How to motivate employees in the workplace – In my work with human service organizations I am continually confronted with questions about how to motivate employees. “How do I make my staff take my job as seriously as I do?” For some, their employees only do the bare minimum required to avoid termination. The problem is especially complicated when they are supervising entry level staff who earn very little money and often have second jobs in order to meet their families needs; routinely working 16 hours in every 24 will slow down anyone.
Put a Gun to Their Heads
Over the years, I believe there have been three basic ways that have been used to motivate the workforce. The first one is what I call the “gun to the head approach”. When this approach is used supervisors tell employees how things will be done and there is an implied or direct threat that if they do not do it that way, they will be subject to ridicule, discipline or termination. This approach works pretty well as long as the supervisor has an appropriately demanding temperament and is there to hold the gun. When the supervisor is not there, the system of control breaks down. That is why organizations that operate 24 hours per day and 7 days a week, can be different places on the overnight shift and on the weekends than they are during normal business hours when the supervisory structure is in place.
Give Them Cake
The second major way which has been and is being used to motivate employees is to enhance their benefits, give them special recognition or pay them more money. As appropriate as these measures might be, the workplace scientists who measure employee response to different supervisory approaches have repeatedly found that a pay raise for example makes a positive effect on motivation for only about ten days! So when organizational leaders tell me that in order to retain and motivate staff that they sponsor recognition banquets, achievement pins and compensation increases, I wince a little because my experience and research tells me that they have selected a very short term strategy.
The first two approaches I have briefly discussed, “Put a Gun to Their Heads” and “Give Them Cake” are still seen in varying degrees in almost every industrial and economic sector. I believe these approaches are behind the bad reputation that supervisors often have with their employees. A recent study by Florida State University indicated that in alarming numbers, employees:
o did not trust their supervisors
o received only negative feedback from supervisors
o felt that their supervisors placed blame on them for their own supervisory mistakes
o felt that their supervisors did not respect their privacy or maintain any sense of confidentiality following their discussions.
Thankfully, things are changing. Those old, control, domination-oriented supervisory approaches are slowly but surely being replaced by a model which utilizes the relationship between the supervisor and employee. Robert Hargrove in his book, Masterful Coaching, calls this the Internal Commitment Model.
Dwight Eisenhower said that “leadership is about getting other people to do things the way you want them done because they want to do it that way.” The clear implication of that statement is that employees accomplish things because they want to please their supervisor. Several factors go into the development of this mutually productive relationship in which the employee becomes committed to the vision, goals and objectives of the supervisor. What makes this relationship successful is not unlike the development and maintenance of any other relationship that we humans experience.
Here is what it takes:
o A commitment to the success of the employee on the part of the supervisor; the supervisor must do what is necessary in terms of preparation, support and training to make sure the employee is successful. This approach must kick in from day one of the employee’s on the job experience. It will not work if it is delayed until the employee begins to have problems.
o Demonstrated concern for the welfare of the employee. There cannot be a clear demarcation between what is business and what is personal. The two must be integrated and employees must experience their supervisor’s support for their personal as well as their professional success. Supervisors should not be “nosy” but can still show support for the personal struggles and goals that the employee has.
o The supervisor’s concern must be consistent and ongoing. It cannot be withdrawn when things seem to be going well. All good relationships require maintenance from time to time, and this is no exception.
o Problem solving must allow for input from all effected parties. Solutions designed by the supervisor and passed on to the employee will not be consistently implemented.
o The supervisor must be totally committed to the self-improvement of his or her “people skills”. Sometimes they will need to be very creative in laying new paths which lead to employee buy-in. But that is the way it is supposed to be…supervisors must find ways to get the work done without ending up doing the work themselves. Leaders work “on the business”, not “in the business”.
o When things go wrong, the supervisor must first ask, “what role have I played in the development of this mess” and how can I as well as my employees learn from this experience. That does not mean that you do not look for the role that others have played too but pointing the finger at others should not be the first response.
And so, as you look at the level of motivation exhibited by your staff, what do you see? Is their compliance with policies and procedures dependent upon your personal presence? Are you hoping that next month’s planned pay raise will improve staff morale? They say that “people don’t leave jobs, they leave supervisors.” Is bad supervision, that is supervisors who do not know how to develop collaborative, supportive relationships with their staff, are those supervisors costing you good staff? And what is the cost for under production, for inconsistent policy and procedure compliance? Is it fair to assume that employee motivation problems might be costing your organization $200 per day? That doesn’t sound like much per day but over the cost of a year, bad supervision might be costing you more than $70,000 per year.