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Employee Motivation 2
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Employee Motivation 2
Expert Opinion
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Expert Opinion

Employee Motivation

Low employee morale leads to lower productivity, substandard work, and high staff turnover, all of which contribute to revenue losses. Writing in Aftermarket Business magazine, Tim Sramcik outlines the following five misconceptions associated with improving low employee morale:

  1. That a quick fix is possible: One-day team exercises are an ineffective way of addressing low employee morale. Ongoing management intervention is needed to create an enduring positive attitude among employees. Morale building requires day-to-day interactions, which bind together both the well-being of the organisation and of its employees. Morale-building programmes need to be maintained over the long term, and need to communicate each employee’s individual significance within the organisation.
  2. That money motivates: Money is not an effective motivator; employees are more interested in career development, success, learning, recognition, and praise. They do not like being viewed merely as a resource, or a simple cog in a machine.
  3. That fear motivates: Fear is a poor motivator and is, at best, only a short-term solution. Creating an environment of fear may even send workplace morale into a steeper decline. No employee wants to work for an organisation that exerts pressure over the future of his/her job.
  4. That job satisfaction equates with job performance: Some very happy and satisfied workers may also be the least productive ones. Sramcik suggests that in order to develop high morale in the work place, it is necessary to align the organisation’s business goals with the employee’s personal goals. Ideally, employees should be motivated to work in a way that satisfies them and also benefits the organisation they serve.
  5. That morale issues can be solved from outside an organisation: While consultants and case studies are useful for solving morale problems, the ultimate solution invariably rests with the organisation’s employees. Employees know what they are looking for in a job; therefore, it is vital to collect feedback from them about their key motivational drivers. Once management has this feedback, it must then find ways to promptly respond in practice. An effective morale programme leads to the creation of a place of work that employees look forward to visiting each day. By creating a good workplace environment, organisations can attract talented workers that will invariably reward the organisation with superior products and services. [1]

Creating a Positive Environment

When workers are laid off during an economic downturn, the remaining staff may develop what has been called a “survivor” mentality. This creates a challenge for management, who have to ensure that morale remains high and effective team building is maintained. Cary Cooper, writing in the British Director magazine, suggests the following steps for maintaining a positive workplace environment:

  1. Help people to feel part of something bigger and use praise and rewards to reinforce individual and organisational success.
  2. Use carefully crafted incentives to reward team performance, while minimising individual self-protective behaviour.
  3. Be perceptive when an employee is under too much pressure, and ensure that support is provided.
  4. Be open, understanding that trust and communication is required to motivate employees.[2]

A positive employee outlook can turn an entire organisation around. Writing in the American publication SuperVision Magazine, T. L. Stanley writes that a positive motivation plan will improve overall productivity. He suggests that motivated employees are equipped to:

  • reach their personal goals
  • maximise productivity
  • generate positivity
  • be empowered to navigate change
  • grow in self-esteem, and
  • participate in setting organisational goals. [3]

Stanley also provides the following guidelines for creating a motivated workplace:

  • recognise a job well done
  • keep work interesting
  • encourage input from employees
  • ensure that supervisors/mangers are well organised
  • develop excellent training programmes
  • treat each employee with respect
  • maintain good information flows with employees
  • provide ongoing opportunities for advancement
  • maintain confidentiality
  • keep technology up to date. [3]

Meaningful and Measurable Work

Patrick Lencioni, author of The Three Signs of a Miserable Job, writes that three out of four people hate their jobs, and this misery costs US employers $350 billion per year in lost productivity. Writing in the magazine Leadership Excellence, Lencioni states that a miserable job can make people cynical, frustrated, and demoralised. It drains them of energy, enthusiasm, and self-esteem. People who are miserable in their jobs dread going to work; they come home frustrated, defeated, and weary – a situation that affects both their families and their friends. Three key factors that underpin a de-motivating job are:

  1. Anonymity: This is what employees feel when their manager shows little or no interest in them as human beings, and does not appear to care about their aspirations or interests. Regardless of the money they might earn or how much they like the type of work they do, employees are unlikely to be fulfilled by their work if their manager does not care about them as unique individuals.
  2. Irrelevance: If employees do not appreciate how their job makes a difference in the lives of others, they may feel their work is irrelevant. Employees need to understand the impact that their work has on the lives of customers, co-workers, and their supervisor.
  3. Immeasurable performance: When employees have no way of measuring their daily or weekly performance, they are totally reliant upon feedback from their supervisor to get a sense of the progress they have made with their contributions. Managers need to take a genuine interest in their staff; they need to remind them of the impact that their work has on others, and establish effective ways of measuring and assessing performance. [4]

A workplace with high morale translates into increased business gains. In America’s Women in Business magazine, Mia Katz cites Dr. David Sirota, chairman emeritus of Sirota Survey Intelligence: “Morale is a direct consequence of being treated well by a company and employees return the ‘gift’ of good treatment with higher productivity and work quality, lower turnover (which reduces recruiting and training costs), a decrease in workers shirking their duties, and a superior pool of job applicants.” [5] [6] Siritoa believed that organisations with high morale provide their employees with the following three things; all of which matter a great deal to employees:

  • fair treatment
  • a sense of achievement in their work, and pride in their employer
  • good and productive relationships with fellow employees.

