You know about morale-we all do. It's that certain esprit de corps, mood of the company, willingness to exert one's self on the job, or feeling of victory or contentment. Morale can be fatal or helpful in determining your company's overall viability and financial success.

Should you be concerned about morale? Yes, and here's why: Simply stated, when morale decreases for whatever reason, productivity usually tumbles right along with it. Costly employee absenteeism, accidents, turnover and dissatisfaction increase. Without your concern and action to attack the causes of decreasing morale, the mood, motivation and activity levels of your employees may be at risk.

So what can you do about it? How can you assess it? What are the signs or indicators that things are going wrong, and employees are unhappy? Short of giving your employees a formal questionnaire or hiring a consultant to survey your employees, there are many symptoms to look for and actions you can take.

First, leave the protective walls of your office and walk around. Open your eyes and ears. Get a sense of the levels of employee energy and contentment. Do they look productive? Do they interact with each other? Take a look at management and non-management. Are they doing what you think they should be doing, or are they sitting around, seemingly apathetic or unmotivated, perhaps even doing busy work or playing computer games? Are they silent, or is there an appropriate level of noise or buzz in the atmosphere?

Next, take the simplest route to determining the morale level: Ask! Convene a random sampling of employees from different units, sectors, teams or divisions. Invite them into an informal office or conference room, preferably with snacks to lighten up the atmosphere. Make it hospitable enough to encourage people to open up and share their experiences, thoughts and feelings. Let them get to know you. Ask what motivates them; if they can be as productive as possible; what their goals are and if they achieve them in your organization; what their expectations and hopes are for them and your company; what the obstacles to success are; what ideas of theirs haven't been expressed or heard; what they believe is causing the current malaise.

After just a handful of these informal sessions, you should have enough information to begin your next steps. First, gather your key direct reports and core believers. Work with them to identify actions everyone can take to invest themselves in morale improvement.

Next, create a positive atmosphere that encourages and allows employees to address issues with management without fear of reprisals for surfacing negative issues or limitations. Convene regular, interactive sessions where employees can meet with colleagues in other departments. Encourage them to express positives about work and the potential for more effective and satisfying experiences. Let them air complaints as well. Increasing and improving interaction with others can have a very positive impact on sharing ideas and receiving different perspectives. The very fact that employees can meet each other, interact and voice feelings can improve morale.

Most people have something to say, and many want to say it. Unfortunately, many companies erroneously believe that they don't have mechanisms or opportunities for self-expression. Even if they don't, these opportunities can be easily created. Once thoughts are expressed and employees contribute, they'll feel heard and valued that the boss is listening. When action is taken on their ideas, even if told that their ideas are good but too costly or not possible to implement, most employees will still have experienced the boss listening to them. This can impact an individual in positive ways. And if the idea is actually acted upon, the employee will feel that he or she has achieved a goal. And achievement is a major source of motivation, and motivation leads to productivity.

The boss listens and learns. The employee expresses herself. Both gain something. Morale improves as a result, and everyone wins. What's not to like?