Rewards and Incentives Can Backfire

Rewards and Incentives Can Backfire

Rewards and Incentives are Gateways to Behavior-Change

One of the great struggles of life is to get others to do the things they should, but don’t want to—getting your daughter to cleanup her bedroom or do homework in her least favorite subject, convincing your employee to do a task in the manner that your company expects, and so forth.

One tried-and-true technique to get reluctant people to do what they should is to hold back an incentive. For example, parents who want children to eat vegetables at dinner could stipulate that they eat their vegetables (the non-preferred behavior) before they can eat their desserts (the preferred behavior.)

Preferred Behaviors Can Be Used to Reinforce Unpreferred Behaviors

This motivational rule was formally studied by the American psychologist David Premack. The Premack Principle, or the “relativity theory of reinforcement,” makes it easier to do an unpleasant activity by putting a pleasant activity right after it. In this manner, a reinforcer could observe what an individual chooses to do voluntarily and offer that favored task as an incentive to gain compliance or to increase the likelihood of another less-favored behavior occurring.

Grandma's Rule or Premack Principle: Relativity Theory of Reinforcement As expected, although an academic, Premack enjoyed a very successful vocation as a highly paid “productivity expert” dispensing age-old techniques. He traveled around the country and advised thousands of corporate executives to manipulate themselves into becoming more motivated and more productive by organizing their day such that they schedule first anything that’s unpleasant and important and then reward themselves with something they really like doing.

Grandma’s Rule: “Johny, Finish Your Homework Before You Watch TV”

That a high probability behavior could be used to reinforce participation in a low probability behavior is the unassuming “Grandma’s Rule”—arguably the most universally recognized principle in the field of behavior change. Workplaces use the grandma’s rule by offering future “plum” assignments for employees who “pay their dues” by doing “dull and dirty” work in the present.

The grandma’s rule anchors in the fact that people, including children, are willing to do something they don’t really want to do if that’s the only way they can do something that they really want to do. Absent this established reinforcement, people left to their own devices tend to do what they like doing instead of doing things they don’t like doing even though latter are more beneficial.

Preferred Behaviors Can Be Used to Reinforce Unpreferred Behaviors

The Hidden Costs of Rewards and Incentives

Rewards and incentives can guide and modify behavior. The goal of offering rewards for positive reinforcement is to have the unpleasant tasks become less and less unpleasant. Therefore, the true measure of the effectiveness of any reward is how well the preferred behaviors become internalized. For example, offering rewards to children for reading books is not merely to get them to read books inside the classroom, but to internalize the reading behavior with the goal that they read even during the summer when they don’t have to read for school.

Offering rewards for motivating people to do unlikable tasks could sometimes become counterproductive. In what psychologists call “the overjustification effect,” a reward, instead of motivating, could fortify a person’s revulsion for the task. In other words, the reward could reinforce the belief that the task can’t be worth doing for itself.

Rewards Can Backfire

Overjustification effect is controversial because it disputes the general principles of motivational psychology and behavioral reinforcement—especially in the contexts of parenting, education, and the workplace.

Idea for Impact: Locating the pleasure in the future, when the reward will be imparted, could turn the present-moment doing of an unpleasant task into tedium. For example, insisting that your child eat broccoli for being rewarded with dessert could make her hate broccoli even more.

Incentives Matter

Incentives are Powerful Extrinsic Motivators

Incentives are Powerful Extrinsic Motivators The bedrock premise of economics is that incentives matter. This is a powerful device because it applies to almost everything that humans do.

Changes in incentives—monetary and nonmonetary—can sway human behavior in foreseeable ways.

For instance, if a resource becomes more expensive or scarce, people will be less likely to choose it. Higher prices will reduce the quantity of goods sold. Fewer people visit outdoor recreational areas on chilly and rainy days. Whenever fuel prices soar through the roof over a prolonged period, consumers buy less gasoline—they eliminate less important trips, carpool more, and purchase fuel-efficient cars.

