Employee Motivation: It is not Rocket Science

Job performance is a function of the employee having the ability to do the job and the motivation to perform the work. Ability is acquired through training and experience. Motivation, conversely, can be a more complex issue because motivation varies by employee; one employee might be motivated by money, another by recognition, while another is motivated by the job itself. Given the diversity in sources of motivation, what should you do to improve motivation?

An examination of your compensation practices can reveal some areas for immediate consideration. Are employees compensated fairly? You don’t have to be a wage leader but are you in the ballpark? And, what about increases? Do all employees have an opportunity for wage increases or are increases perceived as subjective? Undertaking a compensation review can be a lengthy process but it is an exercise that healthy organizations undergo from time-to-time.

Supervisors affect employee motivation. It is said that employees don’t quit their employers rather they quit their supervisors. Are your supervisors trained in supervisory practices? One fallacy of many organizations is to promote a good front-line employee into a supervisory role. A good employee will not necessarily make a good supervisor. This is especially true if the company does not invest in the development of the supervisor. Supervisors have a difficult job, they must balance the company’s needs against employees’ needs. Do your supervisors understand they are there to enforce the rules but also to be empathetic to the human condition and assist the employee, where possible?

Speaking of rules, do your employees know the rules? My experience is that 90% of employees come to work each day and want to do a good job. Most employees really do believe that their performance is a personal reflection of themselves. Doing a good job, however, is partly about knowing the rules of engagement. If you don’t know the rules you are bound to make mistakes. All organizations should review their personnel policies from time-to-time. Are personnel policies up to date? Are policies fair? Are employees trained on the policies? Policies are not about restricting the employment relationship, policies are about sharing the rules. If you want to motivate your employees ensure that your employees are aware of the rules that they are held to.

Many employees are motivated by “stuff”. I live by the “high impact, low cost” approach. For a number of years I worked in a technical support facility. Employees were attached to their telephone and two computers at all times and jobs were rigidly defined. There was no opportunity to impact the job but there was opportunity to impact the culture, and for very little money. Each month we had nacho day, ice cream day and pizza day. Once a month employees gathered and we recognized the most helpful employees with balloons, cake and certificates of appreciation. Twice a year we celebrated the diversity of our employees; we had Diversity Day Potlucks. People were invited to bring in ethnic foods, everyone sampled and employees voted on their favourite food. These are but a few of the samplings of motivation and engagement issues we leveraged.

There is no magic formula or spreadsheet model to increase employee motivation. However, and most importantly, rather than muddle your way through this complex issue engage your employees, ask them what motivates them, ask them what is good, bad and ugly. Don’t fall victim to the “fallacy of management”; wherein a bunch of managers sit around the proverbial boardroom table assuming they know what motivates employees.  Instead, where possible, ask employees what motivates them and remember to consider a number of different approaches thereby appealing to different employees.

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