Motivating your employees:

In mid-2006, Harvard University’s Management Update Report published “Why Your Employees are Losing Motivation,” based on a survey of 1.2 million workers from 52 Fortune 1,000 companies; the results showed in about 85 percent of companies, employee morale sharply declines after the first six months of being hired and continues to deteriorate for years afterward. Loss of motivation is an important issue that electrical contractors must address to obtain and retain the best and brightest employees.

According to Jack Morton Worldwide, New York, N.Y., organizations with highly favorable employee attitudes have significantly better financial performance and a work force that wants to improve its own performance, as well as that of the company’s.

The first step toward improving the motivation levels of employees is to fully understand why people work in the first place.

“I believe that people work for personal satisfaction, self-fulfillment and growth,” said Bob Losyk, president of Innovative Training Solutions, Greensboro, N.C., and author of “Managing A Changing Workforce.”

Of course, people work to earn money and finance their lives, but other concerns become important after a satisfying salary such as recognition, social opportunities, and safety and security.

“Once all of these goals have been met, people then want to feel that their gifts are being used to their fullest capacity, and they will start losing motivation if not given the opportunity to realize their potential,” said Claire Belilos, president of Chic Hospitality Consulting Services, Vancouver, British Columbia.

Work provides a sense of purpose, according to Liz Bigham, vice president and director of brand marketing for Jack Morton Worldwide. “There’s a big difference between feeling challenged and rewarded by your work and just showing up, and employers need to be sensitive to the difference,” she said.

Andrew Perlmutter, owner of InMarketing Group, Inc., Mahwah, N.J., advises employers not to intertwine compensation and recognition.

“They are not the same. Salary is a tangible reward, while recognition is being shown appreciation for work performed,” he said. “People want rewards that can be remembered and that demonstrate recognition and appreciation for their efforts.”

Best motivational practices
“If you’re going to improve employee motivation within the organization, you need to first shake up the interview process and hire better, more qualified people,” said Losyk.

Improving the interview process requires asking more behavioral-based questions and seeking the behaviors and skills that make people successful in that particular position. “Many contractors have a tendency to hire out of desperation and don’t take the time to check the interviewees’ backgrounds or references,” he said.

According to Belilos, an important practice for improving motivation is to ensure that employees don’t end up in a routine or rut.

“We advise organizing frequent inter- and intra-departmental meetings that present pertinent information about the company’s objectives and goals and that let employees know they are an integral part of the organization.” In addition, cross-training programs, which provide employees with a greater understanding of the company as a whole and how every job interrelates to everyone else’s, lead to an improved team spirit among departments and individuals.

Bigham agrees that communication between management and employees is critical to improving motivation. Jack Morton Worldwide just completed a survey of 1,625 people in the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and China, which asked how their employers communicate with them. The number one issue that employees said would influence their behavior is hearing from the immediate manager.

“Yet, only 33 percent of employees that participated in the survey said that they are satisfied with how their employers communicate with them,” she said.

Increasing productivity and loyalty
According to Losyk, first you should pay well and pay fairly to improve productivity. “Naturally, the best people will work for the highest paying company.” Once employed by a company, however, increasing productivity and loyalty requires that the employee receive the latest cutting-edge training.

“Lack of training breeds lack of self-esteem, which reduces the feeling that the employee is part of the company’s success and diminishes productivity,” Losyk said. On the flip side, it’s important to terminate toxic people—those who have negative attitudes and work habits. Another factor for improved employee productivity is an organizational setup that includes clearly written and communicated work procedures. ”High-caliber managers and supervisors who know department goals thoroughly and who are good leaders are the keystone to improved employee productivity,” Belilos said.

So, if those in the leadership position are respectful of employee needs and openly communicate, employees will better understand their role in the company and will put forth extra effort to ensure the company’s success.

“Communication is so important. Salary being equal, the person who feels appreciated will be the more loyal and productive employee,” said Perlmutter. Never assume that employees understand the company’s vision; they need to be told what it is, what it means and, most importantly, the role they play in it. “Motivate people to be productive and loyal by articulating the company’s goals and aligning them with employees’ goals,” Bigham said.

How to reward and recognize
Rewarding employees for performance requires a combination of monetary and nonmonetary awards, according to Losyk. Nonmonetary rewards include anything that has appreciation or recognition value, from plaques and certificates to incentive gifts such as travel and food. “Link rewards to performance, giving the most to the best, and make it too costly for them to leave by providing incentives to perform and stay with the company,” Losyk said.

One of the simplest ways to provide sincere expressions of appreciation is to trust employees with more challenging assignments. People naturally desire promotional and educational opportunities that allow them to stretch themselves and to acquire more specialized knowledge that will add value to their careers.

“Too many companies throw money at people as recognition for performance. A pat on the back, especially in front of peers, and incentive programs that reward measurable success are tangible demonstrations that motivate people,” Perlmutter said.

In addition to informal recognition, such as that pat on the back or other demonstrations of appreciation for achieving company goals (such as handwritten notes of thanks, tickets to entertainment events, etc.), a company should develop formal recognition programs. These include more tangible gifts or awards for employees’ achieving company goals through their additional efforts, service and anniversary recognition or recognition of other milestones in employees’ lives, and events that celebrate organizational milestones.

Effective employee recognition is a communication tool that reinforces the actions and behaviors you want people to repeat. A recognition program should be simple, immediate and equally powerful for both the organization and the employees. It should establish the criteria for what performance or contribution constitutes rewardable behavior; all employees must be eligible, and it must outline specific information about what behaviors or actions are being rewarded. In addition, the recognition should occur as closely as possible to the performance being rewarded and should not be designed as a management selection that can be viewed as favoritism.

In a corporate culture that values and rewards employee performance and professional growth, employees are empowered to demonstrate their capabilities. Salary being equal, people will remain with a company that provides an enjoyable, trusting environment that allows them to grow and learn. EC

BREMER, a freelance writer based in Solomons, Md., contributes frequently to ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR. She can be reached at 410.394.6966 or by e-mail at darbremer@comcast.net.