Incentives Shape Behavior

If the payback from a specific choice increases, people are more likely to choose it. Students focus in classes when their professors declare what course material will be on the examinations. Pedestrians are more prone to leaning down and picking up a quarter than they would a penny. Traditional incentive systems for executives give rise to corporate “short-termism”—executives’ annual bonuses are often awarded for achieving targets that are insubstantially linked to long-term value creation.

Incentives shape behavior. The economics of wrongdoing and crime suggest that fines be increased to offset the rewards from lawbreaking—for example, traffic fines for speeding are typically doubled in construction zones. Ryanair, Ireland’s pioneering discount airline, purposefully uses exasperating fees for checked bags, airport check-ins, and printing boarding passes to “reshape passenger behavior” and focus on getting passengers punctually to their destinations with the least overhead costs.

Incentives Can Backfire Even If Launched with the Best of Intentions

Incentives Can Backfire Even If Launched with the Best of Intentions The “incentives matter” framework of economics explains why bad behavior happens whenever the payoff for such behavior is high and the odds of getting caught and reprimanded are low.

People will scheme—even perpetrate fraud—to achieve the incentives they’re offered. If targets are impracticable and employees realize that they can achieve those targets by cheating, then they will cheat.

Incentive structures are partially to blame for the recent Wells Fargo accounts scandal. Even if Wells Fargo established incentive arrangements with the best of intentions, it tied a substantial percentage of employee compensation to immoderate sales targets. This compelled employees to open millions of sham bank accounts and credit cards in customers’ names, infringing on their trust, and costing them millions of dollars in fees for services they did not willingly sign-up for. As this case makes obvious, incentives intended to stimulate people to do their best can sometimes push them to do their worst.

Idea for Impact: A Little Incentive Goes a Long Way

Incentives matter. They influence choices that humans make. Changes in incentives influence their choices. However, designing effective incentives is a painstakingly difficult problem. Do not underestimate or ignore potential undesired results—increase in dishonest behavior, over-focus on one area while overlooking other parts of the business, imprudent risk-taking, deterioration of organizational culture, and diminished intrinsic motivation.

The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave [Book Summary]

Employee engagement and retention of top talent is a holy grail of people management—and nearly as hard to pin down.

Employees expect managers to be fair, pay fairly, listen, value opinions, relate, develop, challenge, demonstrate care, advance, and so on. But many employees don’t know when and how to voice their concerns, or negotiate for what they want.

All managers know that engaged employees are happier and more productive. Yet, managers and HR managers cannot simply make employee engagement “happen.”

'The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave' by Leigh Branham (ISBN 0814408516) In The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave, employee-retention expert Leigh Branham discusses how companies can tackle employee disengagement and retain their best and brightest people.

Using a copious amount of facts and figures from interviews and surveys, Branham explores seven reasons for employee disengagement. For each reason, Branham lists signs that managers need to keep their eyes open for, and shows how employers and employees could communicate and understand their mutual needs and desires.

“Some Quit and Leave … Others Quit and Stay”

According to Branham, employee disengagement—and eventual resignation—is not an event; rather, it is a plodding process of bitterness, discontent, and eventual withdrawal that can take weeks, months, or even years until the definite choice to resign happens. He lists the ten most common stimuli that trigger employee disengagement:

  1. Poor management
  2. Lack of career growth and advancement opportunity
  3. Poor communications
  4. Issues with pay and remuneration
  5. Lack of recognition
  6. Poor senior leadership
  7. Lack of training
  8. Excessive workload
  9. Lack of tools and resources
  10. Lack of teamwork

Branham claims to have synthesized some 20,700 employee-exit surveys and has identified four fundamental human needs (compare to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs) that must be met by employers:

  • Employees need to feel proficient. They want to be matched to a job that aligns with their talents and their desire for a challenge.
  • Employees need to feel a sense of worth. They want to feel confident that their commitment and their efforts translate into meaningful contributions to their company’s mission. They desire to be recognized and rewarded appropriately.
  • Employees need to be trusted. They expect their employers to pay attention, and be honest and open in their communications.
  • Employees need to have hope. They want to be treated fairly, and given opportunities to grow their skills and advance their careers.

