What Really Motivates Employees

Employees that are engaged in their work are more productive, satisfied, and likely to stay with an employer motivating them to do their best.

Having a more engaged workforce is highly beneficial to companies and managers, positively impacting areas including workplace safety, employee health, and profitability. Consider the latest Gallup Employee Engagement study that reports that only 34% of employees are truly engaged at work. In fact, Gallup estimates that actively disengaged employees cost the US $450 billion to $550 billion in lost productivity per year.

The secret to engaging employees comes from a key aspect of motivational psychology: the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

Extrinsic motivation comes from external sources (for example the promise of a reward or the threat of punishment). Intrinsic motivation, on the other hand, comes from within.

Intrinsically motivated employees genuinely desire to excel at their job and find their work rewarding on its own merit. Research finds that intrinsic motivation is a powerful driver of employee engagement.

So how can leaders and managers create an environment that intrinsically motivates employees?

Build a culture of respect

What would an intrinsically motivating environment look like?

It would have a workplace culture that is inclusive and respectful of the backgrounds and ideas of each individual. A 2016 SHRM study finds that respectful treatment of employees at all levels rates as very important by 67% of employees, making it the top contributor to overall employee job satisfaction. Nearly one half (49%) of employees in the same study indicate that their immediate supervisor’s respect for their ideas translates into job satisfaction. Employees who feel seen, valued, and listened to help spread a culture of respect and civility.

What else contributes to this positive workplace culture?

Make it meaningful

Employees are more motivated by meaningful work that gives them a sense of purpose than by strictly financial rewards. This is especially true among younger workers.

In fact, a 2014 study of 300 companies finds that 94% of Millennials want to use their skills to do good in the world, and 50% would take a pay cut if they find work that matches their values.

Leadership should talk with employees regarding the “why” behind their work. For example, ask, “What makes your company’s work important?” or “How does it positively contribute to the business world?” As part of the conversation, leaders should share stories demonstrating the positive impact their organization has on customers and the larger community.

Recognize excellence

Most people respond well to appreciation. Research finds that managers who positively recognize employees can boost employee engagement by up to 60%. Yet, 63% of employees report they don't get enough praise. Recognition does not need to be attached to a financial or tangible reward to increase motivation. In fact, 83% of employees say it’s better to give someone praise than a gift. Putting systems and traditions in place for workers to receive recognition from peers, managers, and leadership becomes an effective and easy way to motivate employees.

To wrap it up…

When thinking about employee motivation, take a cue from Whole Foods, a company that regularly tops the list of best companies to work for. Whole Foods’ former CEO John Mackey states, “If you are lucky enough to be someone’s employer, then you have a moral obligation to make sure people look forward to coming to work in the morning.”

Sexual Harassment Suit with Horrendous Facts Leads to Mandatory Training

A lawsuit filed by the EEOC in the Middle District of Alabama against Hyundai contractor Sys-Con, LLC., has settled for $70,000, according to a recent press release by the EEOC. As the agency has stepped up enforcement actions in the wake of the #MeToo era, more organizations are facing significant settlement and conciliation penalties to avoid sexual harassment-related litigation.

What makes the Sys-Con settlement interesting is the extremely misogynistic and grotesque fact pattern, and the fact that the lawsuit included allegations evidencing a total disregard for a respectful workplace and/or desire to prevent incidents of harassment within the organization. A total disregard for promoting a respectful work environment makes it easy to fall into the trap of repeated harassment and subsequent retaliation, as the facts in the Sys-Con case alleged.

According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, between 2015-2017 a supervisor at Sys-Con’s facility within a Hyundai manufacturing plant in Montgomery, Alabama demanded sexual favors from two non English-speaking female employees and routinely watched pornographic videos in front of them. The lawsuit also alleges the supervisor sexually assaulted one of the employees and then subsequently taunted her, asking questions such as whether “she liked it.” If all of that wasn’t bad enough, the lawsuit claims the supervisor threatened to fire both victims and their husbands (also Sys-Con employees) if they reported the alleged misconduct.

The facts of this case are extremely egregious, and while the lawsuit demonstrates EEOC’s commitment to enforcing workplace civil rights laws, the reported $70,000 settlement seems light when viewed in context with other similar cases that are brought in private litigation. In addition to the $70,000 payment Sys-Con was ordered to take preventive actions to prevent something like this from ever happening again, including (but not limited to) conducting annual training for managers, supervisors, and other employees, with an emphasis on harassment.

