Have you ever noticed how often so-called common sense, upon closer examination, turns out to be anything but sensible? It happens a great deal, and the topic of employee motivation is a perfect example.
We all have a basic grasp of what motivates us, as individuals, to do our best and we automatically tend to assume that provides us with a requisite level of expertise to design workplace motivation strategies. Thousands upon thousands of employers and managers have relied upon their own “common sense” to motivate employees, often with disastrous results. Let’s explode two common employee motivation myths founded upon what advocates have described as common sense.
SHOW THEM THE MONEY. Many people work under the assumption that money is an awesome means of spurring employee motivation. It does make sense, on a superficial level, to believe that. People do work in order to generate an income, so it’s not a giant leap in logic to assume they would like more money as a means of further improving their standard of living. That added income should, thus, serve as a motivator.
In some ways, it does. Incentive opportunities and rewards for goal achievement that have a monetary payoff can be successful. However, money alone really doesn’t do a great job at employee motivation. Research frequently shows that employees rank money way below a variety of other factors when outlining what actually motivates them. There are a few reasons why money doesn’t result in great employee motivation.
First – The money involved is generally insignificant on a larger level. In most cases, the money used as a motivator is not sufficient to represent a major alteration to one’s status or lifestyle. Employees understand the range of income associated with their employment and naturally adjust to function on that level of income. Although the thought of a few extra bucks may be handy, they recognize that the pay increase won’t really create a significant change. A line worker, for instance, is not going to suddenly start earning management money due to a monetary motivational inducement. They payouts might be quite generous, but in overall terms, they are not enough to inspire significant change.
Second – Although most employees will expect to see earnings go up along with time spent working for an employer, money may not really get at the heart of why someone is working at a particular job–or why they enjoy it. The money is necessary to pay the bills, but beyond that, it is of secondary importance to many employees.
Third – Money can be seen as an insulting way of encouraging employee motivation. Employees may look at the practice as a classic “carrot and stick” inducement and may be turned off by the idea that they must jump through a series of new hoops in order to earn more when the money is, apparently, already available. If the money involved is relatively insignificant in real or perceived terms, some employees may be offended by the notion of being “rewarded” with a pittance.
SCARE TACTICS. Scaring employees into motivation is another one of the popularly used “common sense” methods that doesn’t hold up under closer scrutiny. Yes, it can have an effect. You may be able to inspire an office to get busy and productive in the face of an upcoming visit from the big wigs at headquarters. If a business is on the brink of failure, the fear of impending unemployment might inspire employees to work harder to save their jobs and to “right the ship.”
However, the advantage of fear-based motivation is usually short-lived. In many cases, it actually backfires.
First – Many employees will not accept the idea of intimidation. They look upon fear-based strategies for employee motivation as degradations to which they don’t want to be a party. You might get a temporary increase in performance by threatening a firing or yelling at a staffer, but you can also be sure that person won’t forget the treatment and will be ready to bolt to a new job at the first available opportunity. Alternatively, they may be inspired to do as little as possible or to actually make things more difficult for you later down the road.
Second – Fear is an inherently negative strategy. Instead of offering a positive, it intimates removal of one. This kind of employee motivation tactic gives people cause to question their employment and employer. Instead of seeing themselves as part of a bigger team, they feel dehumanized and ancillary to the process. Yes, you might get a short term boost in employee motivation with fear, but the long-term displacement of positive energy and a sense of belonging far outweigh any advantage you may gain.
Employee motivation isn’t always as easy as it looks. Those “common sense” ways of motivating employees often fall far short of sensible and can actually hinder overall productivity. Don’t assume that you understand employee motivation simply on the basis of being a person. Research and investigation show that employee motivation is a far trickier proposition than most novice motivators may believe.