Why Employees Start Feeling Disconnected from Their Work

Why employees start feeling disconnected from their work The core of The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave is a “how to” guide to address each of the seven reasons to enable a company to pursue the path to become an “employer of choice.”

Reason #1: The Job or Workplace Was Not as Expected. Many new hires join their companies with a wide range of misconceptions and unrealistic expectations. Some stay and adapt, others disengage and stay, and some others disengage and ultimately leave. Branham advocates creating realistic job descriptions, and open communications between managers and employees on achieving their mutual goals and expectations.

Reason #2: The Mismatch between Job and Person. Companies with strong reputations for selecting the right talent and keeping employees well matched with their jobs have a strong commitment to the continuous upgrading of talent. Managers can assign tasks so that employees can be more engaged through the use of their “motivated abilities.” Managers must keep an eye open opportunities to augment employees’ jobs by delegating tasks they might not have considered before.

Reason #3: Too Little Coaching and Feedback. Branham affirms that most managers do coaching and feedback merely as annual or biannual HR-required discussions that bind ambiguous targets to performance-ranking and pay scale. Managers must lead frequent, informal, on-the-job feedback conversations with employees. Branham identifies four principal themes that managers must address to make their performance management practice seem less controlling and more of a partnership:

  1. “Where are we going as a company?”
  2. “How are we going to get there?”
  3. “How does the manager expect the employee to contribute?”
  4. “How is the employee doing? What is going well? What are the key suggestions for improvement?”

Reason #4: Too Few Growth and Advancement Opportunities. Branham observes that most talented employees cannot pinpoint and articulate, and often underuse their greatest strengths. He encourages companies to provide self-assessment tools and career management training for all employees, enabling them to be the best they possibly can be. Most “employers of choice” have a strong mentoring culture. They communicate that employees must take the initiative in their own career development.

Reason #5: Feeling Devalued and Unrecognized. To Branham, many companies do not have a formal and informal culture of recognition because their managers are themselves too busy with their nominal responsibilities to pay adequate attention to employees’ performance. Or, they can’t discern between average and superior performance. He lists recommendations for competitive base- and variable-pay linked to achieving business goals. He reminds managers that employees are hungry to be listened to, and want their ideas sought and implemented.

How companies can tackle employee disengagement and retain their best and brightest people Reason #6: Stress from Overwork and Work-life Imbalance. Branham observes that the relationships employees form with other employees is a glue that binds people to their workplaces. He encourages fostering social connectedness by assigning cross-functional team projects and organizing group outings.

Reason #7: Loss of Trust and Confidence in Senior Leaders. When senior leaders don’t back up pronouncements such as “people are our most important asset” with their actions, even mid-level managers begin to question the decisions and the actions of senior leaders. The result is a manifest lack of enthusiasm in the workplace, and in the rising complaints and questions about policies and practices. Leaders must set the tone for workplace culture and must back up their words with actions to discourage employee cynicism and disengagement.

Becoming an Engaged Leader is the Embodiment of What Leadership Means

Recommendation: Fast read Leigh Branham’s The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave. This book makes a great reading for managers and leaders who will need to scratch beneath the surface to recognize unhappy employees before it’s too late, and then engage their employees better and retain their top talent.

While many of the book’s themes may appear familiar, The 7 Hidden Reasons discuses many ideas and “engagement practices” in great specificity to help managers and leaders keep their antennae up for signs of bitterness and discontent, and correct before they lose their best and brightest people. This practical tome can also help employees discuss and resolve their needs and desires.

Developing a deep understanding of what causes employees to lose motivation, disengage, and leave cannot be ignored or overlooked. Managers and leaders who can resolve the divergence that employees feel between their personal values and the best interests of their businesses will gain immeasurably by having a highly engaged and productive workforce.

