Friday, 2 April 2010


Definitely one of the greatest challenges employers need to face in the incoming years will be the one to motivate their staff.

According to many researches and HR professionals there are no doubts about the direct link between motivation and performance. It also seems evident that a good level of motivation brings greater productivity and lower rates of sickness and absence.

UK Employment relations minister Lord Young claimed that “a more considered approach to employee engagement can improve the performance and competitiveness of both individual businesses and the UK economy as a whole”.

Justin King, chief executive of Sainsbury's, said that employee engagement is pivotal to make sure that people working at Sainsbury's understand what the organisation is trying to achieve for its customers and why.

But that’s not all, employee engagement is openly recognised by many HR practitioners as one of the key drivers of the success of any business, a “must have” to reach high levels of customer satisfaction.

As Richard Lambert, CBI (Confederation of British Industry) director general, observed engagement and trust between employer and employee have also been fundamental to overcome the negative effect of the past recession. Moreover, is just during, or soon after, periods of difficulties, when budgets are still under severe scrutiny that employees may be tempt to change their job. Employers should, then, do whatever they can to keep their staff motivated, in order not to risk to lose their finest talent.

According to a Gallup study, carried out in 2000 within 200,000 employees, good management, from the employee’s point of view, rests on four main fundamental points:
• Having a manager who shows concern, understanding and interest for his staff
• Knowing what is expected of them
• Carrying out tasks which fits their abilities
• Receive regular positive feedback and recognition for work well done.

People who considered themselves working under these circumstances were more productive and more profitable. The organisations, on the other hand, had lower staff turnover and achieved higher customer satisfaction ratings.

A more recent survey, carried out in 2008 by Towers Perrin-ISR, showed that employees are aligned but far from engaged.

According to this study an engaged employee is likely to express four statements:
• I believe rewards are fairly distributed
• I feel respected and listened to
• I am improving my skills
• I believe my organisation has a sincere interest in supporting me.

People strategies should, consequently, focus on engaging everyone, not just emphasising their “talents” achievements. In order to do so, employers should:
• Give all employees access to development opportunities
• Know what engages them
• Create an environment that enables everyone to fully contribute to business success, ensuring that no groups of employees are overlooked.

A recent research has revealed that, although money has a pulling power, is the passion for the job the main motivator. If a good salary, in fact, attracts employees to a new job, it fails to motivate them once they are recruited.

This should not really be a surprise for anyone, if anything for all who know the “two-factor” theory developed by Frederick Herzberg (1959) on the basis of the outcome of a series of interviews carried out within 200 engineers and accountants, about their experience of work.

He determined that there are two different factors, in fact, impacting the working life of people: motivating factors and hygiene or maintenance factors (dissatisfying). Well, salary belongs to the latter.

Whilst the motivating factors – achievement, recognition, work itself, responsibility and advancement – seemed to have a direct influence on superior performance and effort, the hygiene factors – company policy and administration, supervision, interpersonal relation, working conditions, and salary – served mainly to prevent dissatisfaction, but not to encourage performance and let alone “to go the extra mile”.

Coming back to recent times, the above mentioned survey has revealed that 76% of UK workers say that when looking for a new job the most appealing feature is a competitive salary. But less than a third (32%) is motivated by money to perform well in their job.
The research also reveals that the biggest performance motivator, among nearly half (43%) of UK employees, is simply having a passion for their job or the organisation where they work (once again Herzberg comes to play, “work itself”), 70% say an employer's commitment to staff training and learning is important in helping them feel valued and 69% say it is important in making them want to work hard.

In line with the findings of the above mentioned studies, this survey, carried out by the National Training Award and YouGov, also reveals that other key performance motivators are personal recognition and praise from management (28%) and an open and relaxed management style (27%).

Another interesting finding of this survey is that 52% of workers would feel more employable in difficult economic times by learning new skills or getting extra training and 83% think their training and skills development, are important to their long-term career prospects. Although 50% of workers agree that their employer is committed to developing their skills, a considerable 22% disagree.

Simon Bartley, CEO, National Training Awards and UK Skills, commenting the study’s findings, said: "The results of our survey really do justify the old adage ‘money makes the world go round' - certainly in the jobs market at the very least. But it is fascinating how, on closer inspection, the more important values and motivations of the UK workforce come to light. Particularly, organisational aspects such as management styles and the provision of training and development opportunities can be even more important in keeping a workforce motivated, productive and happy."

Longo, R., (2010), The importance of motivating and engaging staff, HR Professionals, [online].