The icon indicates free access to the linked research on JSTOR.

Recently, Eric Newcomer wrote in Bloomberg that five former vice presidents who left Snapchat were like “lobsters escaping a steamy death.” Newcomer continued: “You can see why executives might not want to stick around at Snap. Forget the turbulent stock price—it just seems like an unpleasant place to work…[CEO Eric Speigel] described his management philosophy at the Goldman Sachs Group Inc. conference last month as keeping things ‘just below the boil…. Like when you heat water, and it’s really f*cking hot, but it’s just below the boil.'”

JSTOR Daily Membership AdJSTOR Daily Membership Ad

Uber, VICE, Amazon, and now Snapchat have proven that the biggest and shiniest companies aren’t necessarily the best places to work. While big names, high salaries, and comfortable benefits may attract employees, they do little to keep them there if other, equally important needs aren’t met.

Because good employee morale reduces turnover, saves money, and boosts productivity, there has been significant effort put towards researching what morale is, and how to improve it. These studies have led to multiple theories about evaluating and boosting morale, from ranking hierarchies of needs to sociological explanations of group mentalities.

And yet what makes a group of individuals happy in one workplace may be impossible to pin down to an actionable checklist. Scholars Melany E. Baehr and Richard Renck write in the Administrative Science Quarterly:

the employee does not generally view his environment in the way in which a questionnaire or survey usually presents his views, i.e., as a set of distinct and separate opinions…[he] is not a hedonistic calculating machine who registers “plus one” for every specific satisfaction that he gains from the work environment and “minus one” for each dissatisfaction. His specific views as expressed through the questionnaire are but fragments of broader, more complex patterns of attitudes.

Through a literature review and further investigation, Baehr and Renck put forward five main contributing factors to employee morale: material rewards; fellow employees; immediate supervision; organization and management; and job satisfaction.

Some of these may seem obvious. Enough money, amenable colleagues, and a boss you don’t hate working for are prerequisites for bearable work. The others, however, are trickier. Employees care about organization and management—not just that a company is well-organized, but also the “the image of management and the company in the employee’s mind.” This has to align with competence and personal feelings, which will of course be different for individuals across industries and across age groups.  “It is also an evaluation of the communication in the organization and of management’s efficiency, effectiveness, and concern for employee welfare.”

The last, job satisfaction, is the most difficult to fulfill—this is the highly personal “intrinsic satisfactions associated with actually doing the job and with the belief that the job is worthwhile and affords opportunities for personal growth and development.”

In other words, even if you work for Facebook, if your job is mundane and lacking in any challenge, it might be hard to look forward to going to work in the morning. Even if you work for Apple, if you are a pariah among your colleagues, the benefits might not make up for the loneliness. And while these abstract concepts are difficult to purposefully engender, one thing is clear: few would be helped by a culture of boiling employees like lobsters.


JSTOR is a digital library for scholars, researchers, and students. JSTOR Daily readers can access the original research behind our articles for free on JSTOR.

Administrative Science Quarterly, Vol. 3, No. 2 (Sep., 1958), pp. 157-184
Sage Publications, Inc.