Motivate Employees with Fairness, Not Fear

by Jenkins, Eva Wednesday, April 28, 2004
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Happy employees are motivated employees. They are the bedrock on which successful enterprises are built – a fact demonstrated by numerous independent surveys. Without doubt, happy workers boost the bottom line through increased productivity and higher retention rates – not to mention money saved on training new employees. It’s too bad, therefore, that many owners and managers continue to “inspire” their employees with tactics like these:

    Manager: I’m here to put you back on schedule.
    Employee: I assure you, my men are working as fast as they can.
    Manager: Perhaps I can find new ways to motivate them.
    Employee: We shall double our efforts.
    Manager: I hope so – for your sake. The CEO is not as forgiving as I am.
If this scenario seems familiar, it’s because: (1) you have either endured or observed such confrontations in the workplace; or (2) you remember this scene from “Return of the Jedi,” when Darth Vader threatens the Death Star’s captain.

The dialog may be fictional, but the use of fear as a motivational tool is widespread. Whether the threats are explicit or implied, the “Vader School of Management” method is always counterproductive. Fear and intimidation lead to lower profits, poor productivity and horrible morale. Fear triggers the “fight or flight” response, spurring employee resentment, animosity and eventual escape to “greener pastures.” Most U.S. companies lose half of their employees every four to five years. The cost of replacing these workers ranges from 25% to 200% of the former employees’ salaries.

Conversely, the Gallup organization reports that employees with above-average morale increase company productivity by 22%, and boost profits by 27%! The lesson? Put away the “stick” and break out the “carrots.” Design programs and polices around the PRIDE Model, a time-tested formula that consistently delivers positive results.

The Five Steps of PRIDE:
  1. Provide a positive work environment.
  2. Recognize, reinforce and reward each individual’s efforts.
  3. Involve everyone.
  4. Develop the potential of your workforce.
  5. Evaluate and measure results on a continual basis.

Step 1. A positive environment comprises more than new equipment, attractive furniture and colorful wall paintings. Ergonomic furniture and state-of-the-art equipment is a good start, but it’s not the finish to building a harmonious environment. Employees must feel comfortable – comfortable working with you, comfortable being honest and forthright, comfortable that their jobs are safe. As a manager, you must talk with your staff, and acknowledge any problems. Don’t feign ignorance or try to paint a rosy picture when times are troubled. Your employees won’t be fooled. They probably know as much – if not more – than you do.
By mentoring your employees, you can create a staff that is dedicated and committed to your success. By encouraging feedback, you can foster a “safe” culture that invites honesty, loyalty, integrity and job satisfaction. When companies create this kind of culture, the rewards are dramatically higher retention rates and effort.

Some managers seem to believe that any hint of laughter or collegiality among employees is a prelude to chaos. I strongly disagree. Obviously, you don’t want an office filled with workers playing video games or roller-blading around the water cooler. But there’s nothing wrong with people taking needed breaks to joke around with colleagues. Do you want staffers to “look busy” the moment you enter the room – only to rebel by slacking off when you leave?

Step 2. A successful reward and recognition program doesn’t need to be expensive or complicated. Money may lure people to the front door, but it won’t keep them from slipping out the back. The key factors affecting worker morale are far more personal than many managers realize. In most cases, job dissatisfaction is linked to non-challenging assignments, lack of training, under-recognition and frustration with supervisors who don’t understand the employee’s role in the company.

One way to raise employee morale is hiring competent supervisors who understand the challenges facing their subordinates. Performance-based raises and promotions are also critical to promoting cultures of meritocracy, but even small incentives can boost flagging spirits. In addition to “employee of the month” awards, take selected employees to lunch as thanks for a job well done. Contests that award significant prizes to top performers are also great motivational tools. (But make sure that your contest encourages teamwork, not cutthroat behavior.)

Step 3. Provide incentives for everyone in your organization – from salespeople to secretaries – and give everyone access to training programs that help them learn new technology or advance their careers. Avoid creating a stratified workforce that’s split between “dead end jobs” and “growth opportunities.”

Step 4. PricewaterhouseCoopers reports that a 10% increase in employee education levels generates an 8.6% gain in total productivity. The kinds of employees you want are the kinds who want to learn. You can either help them, or watch them go elsewhere. Learning a new language, beefing up computer skills, learning about project management or marketing – these are just some of the areas where education benefits the employer. Conduct an in-house survey to determine what your workers would like to learn. They’ll feel more connected to your organization, and build skills that improve profitability.

Step 5. In addition to measuring employee progress toward your goals, performance evaluations are sensitive “early warning devices.” However, it’s important that your evaluations are guided by objective, job-related criteria – not personal biases. A friend of mine was once stuck in a cubicle with a colleague who always arrived late, left early and started fights with everyone in the office. But the office manager refused to reprimand or fire the employee, because she felt sorry that nobody liked him.

Ultimately, you must weed out the intractable goof-offs and non-performers. Nothing is more debilitating to morale than allowing abrasive personalities and incompetents to collect the same pay and benefits as those who keep the company afloat.

If an employee does leave, enlist someone other than his immediate supervisor to conduct the exit interview. Often, the stated reason for quitting is not the real reason. Most employees don’t quit their companies; they quit their supervisors. Find out why, and make adjustments in the company’s best interests.