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Worker Satisfaction and Employee Reward Systems

While I have been discussing communications in the workplace, I view communication as one of many aspects of structure. Communication is a vehicle for conveying support and structure to employees. The turn of a phrase or the wording of a memo can make huge difference in how employees perceive the attitude of their managers and leaders… and how the employees perform.

When it comes to reward systems the communication matters. You see, it is important that the rewards are seen as the success of great performance, not as a tool for enforcing performance. In work cultures where people work primarily for the reward (like in jobs that are fundamentally about the commission, for example) there is generally less loyalty to the company, less interest in the quality of the work product, and less personal satisfaction. People can switch from selling one product to another.

In companies that offer meaningful work and autonomy of work process people find intrinsic satisfaction from their effort. When people feel like they have some autonomy in accomplishing their work, they feel mastery for themselves, and increased loyalty to their company or organization. When that good commitment, effort and outcome occur, and it is celebrated with rewards, then workers feel even better about themselves and the job.

A year ago I wrote a post about the work of Daniel Pink, the author of Drive. He pointed out how, paradoxically, when cognitive tasks were rewarded, or incentivized, performance actually decreased. He noted that when people were given the time to think freely, without incentives or requirements, they were their most creative. For example, Australian software workers were give an afternoon to “do what they wanted” and see what ideas they had for their work. It turned out that the most useful and creative ideas in the company came out of that short creative period.

Humans need to feel autonomy and mastery. They also like to win and to succeed; to light up the score board. As managers and leaders we want to communicate to our employees that it is their job to figure out, creatively, how to move the ball down the field. We don’t incentivize exactly how they zig or zag. But we do jump up and down when they score. This is how we keep reward systems from detracting from autonomy and reducing performance.

So what you want to communicate in building a reward system is that the intention is not to control or micromanage your employees. Good performance is greatly appreciated, and the outcome (in terms of organizational goals) essential. Success brings the organization (and individuals) rewards. This delicate balance of “you can do it” and “the organization must achieve its goals” is the trick in presenting and implementing reward systems. In the People Side of Business, we call this the critical balance of support and structure.

Tom DeMaio, PhD

http://www.DeMaioPsychology.com

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