One of the Tests of Leadership is the Ability to Sniff out a Fire Quickly

One of the tests of leadership is the ability to recognize a problem before it becomes a disaster

I’ve previously stressed the importance of problem-finding as an intellectual skill. I’ve also highlighted why risk analysis and risk reduction should be one of the primary goals of any intellectual process. In this article, I’ll write about being proactive in identifying problems before they evolve into crises.

How Wells Fargo Failed to Recognize a Problem and Address it before it Became a Bigger Problem

As the Wells Fargo accounts scandal unfolded, it was clear that Wells Fargo’s leadership was well aware of the burgeoning problems early on, but failed to act decisively and nip the problem in the bud.

Given impossible sales quotas to reach, Wells Fargo’s “high pressure sales culture” opened as many as two million bank and credit card accounts on behalf of its customers without their consent. Employees were rebuked or even fired for not meeting aggressive cross-selling targets.

Human nature is such that high-pressure demands can deplete the willpower people need to act morally and resist temptations. And such demanding circumstances encourage people to go into defensive mode, engage in self-interested behaviors, and consider only short term benefits and dangers.

Leadership Lessons from the Wells Fargo Accounts Scandal: “A Stitch in Time Indeed Saves Nine”

Leadership Lessons from the Wells Fargo Accounts Scandal Wells Fargo’s leadership reportedly had data about ethical breaches, but they ignored or misjudged the impact of the problem. Wells Fargo even held a two-day ethics workshop in 2014 unequivocally telling their employees not to do that. As per an internal review, managers knew that 1% of employees had been fired for “sales integrity” violations.

Wells Fargo’s leadership didn’t act quickly and decisively to mitigate the effects of the crisis. Warren Buffett, one of the Wells Fargo’s biggest investors, summarized this leadership inaction at the 2017 Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting:

There were three very significant mistakes, but there was one that was worse than all the others … The main problem was that they didn’t act when they learned about it … at some point if there’s a major problem, the CEO will get wind of it. And at that moment, that’s the key to everything, because the CEO has to act. It was a huge, huge, huge error if they were getting, and I’m sure they were getting, some communications and they ignored them or they just sent them back down to somebody down below.

Leadership: “Only the Paranoid Survive”

Andy Grove (1936–2016,) the illustrious cofounder and CEO of Intel, was a famous worrier. At Intel, the focal point of Grove’s leadership style was worry and skepticism. He believed that business success contains the seeds of its own destruction, and that in order for an organization to have longevity, it needs to continue to worry about the future.

'Only the Paranoid Survive' by Andrew S. Grove (ISBN 0385483821) Grove’s principle was immortalized in his famous proclamation, “Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure. Only the paranoid survive.” He eloquently explained his worrisome mantra in his bestselling corporate memoir, Only the Paranoid Survive (1996.) He wrote in the preface:

The things I tend to be paranoid about vary. I worry about products getting screwed up, and I worry about products getting introduced prematurely. I worry about factories not performing well, and I worry about having too many factories. I worry about hiring the right people, and I worry about morale slacking off. And, of course, I worry about competitors. I worry about other people figuring out how to do what we do better or cheaper, and displacing us with our customers.

At Intel, worrying about the future created a culture of triumph that propelled change and innovation. Grove never let Intel rest on its laurels and led the company to break boundaries in microprocessor innovation. During his tenure as CEO from 1987—98, Intel’s stock price rose 32% a year. Grove also said, “A corporation is a living organism; it has to continue to shed its skin. Methods have to change. Focus has to change. Values have to change. The sum total of those changes is transformation.”

Idea for Impact: Learn to Sniff out a Fire Better than Anyone Does

The principal tasks of leadership are (1) identifying the biggest risks and opportunities, and (2) allocating organizational resources. Therefore, one of the tests of leadership is the ability to recognize a problem before it becomes a disaster. If identified and addressed early, nearly any problem can be resolved in a way that is beneficial for everyone involved.