Surveys revealed that employees working for organisations missing just one of these three factors were much less enthusiastic—and less productive—than those working for organisations in which all three elements were present. Satisfied employees led to satisfied customers and higher sales; this in turn resulted in more satisfied employees, who enjoyed the sense of achievement and material benefits associated with working for a successful organisation. This, of course, is a virtuous circle, providing the best of all worlds.

Employee Engagement

Melissa Wilkinson writes in Australia’s Charter magazine that “employees are engaged when they consistently say they don’t want to work anywhere else, they are willing to go the extra mile, and they regularly shower your customers with love.” [7] The case for employee engagement is based on the premise that highly engaged employees produce better results; and that these results have a direct impact on an organisation’s bottom line. There is a wide range of data supporting the contention that organisations with highly motivated employees tend to be more profitable. These organisations also experience lower staff turnover, deliver better quality customer service, have higher levels of productivity, and more innovation. Organisations often focus on extrinsic motivators (such as pay, bonuses, and flexible work practices) at the expense of intrinsic motivators. However, it is these intrinsic motivators that lead to feelings of fulfilment, satisfaction, purpose, and achievement. They help employees to feel valued and important and include such things as career development, training, and regular feedback. Communication is an important factor for encouraging engagement. Employees want to know about the organisation’s goals, and how they can individually contribute to achieving these goals.

Key Drivers of Employee Engagement

Benjamin Schneider, a senior research fellow at Valtera Corporation and professor emeritus at the University of Maryland in the United States, writes that the key drivers of employee engagement are motivational and behavioural:

1.Motivational drivers:

    • believing one’s skills and abilities are being fully utilised
    • appreciating the link between one’s work and an organisation’s objectives
    • being encouraged to innovate.

2.Behavioural drivers:

  • the quality of relationships with co-workers
  • feeling trusted and respected
  • the credibility of supervisory personnel. [8]

Schneider points out that the drivers associated with employee engagement are different from those associated with job satisfaction. The drivers of job satisfaction (i.e. job security, benefits, etc.) are mostly beyond the direct control of first line supervisors; however, the drivers of engagement, described above, are controllable by supervisors. Employee engagement can be achieved by those organisations that view their employees as a source of competitive advantage, and understand that the drivers of employee engagement require attention to issues of trust, fairness, excellence in recruitment, and leadership.

Employee Engagement and Retention

Dr. Joanne Sujansky, who was a professional speaker and founder of KEYGroup® in the United States, wrote that it is vital for organisations to retain engaged employees; these employees are creative, productive, motivated, and brimming with good ideas. Writing in The Journal for Quality and Participation, she stated that these employees understand the finer details of the organisation’s operations; they also train new employees, and instil in them the company culture. The cost of replacing an engaged employee is estimated as being from 70 to 200 per cent of his/her annual salary. Sujansky suggested the following steps towards ensuring employee retention:

  1. Culture: Always represent your organisation’s culture truthfully.
  2. Engagement: Develop a culture of engagement by introducing challenging assignments and opportunities that enable employees to grow and develop.
  3. Corporate citizenship: Good employees usually want to work for organisations that take seriously the environment, health, and safety.
  4. Recognition: Give praise where praise is due.
  5. Benefits: In addition to standard benefit packages, provide creative and inexpensive perks that will be greatly appreciated by employees.
  6. Employee’s changing needs: Allow for changes to an employee’s home environment with children, aging parents, etc.
  7. Leadership: Great employees thrive under great leadership.
  8. Stay interviews: Interview top employees, and while complimenting them on their work, ask what improvements are needed in the organisation.
  9. Work/life balance: Make this a priority for all employees.
  10. Trust: Create an employee/employer environment of trust.
  11. Poor performers: Deal with negativity and poor performance, which affects the entire team.
  12. Internships: Use internships and mentoring to nurture new talent. [9]


Compliments, positive feedback, and encouragement all help to build self-esteem. Alan Rossiter, president of Rossiter & Associates, a chemical engineering and management consulting company in the United States, quotes Mark Twain, who said that “he could live for months on a good compliment.” [10] This comment is a testimony to the power of affirmation. Affirmation helps people to feel good about themselves and about the individual contributions they make. Affirmation is an expression of consideration and respect for others; this helps to build a spirit of cooperation. However, negative comments and correction are sometimes necessary. At these times, it is important to talk to people privately rather than in public; it is also important to outweigh negative comments with positive ones. It is said that relationships can survive with 20 per cent negative content, provided the other 80 per cent is positive. If an employer is generally positive and affirming towards employees, they are more likely to respond well should correction become necessary.


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