests from other organizations or members. It is important that members have time on their personal calendars for down time and other commitments.
3. Meaningful and consistent policies and procedures. All members should be held to the same standards as everyone else. Do not play favorites. If a chapter policy serves little meaning, get rid of it or change it so that members can buy into its purpose. Do not hold grudges against members that break policies or procedures. Be consistent with consequences and do not alienate someone because they made a mistake – forgive and forget.
4. Celebrate accomplishments. Find ways to honor each other, especially when a member does something well or meets a personal goal. Publicly praise members and the chapter when goals or benchmarks are met and celebrate these accomplishments as a chapter. Set time aside for these celebrations and make them a habit and tradition that members look forward to.
5. Have fun. Incorporate humor when appropriate. Find ways to incorporate fun activities or discussions within chapter meetings. Strategically put events on the calendar that members can simply enjoy each other’s company, not everything has to be business all the time. Be mindful of others’ feelings. What you think is joking around and giving someone a hard time may be misconstrued as picking on someone. On the same point, do not take everything personal and know your boundaries with each other. You are only in college once…hopefully; it should be a fun and rewarding experience.
Resolving chapter morale is not an easy fix but can be done with the proper attention and work ethic. Many times chapters are embarrassed of low morale and try to hide the issue versus fixing it. Include your chapter advisory board, province president, and university officials when resolving chapter morale issues. These individuals are your side and will help mediate these difficult conversations.
Kerrie is from Lincoln, Nebraska. He attended the University of South Dakota as an undergraduate and is a member of the South Dakota Alpha Chapter. After graduation, Kerrie worked for the General Headquarters as a Leadership Consultant from 2005 – 2007. Kerrie traveled the South and Southeast regions of the United States. Kerrie currently lives in Kansas City and teaches math and leadership to high school students. Additionally, he oversees the school’s Student Council and is an assistant baseball coach. Kerrie has his masters in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies from the University of Kansas. He continues to serve the Fraternity as the Mu North Province President.