Isn’t It Time to Reconsider the Carrot and Stick Method of Employee Motivation?

© frank peters - Fotolia.com
© frank peters - Fotolia.com

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I like perks and rewards. Who doesn’t like getting a gift card, cash or even a reward trip for working hard? And when we talk about motivation and engagement, we talk about these things because it is easy to understand (and maybe more importantly, easy to believe they are effective).

But the question shouldn’t be whether or not we think these things are effective. On the contrary — we should be examining whether or not they actually are effective.

Employee engagement and money

On this week’s episode of TLNT Radio, I spoke with Dr. Paul Marciano, an expert on employee engagement and author of Carrots and Sticks Don’t Work. And just judging from the title of his book, it is obvious he isn’t a fan of perks as a way to increase employee engagement.

Marciano isn’t the first to suggest that rewards and perks aren’t the best for employee engagement: Daniel Pink’s Drive and a number of other texts tackle the subject as well. What’s more difficult to understand is why we keep going back to that line of thinking.

Certainly it is silly to think that money (or perks) don’t play a role at work. They do, because being paid well allows me to focus on work rather than what I’m going to eat or where I’m going to live. And sometimes a job can just be a paycheck. Certainly people do well enough with this attitude to last at very competitive companies and do a good job. There are also people at every job who make it personal, who care a great deal about what they are doing and are driven by more intrinsic desires.

Engaging your core with RESPECT

As Marciano points out during our podcast though, many of these rewards (and even recognition) programs focus in on rewarding and recognizing the top people in the organization. That’s nice (and should be expected) but how do you engage the core of your workforce, the 60-70 percent of employees that aren’t rock stars and aren’t on their way out but make up the backbone of the work your company does?

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Marciano came up with the idea of the RESPECT model that involves recognition, empowerment, supportive feedback, partnering, expectations, considerations and trust. And rather than just focusing the program in on your top performers, the ones who are already doing great work and might be maxed out on how much more they can contribute, you use it to reach out to everyone in the organization. Even engaging a few employees to get them to contribute more of what Marciano calls their discretionary effort, the better the results you’re going to get.

I’m always afraid of acronyms and anything involving the workplace. But looking beyond my bias against cheesy acronyms, the idea that you should be focused on wide recognition and improving the workplace rather than finding the right reward system that typically only top performers get makes complete sense. Even the discussion about ROI of these programs becomes a bit more muted if the idea behind them is that managers have to spend more time better managing their employees.

Listen to the podcast for more about where Marciano’s thinking is. It’s contrary to some of the other folks we’ve talked to and might have you rethinking your reward programs.

[buzzsprout episode=”41343″ player=”true”]

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