The benefits of pamper power

Aug 13 2009 by Joe Barnhart Print This Article

The embattled corporate giant AIG continues to infuriate taxpayers by handing out millions in bonuses like they were chocolate truffles. But not to worry, AIG's chairman, Edward Liddy assures us that the bonuses are necessary for retaining the company's talented individuals.

So the very same people who ran the company into the ground by offering excessive bonuses are telling us not to worry about why they do not appear to have changed their behaviour. Well, I am not convinced.

The old way was shown to be unsustainable. The new normal demands new thinking, especially in terms of motivators. OK, money is important but it is not everything. Pamper power can go a long way. It is easy on the bottom line and can bring some great results.

In Myra White's April 2009 Management-Issues article Rethinking the power of money, she dispels the misconception that money really does buy happiness, or in this case, loyal employees. And other studies support her claim.

She points out: "Money is obviously a primary motivator when people lack basic necessities for survival but it hardly applies to people in rich countries who often have more than enough money to fulfill their basic needs for food and shelter."

The Conference Board, the research organization bringing you the Consumer Confidence Index, reports that fewer than half of American employees say their jobs are delightful, down from 61% twenty years ago. Plus, of all workers under the age of 25, fewer than 39% said they believed their jobs to be great. This doesn't bode well for motivation.

When employees "can't get no" job satisfaction, they are often negative and frustrated, best highlighted by their staging of office chair races and jalapeno pepper eating contests.

Working to find promoters of job satisfaction is a colossal task – and frankly, who has the time? Still, there are some low-cost, quick-win techniques any manager can use to improve the workplace environment through a bit of pampering. Here are a few:

- Affirm those around you. Helping improve employees' feelings of self worth improves motivation and enables them to deal with stressful situations. Don't assume subordinates already know what they do is important – tell them. And don't forget to remind yourself how cool you are – after all, a healthy self-esteem is contagious.

- Leave the whiner at home. People who constantly complain are motivation vacuums. A colleague of mine wanders from office to office complaining about everything from policy to restroom ventilation. It's a struggle to stay positive but I give it a shot. By monitoring what's said we can keep a conversation upbeat – even during difficult economic times.

- Don't be judgmental. Sure managers have to evaluate employees – that's why they get the big bucks. Forming an opinion about a worker based on mere outward appearance or rumors leads to false prejudices. Yes, I know it's fun but, when a supervisor's objectivity is compromised, subordinates catch on fast -- making it hard to rally support when it's crunch time.

- Lose the worrywart. As a kid, I rarely worried. Responsible employees often are consumed with worrying. Teach them how to analyze a problem, consider the possible options, choose the best one and then act on it. Other reliable techniques including staying busy, open dialoguing, and channeling energy into helping others.

- Give a break today. Helping employees resolve mistakes builds trust and gratitude. Rubbing someone's nose in his mistake offers limited behavioral rewards even though at the time it might temporarily make you feel a whole lot better. Try forgiving - even if the error was so incredibly stupid you'd swear an employee named Bilbo, the-human-fence-post committed it!

- Live the "C" word. This comes up so often it almost makes you sick. Yes, COMMUNICATE! Keen communication skills can help employees through rough days. No coddling allowed! But offering a few carefully phrased words of encouragement can really invigorate a person. It works for you – admit it.

- Making time be on your side. It's the same old story: plan, organize, set goals, and prioritize. Time management skills are a manager's best friend but are often lost on employees. Getting subordinates to follow their own game plan provides a sense of accomplishment and ownership while improving efficiency.

- Embrace wellness. A colleague told me her doctor's advice was to exercise and lose weight. In a compassionate way, I said, "Of course you do. Get on with it." Healthy people work harder, end of story! By supporting wellness activities and encouraging healthy lifestyles, everyone benefits – even if some days the treadmill feels like a medieval torture device.

- Think RAK. It may sound like a form of torture but it's exactly the opposite. It stands for Random Acts of Kindness and they can encourage a positive environment. It can be as simple as leaving chocolate or a cartoon on someone's desk.

So the lesson to AIG is that throwing good money after bad isn't a long-term solution for employees suffering from occasional feelings of low job satisfaction. There are lots of other tools in the box than money. Let go of the hammer and you will start to see more than nails.

But improving the workplace environment takes a positive attitude and intentional kindness to those around us. These are additions to the psychological contract some industries have never considered - see Graham Dietz's recent article for more on this.

If yours is one such industry consider breaking the mould. Try out some of the suggestions I have made and you'll see that money isn't everything for most people. You will have discovered the basics of pamper power.


About The Author

Joe Barnhart
Joe Barnhart

Joe Barnhart is the Assistant Director of Information and Telecommunication Services at the University of Montana – Western in the US. He also presents seminars on staying positive in the workplace and is currently working on a book about economics.