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Motivating Employees

What makes people work harder? The best answer is, no one really knows, but there are many theories, each of which has some relevance in some situations. As a supervisor you need to find what motivates people in your workplace. There is no silver bullet for motivation and it should be considered an art, not a science.

Why Motivate
Supervisors want to motivate employees because it gets more work from them with less effort on the part of an organization. Workers are motivated when they do something because they want to rather than have to or are forced to. Motivated workers do more with less supervision and contribute more to the workplace. Everyone realizes that motivation in a workforce is a good thing. The question is how to get it. To learn how to get it we must first look at what it is.

Two Broad Philosophies of Motivation
There are two broad philosophies of motivation. We will call them the rational and behavioral philosophies. The difference between the two is the base belief in human nature. The rational view assumes that a person is able to make accurate assessments of his or her surroundings, recognize goals and work towards achieving those goals. The behavioral philosophy assumes that all behavior is learned and that people are not always rational or able to recognize goals and they learn behavior from the group they are in. Both have some merits and some shortcomings. Let’s look at them separately

Rational Motivation assumes workers can recognize rewards and will behave so as to get those rewards. In this view behavior on behalf of the employee gets the reward. First the behavior happens and then the reward occurs. This is a very important sequence; Behavior then reward. It assumes a rational being that can recognize and will work for rewards. The most important work in this area was done by a man named Maslow. Maslow said that people are motivated by different things at different times in their careers. As they get “enough” of something they will not be as motivated by more of the same thing. If we believe Maslow then we can predict that a young worker with a family to support will be motivated by more money and chances at advancement. Older workers, who theoretically have enough money, will be more motivated by experiences, challenges and job satisfaction.  In actual application we need to recognize that different stages of life, wealth and responsibility mean different motivators. We can offer younger workers opportunity for advancement and money while older workers will be influenced by job satisfaction and challenges.

Behavioral Motivation assumes that worker’s behavior is very flexible and getting a reward for doing something creates this behavior. If a person gets a reward for a behavior they are likely to repeat that behavior. In behavioral motivation the rewards are more often social than tangible. The sequence here is reward first and then behavior. It is very important to recognize this sequence because it says that workplace behavior is social and not rational. In actual practice we would motivate workers by praising them and giving them group recognition for behavior we like. For example; you might have a pizza and beer night to honor your most productive framer or you could present an award to your foreperson with the best safety record. In each case the behavior generates the reward. To make behavioral motivation most effective the employer must work towards making the group a unique social system. In this way the recognition and praise rewards will be more highly valued by the individual. Softball teams, ice cream Friday’s and other such activities make a stronger social system.

Combination Theories
You can see that each of the base philosophies has some relevance, but also some shortcomings. Studies of the workplace have shown that motivation may be a combination of both in varying amounts. One study compared money, working conditions (surroundings) and the quality of supervision with productivity. The study found across a broad spectrum of employees that more money only motivated (got more productivity) up to a certain point. After money came working conditions and supervisory quality which also had a point of diminishing returns as they were increased. The result was a conclusion that money, working conditions and supervision could only increase productivity to a certain point and then more money, better working conditions and better supervision produced proportionately less and less gain. In this situation group behavior and behavioral motivation programs was the only way to increase productivity through motivation once money, conditions and supervision had reached satisfaction levels.

A Motivation Program Outline

  • Review salary and benefit levels. Are they adequate? Without adequate compensation levels motivation will be difficult
  • How are working conditions? Adequate or better? Poor working conditions are one of the biggest De-motivators
  • Review hiring policies – Are employees hired because they are qualified AND can get along well with others? Inexperienced employers often hire based upon only quantifiable job qualifications, ignoring the ability to work as part of a group which is probably the most important job qualifiaction of all.
  • Talk to each person who works for you about their career goals. The best source of information on what motivates an employee is the employee.
  • Do an analysis of each person who works for you. What would motivate them? Money, opportunity, recognition? Recognize this in their work assignments and rewards to the extent possible. Different people are motivated by different needs and desires. Try to individualize motivation around individuals.
  • Hold work group events. Behavorial motivation is effective because it binds people to a group and the group's goals and values. Doing things together makes a workplace a social group and easier to motivate.
  • Discuss group goals with your workgroup.Your group needs goals in order to form a little society that controls member behavior. Talk to your group about what "we" (the entire group) are doing, and will be doing, and how it is supposed to turn out.
  • Create a recognition program where workers who are productive are periodically recognized by the workgroup. It is behavorial motivation at its best when you provide a group recognition reward (remember a reward can be some thing as small as a "thankyou") in front of the workgroup.
  • ALWAYS tell people when they have done a good job.The easiest, cheaapest and most effective motivational tool you have is remembering to tell people when they have done well. If you do nothing else, do this!
  • Most importantly see what works and see what does not work. Try to build upon successes and learn from failures. Keep in mind that motivation is an art and not a science. As such the building of a motivation program will have successes and failures and what may work at one time and place may not work in another time and place. Be flexible, learn from your mistakes and use this information as a beginning of your own studies, learning and efforts.

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