Motivating Employees

Empowerment and team management are buzzwords of the '90s. Those companies that practice them justify their use based on the motivational theories of the early 1960s. But the world of work has changed dramatically since the '60s. This is not to suggest that the Hierarchy of Needs or the Two-Factor Theory is no longer accurate. Rather, these theories have to be looked at from the perspective of the '90s.

Maslow argued that lower physiological, safety, and social needs had to be satisfied before individuals could focus on meeting their higher level needs. Herzberg contended that dissatisfiers had to be dealt with before motivational factors could stimulate performance When Maslow and Herzberg published their theories more than forty years ago this sequencing didn't represent a problem -- there were layoffs, but employees could expect soon to be rehired; companies were not going through the transition they are now, so dissatisfiers weren't a major problem, either. Bur today, due to downsizing and restructuring, the lower needs of Maslow's hierarchy and the hygiene factors in Herzberg's Two-Factor Theory are no longer givens. Just the opposite.

Remember that when Maslow and Herzberg shared their research findings, Maslow reported that U.S. workers were 85 percent satisfied in their physiological needs, 70 percent satisfied in their safety needs, and 50 percent satisfied in their social needs. Today, with downsizings announced almost daily, could we say the same?

It seems that our boundaryless organizations are seeking through concepts like teams and empowerment to meet self-actualization needs at the same time that many employees feel that their job security (that is, a safety need) is threatened, and still other employees feel that their contributions are not being recognized (esteem needs). Likewise, if we consider Herzberg's Two-Factor Theory in light of today's restructured organizations, we see broad acceptance of the idea of motivation factors but less consideration given to the dissatisfiers: Job expectations are unclear, workplaces have become literally sweatshops, with employees expected to do too much in too little time; in an effort to give employees freedom to use their initiative, supervisors and managers often don t give them sufficient direction; and there is lots of talk but not much communication.

Even if we discount Maslow's contention that lower-level needs have to be satisfied before loftier issues are of importance to employees, we still have Herzberg's contention that failure to address the dissatisfiers can demotivate employees. Consequently, if we're to get the benefits of allowing our employees to have a greater participation in decision making, we have to address these hygiene or maintenance factors. If we are to make our restructured, team-based organizations work successfully, we need to reexamine our own operating styles to see how they can support the basic needs and maintenance factors while also managerially and organizationally responding to people's higher needs and wants. Maybe this involves the application of plain old good supervision

Freeing Workers to Flourish

Translated into day-to-day actions, motivating employees and allowing them to thrive in the new environment means ensuring that, as they leave their plants or offices each day physically tired, they do not have their minds filled with questions like these:

  • Will I be able to keep my job? (Even knowing that the answer is not is better than not knowing at all.)
  • How have my organization's expectations of my performance changed? What can I do about it? Training?
  • Will my pay be affected? (If it will be, employees want to know so that they can act, not react.)
  • Will I be demoted? (So long as there are opportunities to learn the skills to help the employees eventually return to his or her current position, even a yes answer will be appreciated. Better to know than to spend sleepless nights worrying about it.)
  • What role will I play in this team? Am I fully contributing?
  • If you fail to provide answers to questions like these, you open the door to nagging doubts job security and expectations. You also contribute to budding cases of employee burnout when you:
  • Give your employee an unclear assignment.
  • Play favorites.
  • Provide unclear or constantly changing work requirements.
  • Withhold information so that, employees don't have a clear picture of a project or problem.
  • Fail to deliver on promises or agreements.
  • Fail to support an employee's efforts by providing necessary money, staff, equipment, or other support.
  • Nitpick about work performance during a tight time crunch.
  • Hog the credit for yourself when you could just as easily share it.
  • Demand that too much be done in too short a time.
  • Change any job requirements without letting the employee responsible for the work now.
  • Grant authority that is not commensurate with the responsibilities you've assigned an employee.
  • Give an illogical assignment to someone whose to-do list is two pages long.
  • Fail to trust your employees or credit them with intelligence or creativity; demean them.
  • Shirk from making decisions that are critical to employee's completion of their work on time.
  • All of these managerial misbehaviors are tied to the distressors and reflect satisfaction of hygiene needs.

Some Managerial Do's

Besides these don'ts, there are a number of do's that can minimize the feeling of stress your employees are experiencing. The following guidelines recognize the need to satisfy lower-level motivational needs as well as higher ones, hygiene factors as well as motivational ones. They reflect the new partnership between employees and their organizations in which employees are responsible for taking the initiative to develop and enhance skills and are expected to actively seek ways to help sustain and grow the business. Managers' responsibility, in turn, is to:

Provide regular feedback. With constant but informal feedback, you can keep your employees from worrying unnecessarily about their job performance. You can also keep them from taking the wrong tack with a particular project and not becoming aware of this until after the project is completed.

Learn to say "thank you" regularly. In doing so, be specific about The behavior you are acknowledging compared to a "thanks for all you've done" will mean nothing compared to a very specific "thank you for putting in those extra hours yesterday evening to ensure that the potential customer received the project in time. It enabled me to the prepare a better presentation, so we got the account," note how this comment not only states exactly how the employee contributed but describes the impact of the employee's actions on your actions and the organization's objective.

Distribute rewards fairly. Employees want to be sure that they are as eligible for the rewards as the next person; that is, that there is no favoritism about whose work gets acknowledged and rewarded.

See that employees get the resources they need to do their work. They need not only the right equipment (they don't necessarily need the most up-to-date; they need the equipment that is best suited to the work they will be doing) but access to people who can lend a hand.

Look at job assignment as a means of increasing employability and promote it as such. While you can't promise job security -- who can, in these days of downsizing -- you can provide opportunities to increase an employee's value to your organization or, at worst, improve his ability to find another job should he lose the current one.

This may sound like management basics, and it is. But team management and empowerment need the foundation pf these basics for them to work.

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