Many leaders tend to be reactionary—they claim, “why fix something that isn’t broken.” Even when they see an impending problem, they may assume that the problem “isn’t that big of a deal” and wish the problem will just go away. Alas, many problems never go away; they only get worse.

To become a good leader, be paranoid—always assume that “there’s no smoke without fire.” If, according to Murphy’s Law, everything that can go wrong will go wrong, the paranoid leader has an advantage.

Whenever you are doing anything, have your eyes on the possibility of potential problems and actively mitigate those risks. Never allow a problem to reach gigantic proportions because you can and must recognize and fix it in its early stages.

As the medieval French philosopher and logician Peter Abelard (1079–1142) wrote, “The beginning of wisdom is found in doubting; by doubting we come to the question, and by seeking we may come upon the truth.”

Seven Real Reasons Employees Disengage and Leave

Root Causes for Employee Disengagement

Engaged employees not only contribute more and enhance bottom-line results but also are more loyal and therefore less likely to leave their organizations voluntarily.

Here are seven widespread root causes for employees’ lack of enthusiasm and commitment to a workplace.

  1. Employees find the job or workplace to be different from what they had expected when hired.
  2. Employees are not well matched or challenged in the jobs to which they have been assigned or promoted.
  3. Employees receive insufficient coaching and feedback from their boss.
  4. Employees recognize few prospects for professional growth and advancement. Alternatively, employees are obliged to log two or three years of unexciting assignments to “pay their dues” before being considered for promotion.
  5. Employee feel undervalued, underpaid, or under-recognized. They don’t get enough informal acknowledgement for their contributions or feel constantly “out of loop.” Their managers don’t seek opinions or supply the right tools to excel at work.
  6. Employees feel stressed or burned-out due to overwork or work-life imbalance.
  7. Employees have lost trust and confidence in their management and leadership.

Idea for Impact: Disengaged employees are more likely to leave their organizations.

The Power of Sharing Your Goals

Seek the Positive Effect of Goal-Accountability

This research from the Dominican University of California suggests that writing down your goals, sharing them with friends, and sending your friends regular updates about your progress can improve your chances of accomplishing your goals. The research implies that

  • People who merely thought about their goals and how to reach them accomplished their goals less than 50% of the time.
  • In contrast, people who wrote down their goals, enlisted friends for them, and sent them regular progress reports succeeded in attaining their goals 75% of the time.

Let Your Goals Guide You

  • Put your goals in writing. Writing down goals can be a strong motivator. Use the SMART technique to avoid being vague about your goals. Connect each goal to a larger purpose, be specific, use action verbs, include measurable outcomes, and stipulate target dates for completion.
  • Enlist the help of others. If you can identify a friend or coworker who may share a goal, team up with them. Convince the other person to go to the gym, quit smoking, or share healthy meals with you regularly. A partner can help you stay motivated and committed.
  • Seek a mentor. Look for role models who may have struggled with goals similar to yours or already achieved the goals. Ask them for advice and suggestions.

Idea for Impact: Seek the Positive Effect of Goal-Accountability

Committing to friends, family, or coworkers on goal-directed actions and making yourself accountable can impel you to stay on course and reach your goals.

Write your goals down, share them with others, provide them regular updates, and ask them to keep you on your toes.

How to Handle Employees who Moonlight

How to Handle Employees who Moonlight Moonlighting—working a part-time job or having a business “on the side”—can pose a challenge for employers. Moonlighting can lead to divided allegiance, conflicts of interest, and poor job performance.

Employers expect employees to be present and prompt at their jobs. If employees are hustling to attend to multiple commitments, fatigue, lack of sleep, poor attentiveness, tardiness, and absenteeism can become problems. When an employees’ moonlighting hurts their on-the-job performance, employers are within their rights to discipline and terminate employees. For these reasons, some employers limit or prohibit moonlighting.

