Employee surveys have a long history dating back to the 1920s when psychologist J. David Houser had interviewers ask employees a set of standardized questions that were then graded on a 1 to 5 scale (Jacoby, 1988). From this data Houser was able to derive a “morale” score that could be used for comparisons between departments and organizations. Houser's work spurred the activity of academic researchers who conducted employee attitude surveys in the 1920s and 1930s.
Despite this activity, the use of employee surveys by organizations was not widespread until after World War II. Organizations, consultants, and academics recognized the value of surveys and a burgeoning of survey work occurred in the 1950s. Like the early work of Houser, this resurgence focused on employee morale.
By the late 1950s researchers began to address the definition or meaning of “morale.” One article from this period noted that the literature on morale “yields definitions which are as varied as they are numerous” (Baehr and Renck, 1958). Another paper of the same period by Guba (1958) defined morale as follows:
Morale is a predisposition on the part of persons engaged in an enterprise to put forth extra effort in the achievement of group goals or objectives.
If this sounds familiar, it should. One of the recent trends in employee surveys is a focus on employee engagement, not so very different from what surveys have been trying to measure ...