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Staff motivation: Am I bovvered?

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Staff motivation

You want staff to put in more than simply the 9-5 in their job roles but how can you work out what makes them tick? Louise Druce finds out.


We all have our off days at work but if your staff are constantly downcast and de-motivated, not only are they more likely to leave, research shows it could cost your business millions of pounds in absenteeism, lost productivity and staff turnover.

Despite this, apathy at work is more common that you might think – Investors in People estimates that nearly one in three employees is de-motivated in their current role. Its survey, conducted by researchers YouGov, also revealed 43% are considering quitting their job in the next 12 months, with the most likely to leave being people who have been in their job for one or two years.

Finding out what would change their minds is a little less straight forward. It may sound obvious but different people in different departments are motivated by different things, so a one-size-fits-all approach to weird and wonderful recognition and reward schemes are not always the best way to go.

Who is feeling the most de-motivated?

  • 39% of people in firms with 5,000 plus staff
  • 30% of people in firms with 50-250 staff
  • 41% of public sector workers
  • 38% of staff in the North East (the highest percentage in UK)
  • Source: Investors in People

    And it’s not all about giving staff more cash either. Unreasonable workloads, a lack of career path and disengagement with managers factor highly among the reasons why employees decide to walk out the door.

    “Employees want better support from their managers alongside clear and effective feedback on their performance,” says Simon Jones, chief executive at Investors in People. “This support is vital when it comes to mapping out career paths and identifying relevant training and development. Without it, employees are likely to drift and depart rather than stay engaged with their organisation’s objectives.”

    John Sylvester, executive director of people performance experts P&MM Motivation, agrees. “In a competitive employment market it is simply no longer good enough to expect employees to be grateful for having a job,” he says. “It is crucial to define the employment proposition in attractive terms and market it in the same spirit that the business is marketed to its customers.

    “Employee engagement is all about employees believing in the business and its future, proactively driving it forward, generating success, feeling personally rewarded by doing this and benefiting from the opportunities that are created by their efforts.”

    Talk to me

    The problem is, despite lacking the motivation to do their jobs, the majority of employees would rather put up and shut up than voice the reasons why they are feeling so disheartened to the boss.

    Anonymous staff surveys are one way to go and can provide some very useful insights. You can also glean some information from data taken from recruitment or exit interviews. But business psychologist Rob Robson warns that this may only scratch the surface, especially if employees are still nervous about revealing the whole truth.

    “To get a handle on what people need, employers need to open their eyes and ears and get out there and talk to people.”

    Rob Robson, business psychologist

    “To get a handle on what people need, employers need to open their eyes and ears and get out there and talk to people,” he says. “It develops trust. Employees aren’t suddenly going to open up and tell people what’s important to them.

    “Sometimes if employees have been in a company a long time they can become introspective – they see their world changing and feel victimised by that. Or they just lack clear rules and guidelines. You have got to recognise what is going on and remove the barriers to motivation that really make them unhappy or frustrated.”

    Robson also believes line managers should set the example, nurturing good relationships with employees as well as encouraging good working relationships with colleagues. Also, he believes staff should be given positive challenges to develop themselves and avoid a mundane daily routine. “If you establish a good rapport, you can get people to open up,” he adds.

    Linda Barber, senior research fellow at the Institute for Employment Studies (IES), also sees having a company culture that drives motivation as key. “It’s not just about policies, it’s about how these policies are translated and delivered,” she says. “You can have as many reward options as you like but they will not be successful unless you’re working for somebody who really makes you believe in them.”

    Who do you think they are?

    Not that simple recognition and rewards schemes should be knocked. Everyone likes a pat on the back once in a while rather than simply ploughing on knowing the only time the boss is going to get animated about what you do is when it all goes wrong.

    Julian Bazley, incentives specialist at performance improvement company Maritz, recommends, if viable, a weekly team get together where awards are given out and people are verbally congratulated. “Small rewards such as vouchers are much better than cash, providing a greater memory trace and, as many controlled trials have demonstrated, higher levels of improved performance,” he says.

    Julie Rosehill, sales director at reward company The Voucher Shop, also believes reward schemes should be designed through a profile of the company staff so it tailors more to the individual or the common denominator of staff tastes. For example, maybe the reward could relate to their families as well. “Employee motivation schemes are most effective when the process of earning the reward and the reward itself align with the employee’s lifestyle rather than having to be grafted on to it,” she adds.

    A motivated workforce not only has a positive effect on company morale and profits, it rubs off on the customer too. “If you’re motivated you’re likely to engage with the organisation and if you’re engaged with the organisation, you’re more likely to act as an ambassador of the company and go that extra mile,” says Barber.

    “If organisations put a fraction of the effort into getting to know their staff like they know their customers, they would probably be on a winner.”


    Motivation tips

    1. Set achievable targets: No one single element is likely to switch people off motivation programmes than seemingly impossible targets. Be realistic and fair, or ask individuals to set their own.

    2. Have lots of winners: Nothing succeeds like success. Being able to recognise and reward all those who have succeeded provides a positive environment than one with lots of losers.

    3. Make frequent awards with special categories: Nothing de-motivates the poor performer more than seeing others streaking ahead. Include special categories such as ‘performance of the month’ or ‘best performance by new starter’.

    4. Present rewards publicly: The efforts and achievements of those who perform well should be recognised at company meetings with personal presentations with a senior manager, as well as in any communications.

    Source: Derrick Hardman, managing director, Capital Incentives and Motivation


    3 Responses

    1. Donkeys or Rabbits?
      Peter’s point is a good one to be fair, unless you think it isn’t the management’s job to create the right environment?

      I do believe every person can be made keen and eager to help. Sadly some people need too much time and attention to change their behaviour and they have to be dealt with accordingly in any commercial organization.

      I suppose to make everyone “happy bunnies” they need to be given the right carrots? Or are carrots only the best food for donkeys?

      If you think bribery is the way to get commitment you are missing the main part of motivation management. And that management has to be delivered by the managers on the spot at every level in a coherent manner, every day.

      Some good points have been made, get out and talk to people!

    2. Communication
      Many thanks for your interesting comment Peter. The point I was trying to emphasise is that sometimes bog standard reward schemes or activity days meant to give employees a boost can backfire if employers haven’t explored whether it’s the sort of thing their workforce actually wants in the first place.

      Rather than solely heaping the blame on bosses, motivation requires opening up communications between staff, managers and HR to ensure everyone knows the aims/goals of the company and how they effect this. Reward schemes can then be more tailored. I have written an article discussing this further: http://www.hrzone.co.uk/cgi-bin/item.cgi?id=172109&d=1063

      I guess it’s more of a case of “I am bovvered if my staff aren’t bovvered but I need to know what makes them bovvered in the first place”!

      Kind regards,
      Louise Druce, features editor.

    3. In A Nutshell?
      So the reason that employees adopt an “Am I Bovvered?” attitude is because of the way that management behave towards them, and the way that we can make employees “Bovvered” is to stop behaving in this way towards them.
      Would a more accurate title have been “Am I Bovvering You?”
      A more direct acknowledment of the influence of the behaviour of management on the behaviour of the workforce?
      Peter A Hunter
      http://www.BreakingtheMould.co.uk

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