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By Francis Wade


Monday, October 15, 2012.

When executives' hands are tied by their company's inability to give raises, bonuses and other material perks, should they give up trying to make workers feel appreciated?


According to research cited in Why Workers Won't Work: The Case Study of Jamaica by Kenneth Carter, respect and appreciation are exactly what the Jamaican worker is seeking. Once their basic needs are met, they rank these attributes above tangible benefits.


Many of us would scoff at this finding, although it's been verified in more than a single study. We believe without question that more money makes people work harder.

We are partially correct if recent research cited in Drive by Daniel Pink is to be believed. As long as the work being motivated involves brute force, repetition and no creativity, more money can buy more results. However, so can desperation.


Our long and recent history of hard economic times, with its high unemployment and steady dose of fear, has scared low-paid employees. They respond immediately to small monetary incentives, swallowing frequent injustices such as irregular payments. They are too afraid to "lose the work" to resist.

Our managers come to believe that this is exactly how you need to treat 'these people' in the belief that money can be used to get someone to dig a ditch faster, and also to dig more ditches. In their minds, all workers can be treated like ditch-diggers.

What happens when someone is given a different job, for example, to find the best route for a new ditch?

In his book, Pink cites research that shows that skilled, knowledge workers aren't motivated by bonuses and rewards. These factors actually destroy creativity by distracting the worker from the intrinsic benefits of work, and pull their attention to focus on relatively meagre extrinsic benefits.

It's a grave mistake to equate the desperate mindset of a poorly educated worker with that of a creative knowledge worker, but that is exactly what many managers do. What should a good manager emphasize in order to preserve and nourish the goose that lays the creative, golden eggs?

The answers lie beyond the basic respect and appreciation described in Carter's book. Pink and others show that the way to motivate workers is beyond these factors, and rest in a manager's ability to give autonomy, mastery and purpose.

1. Autonomy - Being Your Own Boss

Find ways to give workers autonomy - Many Jamaicans dream of starting their own business, but it's not only in order to get rich. They 'wanna rule their destiny' and a manager who recognises this truth consciously gives employees small gifts of greater autonomy, while removing micro-management. These are powerful advantages that can help prevent good workers from leaving companies just because they want to have the power to decide when, where and how to do their best work.

2. Mastery - Becoming the Best

Encourage workers to expand their knowledge - In the past month our newspapers have been filled with reports of students who have mastered their GSAT, CSEC and CAPE exams. In much the same way, our sprinters have become the best in the world because they also possess a desire to get better. This urge to improve is a powerful one that requires little monetary investment in an age of free online courses from some of the world's best universities. It's never been easier for a company to train its people for free, but very few are encouraging employees to add new skills and knowledge even when it's affordable.

3. Purpose - Offering Direction

Give employees the opportunity to craft a personal vision - Too many executives get over-excited about 'increasing shareholder value'. When they publicly commit to these goals, they separate themselves from their employees who usually don't care much about making already rich people even richer. Instead, they should help employees plug into a larger purpose, a grander reason to come to work every morning and give their employer the best part of each week.

Managers must be careful, as it's quite easy to distract one's entire workforce with, for example, a new bonus programme that destroys delicate links to 'autonomy, mastery and purpose'.

When they turn around and complain that no-one is motivated they need to understand that what role they played in destroying it, and that it can only be re-built if they change their own approach.

This isn't an easy task, but it's the only one that works.

Francis Wade is the President of Framework Consulting. He can be reached at columns@fwconsulting.com


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