Respect: The Ultimate Employee Motivator

Have you ever thought that if you only knew what the ultimate employee motivator was, your employees’ productivity would skyrocket? A while back, our marketing team asked the staff for input on what to name a webinar series we were planning. Not everyone wholeheartedly participated, but the ones who did were very creative. When we landed on the best title, I went to Scott, our CEO, and asked if I could buy the winning employee a gift card as a reward for her effort.

“That would be the worst thing you could do,” Scott told me. “I’ve just been doing research on Rewards and Recognition programs, and there’s a mounting body of evidence that contradicts the methods people have always used to reward employees. It turns out that throwing money at an employee can actually be demotivating. A more memorable and long-lasting reward is to thank and praise them in front of their peers.”

So I emailed our entire team, thanking them all for their participation and specifically praising the team member who submitted the winning suggestion (and yes, she enjoyed the appreciation!). Then I asked Scott to share with me some of his research so I could pass it on to you. Here is a synopsis of what I learned and how it affects your organization:

Employee engagement and motivation are always hot topics, but why do they matter so much? The answer goes straight to your bottom line. Employees who aren’t engaged are less likely to go beyond the status quo for the good of the team. All employees have a choice about the amount of energy they can put forth above the minimum amount their job description requires of them. Effort that’s put forth because the employee wants to, not has to, is called discretionary effort. Highly engaged employees take greater ownership of their work and are naturally motivated to put forth more discretionary effort to find a solution, solve the problem, and reach the goal. Highly engaged employees are great for your company because they’re more motivated to produce—which leads us to Rewards and Recognition programs.

The two reasons most companies spend so much money on Rewards and Recognition programs are to improve employee productivity and increase employee retention. Yet many programs are not delivering increased performance as hoped, and certainly not producing lasting results. Have you found this to be true with your Rewards and Recognition efforts? Many organizations have spent good money implemented incentive programs, only to be disappointed by the actual results. What prevented these rewards from working?

Apparently, the answer hinges on respect—or rather, on the employees’ perception of your level of respect for them. Research shows a direct link between how respected the team feels by you and how engaged, motivated, and productive they are. As a leader, this can be very empowering to you. Your respectful treatment of your employees will actually heighten their sense of ownership, fuel their drive to work, and increase their productivity–all factors that can increase their loyalty, too.

If respect is so important, how can you ensure a culture of respect that will influence your employees? In his book Carrots and Sticks Don’t Work: Build a Culture of Employee Engagement, Dr. Paul Marciano lists seven drivers for creating such a culture:

Recognition—Regularly acknowledging and appreciating team members for their contributions and work performance, in close proximity to when the effort occurred.

Empowerment—Providing employees with the tools, training, and resources they need to succeed, and encouraging them to take risks to do so.

Supportive Feedback—Giving team members timely, specific feedback in a supportive, constructive manner to reinforce and improve, never to embarrass or punish.

Partnering—Treating employees as business partners and collaborating in decision-making within their sphere of influence, with supervisors acting as advocates for employee development and growth.

Expectations—Clearly establishing and communicating goals, objectives, and business priorities so that employees understand how they’ll be evaluated and held accountable for meeting performance expectations.

Consideration—Demonstrating consideration, caring, and thoughtfulness toward each other as supervisors, managers, and employees. Supervisors actively seek to understand their direct reports’ opinions and concerns, including personal problems.

Trust—Showing trust and confidence in employees’ skills and abilities, and keeping promises and commitments, which builds employees’ trust in their supervisors.

Here’s a caution as you assess your employees’ performance level: Not all low performance results should be attributed to lack of employee engagement. If your employees aren’t totally motivated, ask yourself whether your team members have the skills, training, and tools they need to perform their jobs to the highest standards. You may need to conduct a gap analysis of your goals versus employee performance to get a better picture of what’s causing the shortfall. No matter how many rewards you offer, productivity and retention will be difficult to improve if skills, training, and tools are lacking. Employees can’t own a job they don’t feel confident performing.

For more on this subject, read about how to create a Rewards and Recognition program that can actually improve your bottom line.

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