How a great workplace drives profits

By |  September 22, 2021

Supervisors can use motivational techniques to reengage workers and keep everyone performing at an elevated level. But what techniques will work?

While the common wisdom says throwing more money at people will stimulate performance, studies have shown that not to be true.

“When people are paid more, their performance does increase temporarily, but then it goes right back down,” says Jack Altschuler, president of Fully Alive Leadership in Northbrook, Illinois. “And they then view higher pay as an entitlement.”

Money, then, does little to inspire great workers. But Altschuler offers three caveats.

“For lower-wage people in financial distress, more money does matter and can change their engagement level,” he says. “Additionally, people who feel they’re being underpaid will respond positively to increased financial reward.”

Finally, at the lower end of the wage distribution scale, money can determine who applies for a job and who stays on once they’re hired.

“If somebody is paid $7.25 an hour and they can get $12 someplace else, they’re gone,” Altschuler says.

Those exceptions aside, what really motivates people is a nurturing workplace that meets their basic human needs. To establish such an environment, experts suggest supervisors do the following:

• Appreciate employee contributions. “The No. 1 thing employers can do to drive employee engagement is show appreciation,” Altschuler says. “Very often, doing so is no more complicated than something like this: ‘Mary, thanks so much for staying late to finish the report that we needed this morning.’”

• Recognize achievements. “When we do something worthy of recognition we want to be recognized,” Altschuler says. “Whether it’s a celebratory party or a plaque that someone can hang on their office wall, recognition creates a sense of personal pride.”

• Provide autonomy. Anything a manager can do to cut back on stifling bureaucracy is a good thing. “People need some personal freedom in their work practices,” Verchota says. “They need to feel that achieving an outcome is important, but how they get there is something they get to decide.”

• Encourage new skills. People need to feel they have become masters at some task, Verchota says. Increasing the number of such tasks can make an employee feel great about the workplace.

• Cut checkpoints and paperwork. “Bureaucracy demotivates people by creating obstacles to their job performance,” Rothwell says. “It makes people very angry if they need to sit around waiting for their boss’s approval to do routine and simple things.”

• Emphasize larger goals. “People need to feel a sense of purpose,” Verchota says. “They need to feel an emotional connection with their work and that their duties align with their value set.”

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