When staff are actively involved in decision making that affects their job, they will be more motivated and satisfied than when exposed to a command and control regime.
Research has conclusively shown that the greater job satisfaction employees have, the healthier and more productive they will be. This is a phenomena we have begun to understand a great deal better over the last few years. We now know, for example, that people who are managed by reward and praise are likely to be more highly motivated than those micro-managed by fault finding, negative feedback and an autocratic management style.
In recent years, the rise in stress-related sickness absence has been well documented. One approach to managing this is to adopt a hard-line, punitive absence management programme, making frequent home visits and constant phone calls to check on the employee and urging them back to work.
The alternative, incentive-based approach was adopted by Royal Mail Group. The company introduced a scheme to encourage their staff to keep a clean sheet when it came to absence and if they could improve their sickness record they would be put into a draw to win a free car. This was backed by support and help with any health-related problem they might have.
The scheme had a positive impact on overall absence and productivity, as opposed to a more punitive absence management scheme, which can harbour resentment and a feeling of an Orwellian big brother.
We also know that when employees are actively involved in decision making that affects their job, they will be more motivated and more satisfied than when exposed to a command and control regime where change is imposed on them.
When Astra and Zeneca Group, merged to form AstraZeneca, for example, the firm used communication as a motivating and incentivising strategy.
Due to concerns that employees might feel insecure and uncertain during the run up to the merger, the company wanted to encourage them to express their fears and raise issues of concern. Aside from the obvious strategies, such as involving them in focus groups and formal decision-making bodies between the two companies, an online platform was also introduced to allow employees to anonymously express their personal concerns about the changes being discussed. The management team would then provide a response to each concern and present both the issue and the response online for everyone to see.
Take a positive approach
Other companies have introduced benefits which help to encourage their managers to be praiseorientated as opposed to fault finding in their managerial style. One such example would be giving cash vouchers to employees whose performance on particular projects are above and beyond the call of duty.
It is important for organisations to think creatively about proactive and innovative approaches to motivating their employees. In developing an incentive-based motivation system a ‘no-size-fits-all’ attitude is needed, and the approach should aim to fit both the organisation’s culture and concerns of employees.
However, it is also important for employers to create conditions where employees can be proactive and create the kinds of working environments they want. Having an online suggestion scheme, for example, where employees can suggest things that they would find motivating can be beneficial. As George Bernard Shaw suggested in Mrs Warren’s Profession: "People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don’t believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and if they can’t find them, make them."
• Cary L Cooper, CBE, professor of organisational psychology and health, Lancaster University Management School