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The Best Ways of Employee Motivation in the Workplace

The best way for an organization (either commercial or educational) to increase work motivation is through employee incentives and reward schemes. Incentives and reward schemes work well because the employee (or a teacher) can see how meeting certain goals can benefit them personally, as long as the incentives are clearly defined. Companies can examine their own goals and priorities, and then break them down into a variety of basic elements that reflect different departments and jobs. They can transfer their ambitions to their employees by incentivizing the work they think is most important. It is possible that they can also minimize unwanted behavior by incentivizing the work that they value. This paper will review the research and writing on motivation and incentives to see what can be found.

Studies have shown that managers of commercial and academic organizations rarely understand their employees' or their professors' priorities. Many managers tend to report that their employees care most about money and job security, and that they place little value on being able to do interesting work. The same report found that, in fact, being able to do interesting work was the most important aspect of work for those same employees. Other research has found that merely believing that work is complex and challenging is sufficient to improve productivity. Of course, if staff members are sorely underpaid and the threat of joblessness is near, that will shift, None the less, barring a specific and known crisis, people value the opportunity to do work that interests them above all else. One study on federal government employees in the United States found that 98% of the workers were motivated by pride in their work. Clearly, emotions should not be underestimated.

How to Motivate?

Information like this can help managers develop incentive and reward schemes that speak directly to the needs and interests of their staff. This is important because there is little good in an incentive scheme that provides rewards that staff have no interest in obtaining. While some companies may be able to offer financial rewards ample enough to tempt even the most reluctant worker, they are the exception rather than the rule. Further, while a company may be able to richly reward their top staff, similar cash bonus systems may not be possible for an entire workforce, or they may not be replicable. That is, while it may be possible to provide a financial incentive once, a company may not be able to do it a second time or regularly. The lack of financial pay-off can then be seen as punishment or de-motivating. Possibly, if the same money was spread throughout the company, it may be too little to be effective in motivating staff. On the other hand, it is very possible that large numbers of personnel can be inspired to meet certain goals, if that results in praise, or new opportunities to try new jobs, switch departments, alter their schedules, or participate in other interesting opportunities.

Research shows that negative motivators are not effective. That is, if you tell employees that they must achieve a goal in order to escape punishment, it may work short term, but it fails in the long term. It is far more likely that the measure will fail, that most staff will become disheartened and disinterested, and that the most likely outcome is workforce losses as people seek to avoid punishment by seeking employment elsewhere. Staren also reiterates the need to develop reward systems that are as personal to each employee as is possible. For this reason, it is most effective for upper management to develop only broad systems and guidelines for motivation, rather than system wide motivational incentive schemes. The next step would be for middle and lower level managers to work with their departments and staff to develop incentive and reward systems that suit their particular employees.

Staren explains that achieving motivation requires a basic level of satisfaction with work, and that satisfaction requires fair compensation. Fair compensation can vary according to the culture in which the company functions, but can include things like salary, paid career development (education), and health insurance. Staren states that employees "must" feel that their jobs are secure and that their work environment is physically safe in order for motivating factors to have an effect. Without those elements, motivating employees is extremely difficult and perhaps impossible because basic elements of human needs are not covered. Or, as another researcher says, "Money merely keeps people in the workplace," it does not provide motivation. That is, you can pay your employees enough to stay, but you cannot necessarily pay them enough to work more or better.

Contrary to the view that workers seek only more money, the researchers all found that employees responded best to incentive programs that were interesting and challenging. Workers were willing to do more difficult work, simply because the opportunity was provided in a positive and interesting way. Where possible, managers should include the input of their personnel in the development of goals, not just for rewards, but generally, because the personal connection to shared goals is also motivating. That is, employees care more about work that influenced than they do for work that they were simply paid for doing. By including employees in planning, when possible, managers improve the likelihood of having an incentivized and motivated staff.

Other non-financial rewards include honest and specific recognition of a job well done. Managers might find that they can incentivize employees and teachers with a thoughtful letter of thanks, handwritten, of course. On a related note, only about 50% of employees in one study reported having been coached about their job performance, of those that had 87% appreciated the coaching. This suggests that another way to reward staff is actively guide them difficult work, or to inquire about areas of their job where they could use support. What these two elements point to is the value of direct, personal feedback about the work done. If one can get more and better work from their employees tomorrow, simply by thanking them for what they did today, what possible excuse can be found for not engaging employees?

Wallace & Trinka, like Staren, found that specificity matters a great deal. A vague "good job", does not make staff feel rewarded and therefore is not motivating. They also found positive comments (including suggestions) should outnumber negative comment about five to one, but that low performance resulted when the ratio dipped to three to one. Obviously, one cannot expect to maintain a specific ratio at all times. Sometimes, situations simply require that the news is largely bad. However, there is value in managers being reminded that their employees have limits, and that an overly negative approach will only hinder future projects.

