Motivating staff in uninspiring jobs

Even the most uninspiring jobs have redeeming features, so a few choice benefits can make a job bearable. Simple morale boosters are one answer, while money is another factor if work is simply a means to an end, says Jenny Keefe

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The pay was lousy and there was certainly no carefully crafted incentive scheme; but, at my first ever job, deep frying doughnuts in a cafÈ shaped like a giant plastic seashell on Southend seafront, the boss was a laugh and we could help ourselves to any of our mis-shapen sugary produce. In other words, even the most uninspiring jobs have redeeming features.

Hot on the heels of’s Crap Towns comes the title Crap Jobs, edited by Dan Kieran (Bantam Books, 2004), which documents 100 of the most dismal ways to earn a crust. Disgruntled contributors share stomach-churning tales of pea checking, koala stuffing and phone sex line operating.

Let’s face it, while graduates might be stepping over each other to land jobs in glamorous institutions such as MI5 or the BBC, certain occupations are never going to hook people in on prestige alone. However, a few choice benefits can make these roles bearable. Ranked at number 24 in the book’s roll call, telesales is one of those jobs with a particularly unpleasant image. Cold calling, curt rebuffs and unsociable hours mean telephone sales workers have to put up with a great deal. Nevertheless, there are ways of keeping up morale.

Martyn Sloman, managing director of Hotlines Call Centre Skills Training, explains: "No matter how glamorous, any job is routine unless you have a bigger meaning behind it." He recommends simple morale boosters such as lucky dips and team nights out, adding that holidays always hit the spot for call centre employees. "If someone hits an agreed productivity measure they can go home and still get paid.

If they don’t want to go home, maybe they could work [while being paid at] time-and-a-half for an agreed period." On the other hand, ill thought out bonus schemes can push people over the edge. "Ensure bonus plans are simple and easy to understand. Nothing is worse than an incentive which is complicated to track," he says. "Mind-numbingly repetitive and badly paid", Crap Jobs also lambastes recruitment consulting, which comes in at number five.

While studies show that pay has little impact on motivation, money does carry more weight when people are simply working as a means to an end. Steven Clark, HR manager at recruitment consultants Blue Arrow, says: "The recruitment industry is driven by financial bonuses and a good recruitment consultant is driven by earning commission – that’s what makes them get out of bed in the morning. I would probably say that the benefits are secondary to the bonus."

Although he adds that consultants often get a bad wrap: "Recruitment consultants have a bit of a bad name, similar to estate agents, but we have people that stay with us for years." Richard Kirk, CEO at motivation firm Projectlink, says that if anybody genuinely thinks their job is worthy of being included in the book it could be time to start browsing the job ads.

"If the feeling that the job is crap is not down to the basic conditions that the employer is giving, then [employees] should just leave, because someone out there will enjoy that work. Some people are beyond motivation and employers have to accept that and try and encourage people to look for another job."

Motivation tips

Say thank you – take staff aside and thank them for a job well done.

Try your luck – keep a lucky dip full of sweets and leftover marketing goodies for on-the-spot rewards.

Let your hair down – boost morale by taking the team out for the night.

Keep it short and sweet – make sure incentive schemes are easy to understand.

Give people responsibility – special projects can make people feel valued.

Take time out – let staff knock off early if they reach agreed targets.