The proactive approach to moonlighting

One way to head off moonlighting problems is to have a policy about part-time jobs and running side businesses. Institute a policy that sets performance expectations, protects proprietary information, avoids conflicts of interest, and averts divided allegiance. Your moonlighting policy cannot regulate employees’ off-duty activities or prohibit employees from having other jobs. But it may expect employees to disclose and get approval for supplementary employment. A moonlighting policy may also require senior managers and leaders to disclose directorships and financial interests in other companies.

Tell employees they can’t mix their business with your company’s business

If you find an employee doing side work for pay from your office, tell him that this is a clear violation of office expectations; he should conduct no business other than your company’s during work hours. Tell your employee, “You can’t mix your other business with our business. Your time at this job should be exclusively for this job. Our company resources are for our company’s purposes only.”

If your employee gets occasional calls that he needs to attend to, reiterate the above expectation and encourage him to answer the calls during break time and away from his desk. Encourage him to respond to those calls with “I’m at my other job right now. Let me call you back later.”

Discourage employees from selling stuff to other employees

Problems from employees moonlighting in part-time jobs and running side businesses If you find an employee selling stuff to other employees or soliciting outside business during paid working time, discourage it as soon as you discover it. Explain how this interferes with your office’s work.

Discourage your employees from turning your office into a showroom and making customers of other employees. Selling merchandise could impair work relationships when a buyer is unhappy with a product or service. Worse yet, side-businesses can easily grow unmanageable in case of network marketing programs (e.g. Amway, Herbalife) that encourage upselling or getting others involved as salespeople.

Employees can involve their colleagues in side-businesses outside your office, as long as such activities don’t harm at-work relationships.

Idea for Impact: Managers can forestall many employee problems by being proactive and setting expectations

In general, moonlighting is neither unethical nor illegal. It may become an issue when the employer specifically prohibits it and/or where the other job is with a competitor, supplier, or customer and is therefore a potential conflict of interest. The only time you really need to challenge an employee’s moonlighting is when it can affect your business in terms of conflicts of interest and deficient work performance.

Bear in mind: don’t overlook or disregard such concerns until they become major problems.

Don’t Push Employees to Change

Don't Push Employees to Change One of managers’ most common complaints relates to their failure to persuade their employees to change.

Having high expectations of employees can lead to bitter disappointment. The frustration that comes from employees not wanting to change causes many managers to focus on their employees’ negative qualities. Such an attitude makes it easy to find errors in employee behavior, leading to more disappointment—even resentment.

Even when an employee wants to change, he often fails to because he is pulled in two directions: by a motivation to change and by a motivation to maintain the status quo. Since change is seldom as easy as we think it will be, the motivation to maintain the status quo often triumphs.

The real reason employees (and people in general) don’t change is that underneath each employee’s commitment to change, he has an underlying, even stronger commitment to something else, as identified his intrinsic motivation.

Employees Resistant to Change For instance, an employee who expresses a desire to earn a promotion may avoid tougher assignments on his current job because he may be anxious about not measuring up. This employee may not even be fully aware of his own opposition. Therefore, managers are best served by understanding what truly motivates (and limits) each employee—i.e. his elements of intrinsic motivation. Only then can managers, through coaching and feedback, impel the employee to change by channeling the levers of extrinsic motivation (rewards, salary raise, fame, recognition, punishment) through one of the employee’s elements of intrinsic motivation.

Idea for Impact: Trying to change people will result in frustration and futility. Employees may change for a short time, but unless they have a compelling reason for change, they will go back to their natural state. Managers must temper their expectations about changing employees. As the Buddha taught, one way to lessen disappointment in life is to learn to lower your expectations of others.

Eight Ways to Keep Your Star Employees Around

Eight Ways to Keep Your Star Employees Around

Every manager should make employee retention a priority and regularly inquire, “How many of my star employees would leave my organization if they could?”

Employee turnover can be expensive. Managers must find and hire replacements, invest in training the new employees, and wait for them to get to up to speed—all while suffering productivity shortfalls during the transition. The more talented an employee, the higher the cost of replacing him/her.

