Most companies have it all wrong. They don’t have to motivate their employees. They have to stop demotivating them.
The great majority of employees are quite enthusiastic when they start a new job. But in about 85 percent of companies, our research finds, employees’ morale sharply declines after their first six months—and continues to deteriorate for years afterward. That finding is based on surveys of about 1.2 million employees at 52 primarily Fortune 1000 companies from 2001 through 2004, conducted by Sirota Survey Intelligence (Purchase, New York).
The fault lies squarely at the feet of management—both the policies and procedures companies employ in managing their workforces and in the relationships that individual managers establish with their direct reports.
Our research shows how individual managers’ behaviors and styles are contributing to the problem (see sidebar “How Management Demotivates“)—and what they can do to turn this around.
Three key goals of people at work
To maintain the enthusiasm employees bring to their jobs initially, management must understand the three sets of goals that the great majority of workers seek from their work—and then satisfy those goals:
- Equity: To be respected and to be treated fairly in areas such as pay, benefits, and job security.
- Achievement: To be proud of one’s job, accomplishments, and employer.
- Camaraderie: To have good, productive relationships with fellow employees.
To maintain an enthusiastic workforce, management must meet all three goals. Indeed, employees who work for companies where just one of these factors is missing are three times less enthusiastic than workers at companies where all elements are present.
One goal cannot be substituted for another. Improved recognition cannot replace better pay, money cannot substitute for taking pride in a job well done, and pride alone will not pay the mortgage.
What individual managers can do
Satisfying the three goals depends both on organizational policies and on the everyday practices of individual managers. If the company has a solid approach to talent management, a bad manager can undermine it in his unit. On the flip side, smart and empathetic managers can overcome a great deal of corporate mismanagement while creating enthusiasm and commitment within their units. While individual managers can’t control all leadership decisions, they can still have a profound influence on employee motivation.
The most important thing is to provide employees with a sense of security, one in which they do not fear that their jobs will be in jeopardy if their performance is not perfect and one in which layoffs are considered an extreme last resort, not just another option for dealing with hard times.
But security is just the beginning. When handled properly, each of the following eight practices will play a key role in supporting your employees’ goals for achievement, equity, and camaraderie, and will enable them to retain the enthusiasm they brought to their roles in the first place.