Mandated harassment training has become a frequent point of emphasis in EEOC and state fair employment agency consent decrees. What is most telling about that fact is the number of organizations who are not proactively training their workforces on the importance of learning about (and stopping) incidents of harassment before they become repeated actions and/or hostile work environments.

The Sys-Con case illustrates the “Grand Slam” of incidents within an organtion: hostile environment, quid pro quo harassment, sexual assault and retaliation. When an organization is hit with this type of a grand slam it is clear it is not doing enough to prevent these types of incidents.

Cases like the Sys-Con lawsuit are becoming more frequent in the wake of the #MeToo era as victims begin to feel empowered to report misconduct. Additionally, consent decrees like the one issued in this case are emphasizing organization-wide training campaigns aimed at educating workforces on how to spot and intervene when harassing or disrespectful behavior is occurring. As employees become more comfortable reporting these types of incidents we will see their numbers actually decrease. After all, harassment knowledge is power, and removing the power imbalance in the harassment space is the first step in eliminating the problem.

Critical Thinking: An Essential Soft Skill in the Age of Apps and Automation

At the 2018 World Economic Forum, Jack Ma, founder of global e-commerce sensation Alibaba, said, “We cannot teach our kids to compete with the machines who are smarter – we have to teach our kids something unique.”

Indeed, an increasing concern for employers and employees alike is the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of apps and automation in a wide variety of fields from accounting to manufacturing to retail. A recent study by the McKinsey Global Institute estimates that soon an average of 15% of work activities across the globe could be displaced by automation.

What is critical thinking and why does it matter?

So what is this “something unique” we should be teaching our children – and employees? Many experts believe it’s critical thinking.

Problem-solving in the workplace can be complex, and decisions may have serious consequences. The foundation of effective problem solving is critical thinking: the ability to analyze information objectively, assess different perspectives, and reach a logical conclusion uninfluenced by emotion or personal bias. Essentially, workers need to be able to think creatively, solve problems in new and unexpected ways, communicate and collaborate effectively, and understand how to apply data to real-world situations.

The McKinsey study predicts, “Demand for higher cognitive skills such as creativity, critical thinking and decision-making, and complex information processing will grow through 2030, at cumulative double-digit rates.”

According to Professor Joseph Aoun, author of the book Robot Proof, “When I talk to employers, they tell me that they would give their right arm for more systems thinkers – quarterbacks who can see across disciplines and analyze them in an integrated way….be culturally agile, able to communicate across boundaries, and to think ethically.”

The state of critical thinking in the workplace

Although critical thinking skills are more in demand than ever, the workforce as a whole is significantly underprepared to take on high-level cognitive challenges.

A global study by MCAT reveals that 84% of managers believe their company suffered a financial loss due to a lack of critical thinking among employees. Other research finds that the higher up the ladder an employee is, the more important critical thinking becomes. A minor mistake by a low-level employee is easily fixed, but a CEO’s error in judgment could lead to disaster. And yet, 62% of respondents said their organization does nothing to recruit, hire, and train critical thinkers.

And so…

One important takeaway is that critical thinking can be taught and existing skills sharpened. However, 80% of those surveyed in the MCAT study were never offered training to improve their critical thinking skills.

Companies who invest in critical thinking development have an opportunity to ahead of the curve. Isn’t it time to give your employees this higher-level skill to help themselves – and your organization?

Examining the Effectiveness of Harassment Training

Much ink has been spilled debating the effectiveness of legalistic (and formulaic) anti-harassment training. Nearly everyone agrees that grouping employees in a room with a 1980’s era VCR/television combination unit and playing a video recorded by a corporate lawyer with little or no training on preventive practice is the wrong way to conduct harassment training, unless the only aim is to “check the box” for legal defense enhancement purposes. In the wake of the #MeToo movement not only has there been an increased number of states requiring harassment training, but also an increased backlash from employees who are being force-fed training they feel is out of touch and overly legalistic.

So what to do?

