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5 Employee Motivation Myths Debunked Recognition--not money--is the real motivator in a down economy.

By Dr. David G. Javitch

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Business owners need to ensure that their employees are productive and eager to do the best job possible--this is especially true during today's challenging economic times. Yet every industry and every organization has people who simply do not produce work in the quality that they are capable of providing. That can create costly problems for a manager.

Leaders often miss the mark when trying to ramp up employee productivity. Let's debunk some motivational myths.

  1. Money motivates. Of course, if you pay some enough money, they will do almost any job. And when you give bonuses to reward past behavior, the recipients are usually very happy (unless they were expecting a larger bonus). The staff does a better job following the glow that accompanies added money.

    However, studies find this happiness is short-lived. Within six months, individuals have difficulty recalling that bonus and it does not seem to have the same impact it did within the first few weeks or months of receiving it. That's because money, in and of itself, will not continuously motivate individuals.

    It's the recognition and status that are the true motivators for the increased output. Take for example, the high tech salesperson who sold more product than anyone else in the department. The boss rewards that employee with a bonus. Everyone knows who the bonus recipient is, and she is proud of her accomplishments--the high earner gains recognition from colleagues and clients. Recognition and status are two key sources of motivation. So while money can serve to motivate, its effects are often short term at best.

    What should you do? Set up situations that allow the employee to feel a sense of accomplishment. Employees respond most to opportunities for achievement, recognition, growth, job enrichment and job enlargement.
  2. Just keep them happy. Employers often go to great lengths to keep their employees happy--some offer game rooms; others have phones with free long-distance access. The theory here is that if we can keep the employees happy during their break time, it will translate into increased motivation and productivity. Unfortunately, this is not very effective.

    Employees actually enjoy their break times, look forward to them, and may even linger during them. But the satisfaction found during the break times does not necessarily translate into better or higher quality job performance.
  3. Ignore Conflict. Few people, especially in the professional world, enjoy conflict. Most bosses and employees alike would rather "let something go" or "sweep it under the rug" than make an issue out of it. Too many managers are concerned about being liked that they don't fulfill their responsibilities to catch problems quickly. Not addressing an employee's problematic behavior doesn't help any one.
  4. Some people just aren't motivated. This is a very common misconception. Everyone is motivated--but for different reasons. Walking through the offices, the manager may see someone playing computer games or sending personal email, this could be seen as the individual is not motivated because he's not attending to the job tasks. But that may not be entirely correct. At that moment, the "aimless" employee is motivated, perhaps even highly motivated. But that motivation is not work directed, nor is it productive for the company.

    The challenge here is for the leader to discover what actually motivates that employee and match up those elements with the worker's job description. (This point also assumes that the employee is worth keeping.)
  5. Smart employees don't need to be motivated. Being "smart" carries an important cachet in American society. Everyone wants to have smart people working for them because these people are quick to learn, adapt and produce. Employers may erroneously believe that they don't need to spend much time or attention on these staffers.

    Unfortunately, intelligence and self-motivation do not necessarily go hand-in-hand. There are plenty of smart employees who haven't been able to find out just what motivates them personally; they tend to get bored or frustrated easily. The result is a lack of interest and a lack of productivity.

    So what does an employer do? A smart employer creates the atmosphere that allows and encourages the employee to be motivated. That employer also gets to know what his staff is interested in doing to advance company goals and what parts of the job description are interesting or exciting verses boring.

10 Quick Ways to Motivate

  1. Praise the employee for a job well done--or even partially well done.
  2. If an employee is bored, involve that individual in a discussion about ways to create a more satisfying career path, including promotions based on concrete outcomes.
  3. State your clear expectations for task accomplishment.
  4. Ensure that the job description involves a variety of tasks.
  5. Ensure that the employee sees that what she's doing impacts the whole process or task that others will also be part of.
  6. Make sure that the employee feels that what he/she is doing is meaningful.
  7. Provide feedback along the way, pointing out both positive and negative aspects.
  8. Allow for an appropriate amount of autonomy for the employee based on previous and anticipated accomplishment.
  9. Increase the depth and breadth of what the employee is currently doing.
  10. Provide the employee with adequate opportunity to succeed.

Dr. David G. Javitch is an organizational psychologist, leadership specialist, and President of Javitch Associates in Newton, Mass. Author of How to Achieve Power in Your Life, Javitch is in demand as a consultant for his skills in assessment, coaching, training and facilitating groups and retreats.

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