Motivation; An Eternal Question

Posted by jlubans on March 28, 2017

Caption: One way to fire up a staffer.

Early in March, I revisited Economist Dan Ariely’s research on what motivates workers. In an interview, BEYOND CARROTS AND STICKS, he reveals four ways to get your employees to do more than just minimal effort:
Make work rewarding
Trust your employees
Challenge them
Rethink bonuses

Mr. Ariely’s conclusions are based on psychological experiments.
Australia’s Fred Emery found that workers want:
Adequate elbowroom for decision-making
Opportunity to learn at work
Variety in work
Mutual support and respect
Desirable future

How different are these two lists?
While similar, I would suggest that Mr. Emery spots more genuine motivators than does Mr. Ariely, but that may be a matter of interpretation. Emery developed his own list; Ariely’s is something put together by a journalist from an interview.
In another story, SHELF LIFE, the Wegmans grocery chain is cited as one of Fortune Magazine's best places to work. This year Wegman’s came in second, behind Google.
“It’s not immediately obvious why Wegmans fare(s) so well. Salaries are not high: … cashiers average $9.44 an hour, while department managers make about $60,000 a year. The work is not particularly exciting or challenging, and while helping customers feed their families can be rewarding, it’s not exactly curing cancer.”
Simple things seem to make the difference: “Wegmans stands out by offering schedule flexibility, opportunities for advancement and thoughtful gestures, like cakes on birthdays and hot chocolate for employees working outside in the cold.”
I first heard of Wegmans from Saul Zabar, the boss at the eponymous NYC deli at 80th and Broadway. He emulates the Wegmans philosophy and gets similar results in employee effort, quality of product and customer care. (See the Zabar's chapter in my book, Leading from the Middle.)
Like Wegmans, Zabar’s offers employees tuition benefits and even goes as far as making cash loans to help low income workers avoid pay day lenders. (Last year Wegmans put up $5 million in college scholarships.)
Any regular customer at Zabar’s soon notes the low turnover among the store’s staff; the same faces behind the bakery counter, the fish counter, the cheese counter, and all through the store! People like working there; but it should be noted that Zabar’s does offer competitive wages: “You can make a living here” is how one Zabar’s supervisor put it to me.
Lists of motivators aside, I believe there are ineffable reasons why some places appeal to workers more than others. Leadership’s attitudes toward workers matter a great deal. Genuine interest in and concern for people, humane attitudes, respect for the individual – those qualities may make more difference than other external motivators like company policy, medical insurance, salaries, or free parking.
Unless there is a genuine warmth and meaning behind kind gestures like “cakes on birthdays” employees quickly figure out that this kind gesture is just another gentle kick in the rear end, the classic external motivator.

N.B. My new book, Fables for Leaders, Ezis Press, comes out in June 2017 as an e-book ($15.00) and a soft cover print-on-demand book, ($25.00). The print book will feature original illustrations by the renowned, Béatrice Coron.

© Copyright John Lubans 2017
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