Measuring and Reinventing Sexual Harassment Training, a new article that appeared in Bloomberg Law, has taken note of recent research about the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of anti-harassment training. In the article, the author notes a recent study that revealed companies are afraid to take measures on the effectiveness of harassment training because they are afraid of what the results might reveal. This type of approach is no longer acceptable in an era where harassment of all kinds receives heightened scrutiny. Providing methods of training that actually change culture is essential to creating a workplace that is devoted to respect and inclusion, and failing to develop methods to gauge the effectiveness of training is tantamount to doing nothing at all.

Syntrio has long taken the approach that legalese and lack of engagement are taboo in workplace harassment training. We believe strongly in a blended learning approach that is not over in just one hour, once every two years. Instead, implementing a learning continuum and combination of training methods is the best way to affect actual change in employee behavior, rather than scaring them about legal damages or trying to change beliefs, which has been proven impossible.

A recent study showed that on college campuses where students and employees were trained about the tactics they can use when witnessing acts of sexual violence, members of those communities became empowered to do something about it. This same approach is critical to helping stop workplace harassment, and is a major reason why Syntrio’s courses put heavy focus on what co-workers and managers can do when they hear of or see incidents they believe could amount to harassment (or even inappropriate behavior that does not meet the legal definition of harassment).

The Bloomberg article cites the need for harassment training from a number of perspectives in order to lead to greater inclusion. When organizations refuse to train their employees on perspectives that are at odds with their values or beliefs they demonstrate that they are not inclusive, and are not organizations that tend to attract or retain the best talent. Therefore, it is imperative that training include perspectives on harassment that go far beyond the traditional “male to female” approach that is taken in so many e-learning courses. Syntrio wholeheartedly agrees with this approach and has incorporated a number of diverse perspectives on the topic into its courseware.

While there may not be a quantitative method to measure the effectiveness of harassment training, there certainly are a number of qualitative and social science methods to determine if the program you have implemented works. By staying ahead of the curve and ensuring that you are using a method that works for your organization you are far more likely to create and maintain a culture of workplace respect and tolerance rather than harassment and abuse.

The Number One Reason that Employees Leave

A recent Gallup poll of more than a million U.S. employees found that the number one reason people quit their jobs is a bad boss or immediate supervisor. Even with this well-publicized statistic, most managers fail to accept their role in high turnover. A year earlier, Gallup found that only 18% of managers demonstrate a high level of talent for managing others. Put another way, 82% of managers aren’t very good at leading people. Further, Gallup estimated that managers who are poor communicators, delegators, negotiators, and lacking in other interpersonal skills cost U.S. corporations up to $550 billion annually.

Poor, or a lack of good, training is the culprit

A recent study by CareerBuilder.com found that an astonishing 58% of managers said they receive no management training. Even those with a natural affluence to lead could benefit from proper training on how to manage others in a corporate setting and, in turn, become better at leading their team.

This troubling statistic is causing good employees to leave. It also is negatively affecting a company’s recruitment, employee engagement, reputation, productivity, and revenues. And it also causes the added expense of recruiting new employees who, getting a taste of their new managers, may soon be leaving themselves.

Why good training matters

Good training for managers must go beyond the technical skills that come with the role. It must include the full range of soft skills. (Soft skills include interpersonal skills as well as managing oneself. For example, managing employees through conflict and managing yourself through conflict are both soft skills.)

How important are well-developed soft skills to a manager and organization’s success? Take one interpersonal skill, Emotional Intelligence (EQ), as an example. An empathy index published in the Harvard Business Review found that the 10 most empathetic companies increased in value more than twice as much as those at the bottom of the index. Plus, they generated 50% more earnings defined by market capitalization, from one year to the next.

Further, according to another survey, 90% of employees are more likely to stay with an organization that empathizes with their needs and eight in 10 workers are willing to work longer hours for an empathetic employer. Even in such primarily “hard” skills industries as tech, engineering, healthcare, and financial services, employees focus less on salary if it means working for an empathetic employer.

In closing…

Companies owe it to themselves, their managers and employees, business partners, and customers, to invest in learner-centric and effective soft skill training for its people leaders. Worried about ROI? Ask yourself, “Does it cost more to improve my managers and attract and keep top talent or suffer the loss of revenue, reputation, revenue, and employee engagement, satisfaction, and loyalty?