Blog Post 7-12-13

How to Motivate Workers When Pay is Frozen

Is money really a motivator?
That depends. As long as my compensation meets my needs, money won’t serve as a motivator. In fact, psychologist Frederick Herzberg says money can actually be a de-motivator if I perceive that I’m not being paid fairly. Herzberg divides the elements of job satisfaction into two independent categories:

1. Basic factors like pay, benefits, job security, relationship with the boss and working conditions, are needed to ensure an employee doesn’t become dissatisfied. They don’t lead to higher levels of motivation, but without them there will be dissatisfaction.

2. “Motivation factors,” things like recognition, achievement, responsibility and growth, are needed in order to motivate an employee into higher performance and satisfaction. For the most part these factors are intrinsic; they result from internal generators in employees. The item within the organization’s control, however, is recognition. To put it another way: recognition is the gateway to motivation.
While money can be a way for the organization to provide recognition, it tends to be ineffective if basic needs are met. Many organizations create elaborate recognition programs that are often equally ineffective and sometimes perceived by employees as hokey. (How many t-shirts and coffee cups do we actually need?) Interestingly, studies have consistently shown that four simple elements, within the ready control of all supervisors, are at the heart of effective recognition: praise, thanks, opportunity and respect. Here are some ideas:

• Find out each of your employees’ personal preferences when it comes to recognition. Do they prefer a public or private pat on the back? Are they receptive to an effusive and lavish burst of praise, or would they prefer something brief and matter-of-fact? Cultural differences, personality and behavioral style may play a role here.

• Seek growth opportunities that fit the preferences of each of your people. Some employees want to be assigned a large complex project. Others would like the opportunity to impress superiors, perhaps by giving a high profile presentation. Still others might prefer to work quietly and independently on an important project that makes good use of their talent for details.

• Avoid “one-size-fits-all” rewards and look for no-cost or low-cost options that meet individual preferences. One employee might love to have his own parking space for a month. Another might like to have a handwritten note of thanks from you, or some time off to show appreciation for extra hours she put in on a project.

• Make sure to be as specific as possible when giving praise and thanks. Don’t say, “You did a great job on that report.” Say, “Your research on the October customer feedback report was so thorough that Mark from contracting called me yesterday to say thank you. He said his people learned a great deal from your research about how to better target their contract language to meet customer needs in the future.”

The key is to get to know each of your employees on an individual basis and understand the differing things that will make them feel valued by you and the organization. Fortunately, we have a world of options beyond pay increases.