Here’s what you need to do to keep your star employees around.

  1. Identify them. Find key attributes that distinguish top performers from average performers. Then rank your team against these attributes and identify those employees who are critical to your organization’s short- and long-term success.
  2. Perform salary and compensation research within your industry and offer an attractive-enough benefits package. Beyond a particular point, compensation loses much of its motivating power. Consider flexible work arrangements.
  3. Understand what your star employees value and help them realize their values and regard their work as meaningful, purposeful, and important. Often, the risk of losing employees because their personal values don’t correspond with the team’s values is far greater than the risk of losing them because of compensation.
  4. Get regular feedback from your star employees. Ask, “What can I do as your manager to make our organization a great place for you to work?” Let them tell you what they need and what they like and don’t like about their jobs. Adjust their assignments and their work conditions accordingly.
  5. Invest in training and development. Give star employees opportunities to develop their skills and increase their engagement and job security. Hold frequent and formal career discussions to determine employees’ goals and aspirations and coach them.
  6. Give your star employees the autonomy, authority, and resources to use their skills and do their jobs in their own way.
  7. Keep them challenged and engaged. Make work more exciting. Set aggressive, but realizable goals. Move your star employees around into positions in the company where they will face new challenges and develop critical skills. Employees would like to be challenged, appreciated, trusted, and see a path for career advancement.
  8. Appreciate and give honest feedback regularly. Make timely and informal feedback a habit. Don’t disregard employee performance until the annual review. Help employees feel confident about your organization’s future. Earn their trust.

To Inspire, Pay Attention to People: The Hawthorne Effect

The Hawthorne Effect: When managers pay attention to people, better morale and productivity ensue

The Hawthorne Experiments

Sociologist Elton Mayo’s Hawthorne Experiments marked a sea change in industrial and organizational psychology. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, Mayo led this famous series of experiments on workers’ productivity at a Western Electric factory in the Chicago suburb of Hawthorne.

The experiments’ initial purpose was to study the effects of workers’ physical conditions on their productivity. The lighting in the work area for one group of workers was dramatically improved while another group’s lighting remained unchanged. The productivity of the workers with the better lighting increased.

The experimenters found similar productivity improvements when they improved other working conditions, viz., work hours, meal and rest breaks, etc. Surprisingly, the workers’ productivity increased even when the lights were dimmed again. In fact, even when everything about the workplace was restored to the way it was before the experiments had begun, the factory’s productivity was at its highest level.

Recognition and even simple acknowledgment can give people a boost

When Elton Mayo discussed his findings with the workers, he learned that the interest Mayo and his experimenters had shown in the workers made them feel more valued. They were accustomed to being ignored by management.

Mayo concluded that the workers’ productivity and morale had not improved because of the changes in physical conditions, but rather from a motivational effect—the workers felt encouraged when someone was actually concerned about their workplace conditions.

'The Social Problems of an Industrial Civilisation' by Elton Mayo (ISBN 0415436842) The Hawthorne Experiments understood the individual worker in a social context. The resulting insight was that employees’ performance was influenced not only by their own innate abilities but also by their work environment and the people they work with. Mayo wrote in The Social Problems of an Industrial Civilisation, “The desire to stand well with one’s fellows, the so-called human instinct of association, easily outweighs the merely individual interest and the logic of reasoning upon which so many spurious principles of management are based.”

Over the decades, the methodology and conclusions of the Hawthorne experiments have been widely debated. Yet the key takeaway is profound: when managers pay attention to people, better morale and productivity ensue.

Idea for Impact: Employee engagement is the very heart of effective management

Inspire your employees by asking them how they are doing. Let them in on the plans for your organization, seek their opinions, recognize them, appreciate their work, and coach and give them feedback.

Even a little appreciation and praise can go a long way to boost employee morale. The desire for recognition is a basic human need; and managers can easily fulfill this need with the aim of bringing out the best in people.