Handling staffing issues, including hiring and firing, are also great staff motivators, and usually offer many other rewards to the manager who employs thoughtful practices. When new hires are poorly trained, or ill matched to the workplace, it falls to their fellow staff members to complete their training. This can serve as a de-motivator for staff who are not compensated for these tasks, and can foster resentment toward new employees. While it will be necessary at times to hire someone whose training is not complete, it should not become the practice, nor should staff go unrewarded for their efforts in training new staff, lest they lose motivation to put in additional effort on the company's behalf.

Similarly, staff members who are not willing or able to complete their work can destroy the motivation of hardworking employees. Malicious or inappropriate firings can ruin morale and the motivation of employees, but so can keeping on a staff member who does not do their work. Knowing that the person who does nothing receives the same benefits as the hardest working staff member can make all employees do less and less, after all, what is the point of working hard when doing nothing produces the same result? Staying on top of staffing issues is a great staff motivator that also improves the bottom line. According to some research, overall productivity can increase as much as 20% when training is appropriate throughout the company. Some managers fear firing a bad employee because they fear it will be difficult or impossible to replace them. However, happy staff members who are able to enjoy their work are nearly 40% more likely to remain on the job. An improvement like this easily covers the loss of an occasional bad employee. Add to that, that staff who are happy and well motivated will choose to work 13% more, without further incentive, than their unhappy, unmotivated counterparts do.

Some of the best examples of "what not to do", come from the United States, but so do some interesting lessons. American corporations outsource job, cut benefits, eliminate career advancement, replace regular employees with contract workers, and reduce training at greater and greater rates, and at level that outstrip any other nation. The same researchers found that the most likely justification of those decisions was that the companies claimed to have no choice if they wanted to remain competitive in their industries, though this was not actually the case. In fact, the same researchers have found that within the United States there are industries, which they call "high involvement". These companies have been able to remain within the United States and to continue employing U.S. workers while offering fair wages and benefits to their employees. At the same time, they were still offering competitive prices on goods and services to their clients. They have achieved this goal by motivating their employees, not with outrageous salaries, but by creating work environments in which staff are heavily involved in determining how their work will be structured. Because of this, they are highly motivated and extremely productive, allowing these companies to remain competitive even in a competitive economy. That is, they have motivated their employees to produce at a rate that outstrips costs, by making those employees happy.

In the modern workplace, there are constant changes in technology, these too create stress, and that stress can cancel out the benefits of technological improvements. Research on how to benefit to the full extent possible on changes has, not unexpectedly, come to the same conclusions about the motivating value of non-monetary rewards and incentives. They too found that being involved in change processes and being properly trained were significant enough factors to maintain and improve productivity through upheaval. The frequency with which "communication" was discussed throughout the research was almost comic. Often, the concepts of transparency and planning were embedded in the discussions of communication. In all cases, what the researchers were saying is that by improving the degree to which your employees are informed about and involved in their jobs, you can improve motivation and performance across any measure.

What all of the research points to at least obliquely, is what some research is able to state outright. Whatever the importance of money, whatever its fundamental need in modern cultures, and whatever our attachments to it, it is essentially a thing that people still see as outside themselves. Even those who desire a great deal of money, do not want the money as much what it can buy, and what those things together imply is more important than the things themselves. For that reason, beyond our shared human desire to meet our personal needs of comfort and security, we are motivated more by the things inside ourselves than anything else.

The great benefit of non-monetary reward and incentives is their greater power to become something intrinsic. That is, in the worst terms, it is far easier to manipulate your employees to work through non-monetary incentives, because it is far more likely that those behaviors will become a part of the employees' psychology. Baek-Kyoo & Lim found that intrinsic motivators far outstripped extrinsic motivators in their ability to improve productivity, innovation, and creativity, while reducing turnover and dissatisfaction. It is evident that there are tremendous personal and financial benefits available to the manager who motivates employees or students with non-monetary incentives.

REFERENCES

Andrews, J, "The right incentive: managers should ask individual staff members what motivates them, Nursing Standard, vol. 24, no. 4, p. 61.

Baek-Kyoo, J and Lim, T, "The effects of organizational learning culture, perceived job complexity, and proactive personality on organizational commitment and intrinsic motivation", Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies, vol. 16, no. 1, pp. 48-60.

O'Toole, J and Lawler, E., "How American corporations and academic institutions can succeed in the 21st century", People and Strategy, vol. 31 no. 4, pp. 26-33.

Platt, G., "Model behaviour; when introducing change in the workplace it is essential to focus on personal motivation and engagement of workers, and not just on systems and processes", The Safety and Health Practitioner, vol. 26, no. 12, pp. 3-5.

Staren, E., "Optimizing staff motivation", Physician Executive, vol. 35. no. 4, pp. 74-77.

Wallace, L. and Trinka, J., "Leadership and employee engagement", Public Management, vol. 91, no. 5, pp. 10-13.

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