Emotional Economics: Beyond the Paycheck, What Motivates Your Employees?
Ellen Frankenberg, Ph.D.
During tough economic times, employee bonuses become a faint shadow of their former selves. Even if your company has managed to stay in the black, significant portions of employee compensation may have evaporated. What incentives can you offer to your best and brightest, so your company remains competitive, positioned for the good times ahead?
A recent survey of more than 300,000 business units worldwide by The Gallup Organization provides some stimulating ideas about motivation in the workplace. In Follow This Path, Curt Coffman and Gabriel Gonzales-Molina report some findings that you might have suspected, but not known how to incorporate into your personnel policies:
- People at work are not always rational.
- Emotion plays a significant role in productivity.
- An emotion-driven economy has infinite horizons.
Your answers to the following questions will indicate how plugged in your are to "emotional economics", or your EQ, your Emotional Quotient. Do you believe that:
- People work harder only if paid more?
- It's fair to treat every employee the same way?
- Everyone can excel, if they try hard enough?
- Fixing weaknesses is the best way to help employees improve?
- Superior performance results from improved technology?
- Rational thinking, not emotion, improves productivity?
The Gallup Report indicates that many businesses are running at 1/3 of their human potential, because they don't capitalize on the connections between the rational and emotional circuitry of the brain. Every human interaction either elevates or degrades the emotional state of each of your employees, triggering automatic responses that can shift instantly between anger or delight, surprise or resentment, guilt or confidence, boredom or excitement. These emotional responses happen without a deliberate choice or rational decision, and they determine:
- how hard a person works.
- how committed an individual will be to doing the job right.
- whether he/she will go the extra mile, even when tangible rewards are slim.
Great organizations generate positive emotional responses (passion!) among employees and customers through consistent, positive human interactions. They catch people doing things right. Superior performance happens when individuals are assigned to the right jobs, where their thinking capacities are not distorted because their emotional environment is destructive. Brainpower that is enhanced by positive feelings produces engaged employees who can work together to accomplish measurable goals.
Great managers focus on their top performers, at the unit level, and learn from them:
- What makes them passionate about their jobs?
- How do they build relationships in the workplace?
- How do they motivate others in their teams?
- How do they decide what to do, and how to do it?
Great managers who understand emotional economics then:
- Set up each employee for success by capitalizing on what they do best.
- Identify strengths that may be invisible to the employee.
- Give specific, affirming feedback tailored to each individual.
- Develop consistent expectations, so employees can develop trust.
- Help employees link their personal values with company values.
Engaged employees (about 30% of the U.S. workforce, according to Gallup)
consistently use their talents to do their jobs better, build supportive relationships at work, innovate and drive for efficiency, never run out of things to do, and recommend their company as a good place to work.
What percent of your employees are positively engaged, even in an uncertain economy? How many of your managers, especially your technical people, focus on the emotional energy that can drive their teams to success? Surveying your employees, using the 12 Q questionnaire developed in the Gallup survey, can provide a benchmark, and help you develop an engaged workforce, far beyond a mere 30%. Your profitability should increase significantly, even in lean times.
Once employees are paid at a fair rate, motivation depends on many other factors, especially the recognition they receive, the relationships they forge, and their feelings about their own value in the workplace. If you and your managers learn how to practice emotional economics now, your company will be enriched in ways that will extend far beyond the generous bonuses that await those who know how to work productively through tough times to the good times ahead.