Money as a “Kick In The A--”

Posted by jlubans on August 10, 2015

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Vaguely reminiscent of a Russian folk fable, a rich business owner promised to pay every worker at least $70,000 per year, a “basic, comfortable wage”.
When announced, joyful shouts erupted inside and outside the company - especially from those plugging away at an entry-level wage, somewhere under $30,000. Income redistribution at last!
But, and this is a big but, the celebration has become muted and may even be in the hardcore hangover phase. The rich man may not really have enough money, some clients are going elsewhere in anticipation of higher costs, and most jarringly, some of the best people are leaving the firm.
Money as a demotivator? How can this be? Is this not the best form of corporate justice? Or is it something to do with equity theory? Or are these whining ingrates slipping out the door just not worthy?
One staffer who abandoned ship explained what he least liked about the equal pay program: “It shackles high performers to less motivated team members.”
Another dismayed veteran explained her decision to bail out: “He gave raises to people who have the least skills and are the least equipped to do the job, and the ones who were taking on the most didn’t get much of a bump.”
This stirs up memories of Christmases past in which my brothers and I each got a sweater, new underwear, a pair of socks and a coloring book. A mother’s fairness and maternal awareness of how funny things can get if one sib gets more than another!
And there was a colleague’s dismay after an event heralded to honor her writing for a professional journal. She’d been producing for a decade a very well received column. Readers, in editorial surveys, repeatedly picked her column as the journal’s best feature, far above the several other columns.
So, one day the editor told my friend her writing was to be recognized at the next annual society meeting. At the awards ceremony, her name was called, along with ALL the other columnists! And each was handed an identical recognition plaque. Someone, maybe Seneca, said, “honor the undeserving, dishonor the deserving.”
It might benefit us – when looking at what workers want - to revisit Frederick Herzberg’s perfectly sound research - however disagreeable to some - on what workers want in order to do more than just barely enough.
For Herzberg, pay is organizational hygiene (in other words, not a source of motivation). Of course, pay should be appropriate and reasonable. It must be competitive with salary levels in the same industry. (See how setting your own pay scale works in the real world of self managing teams in my essay, ”Freedom at Work: Set Your Own Salary.”)
Besides cash, there are other widely prevalent external motivation techniques worshipped by HR types and some bosses. First and foremost for the hard-nosed boss, there’s nothing quite as effective as a Kick in the Ass! (KITA). In short, the application of a cattle prod, a fear induced by a threat to strip away the worker’s basic sense of safety.
Less violent, but just as pernicious, are the three ring binders of official Company policies promulgated by HR departments and staff committees, all presumably to make staff feel valued and motivated, including the annual pestilence of performance appraisal. Thoroughly unproven, only the most checked out HR chief can kid herself into believing PA is an effective motivator.
Herzberg quite convincingly demonstrated that these organizational efforts are largely non-motivators. Absent, they can be de-motivators. Present, they remove dissatisfaction but do not improve satisfaction, they do not motivate. For example, a job without medical insurance may result in dissatisfaction. Add medical benefits and what do you get? No dissatisfaction. The employee gets what she believed she was entitled to in the first place. If there is any motivation to do more, to be nicer to clients, it soon fades into the background.
Herzberg’s motivators (satisfiers) - when used honestly - do yield positive satisfaction. These motivators emanate from the internal psychological benefits inherent in work done when the boss gets out of the way. It’s work that one, and others, can be proud of.
The number #1 motivator for effective and productive staff is recognition from boss, peers, and clients. Good staff rightly relishe being valued; they gain a sense of achievement, and want growth and promotional opportunities. They like their job. Finally, good staff want responsibility and are willing to work for it.
Now, this is still a difficult argument to make to many bosses – it takes effort and a willingness to share the glory. Of course, some bosses just know better. KITA works for them or so they claim. The attributable costs caused by an abusive boss are little known; I’d guess they are considerable and long lasting.
An entirely different dynamic occurs when you regularly recognize staff for a job well done, for their contribution to the work, for their contribution to the organization’s success. (N.b. I am not talking about the annual recognition banquet or the staff picnic – more hygiene!)
Oddly enough in the $70,000 salary case it appears that pay was a powerful measure of recognition. A valued and responsible person’s making more than a newbie gave the veteran producer some measure of personal satisfaction. (One does wonder about the boss/worker climate in this organization.) Remove the fair and appropriate pay differences based on skill, experience and ability, enter Banquo’s ghost to put a damper on the equal pay party.
Are you frowning? Am I being hard-hearted about giving the little guy a break?
A recent illuminating large-scale study about “The Effects of Employee Recognition and Appreciation” should make my view more clear.
The study largely confirms Herzberg’s conclusions about the importance of recognition in the motivation and retention of valued staff.
Victor Lipman, a management consultant, has this to say about what he learned about recognition from the numerous staff morale surveys he’s conducted: “Employees never got enough of it – invariably it was a pain point.”
So, will this Russian fable have a happy ending or will it be more like the grim endings of most Russian novels? My views are above. What do you think motivates staff?

© John Lubans 2015

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