Professor Sir Cary Cooper: How can employers use reward to improve job satisfaction?

Cary Cooper

There are several ways in which employers can use a reward-orientated strategy to improve job satisfaction. In order to do this, the employer has to understand what drives employee motivation. For many employees, the drivers of job satisfaction are the intangibles of having more autonomy in their jobs, feeling more engaged in their role and decision making, having more flexible-working arrangements, less of a long-hours culture, flexible holidays, and so on.

Many of these drivers are linked to the management style of the line manager. If we had more socially skilled line managers, they would create the conditions under which people felt valued, trusted and listened to. As Lao Tzu of Taoism once wrote about leaders: “A leader is best when people barely know he exists. When his work is done, his aim fulfilled, people will say ‘we did it ourselves’.”

From a practical employee reward point of view, I would suggest the following. First, train and select managers who have the social skills to manage people by praise and recognition rather than fault-finding. Rewarding achievement can be done monetarily but also psychologically.

The second relates to the fact that in the UK, and in many of our competitor countries, the average family has two earners, which requires more flexible working arrangements to juggle family life (that is childcare, eldercare, and so on) with work demands. If people are achieving their objectives and beyond, providing them with the flexible-working arrangements that suit their lifestyle would be a highly valued benefit. It is okay to have a flexible-working policy but with few people taking it up, this needs to be part of the HR DNA of the organisation where people feel it will not adversely affect their career or promotion prospects.

Third, to enhance job satisfaction, the issue of trust is very important. Employees need to feel trusted, and one way to demonstrate that is the recent movement toward unlimited holidays, where employees, in consultation with their employer, can take holidays when they need them and are not constrained by a particular number of holiday days. A number of businesses, such as Virgin Airways and Zoopla, are seeing the benefit of this without the downsides of abuse. It is creating an environment of trust, where the individual understands that he or she takes what they need but balances this against their part of the implicit contract of delivering to their objectives.

As Freud once wrote, “choose a job that you like, and you will not have to work a day in your life”.

Professor Sir Cary Cooper is president of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and 50th anniversary professor of organisational psychology and health at Alliance Manchester Business School, University of Manchester