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Lifting Employee Morale Goes Beyond Free Food, Massages and Quirky Perks



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In late November, Google released the findings of a study on what makes a Google team effective. They discovered that who is on a team matters less than how that team interacts. Perhaps more interesting, however, was the impetus for the study: While Google coddles its employees with free food, massages and other great perks, some of its top engineers are still unhappy on the job.

Even one of the world’s most successful businesses struggles with this very basic question: How do you effectively motivate employees?

The answers lie in strategies that are far less tangible than a deep-tissue massage at your desk. Consultants suggest that the key factors are quite simple, and often overlooked. First and foremost, employees need to feel that they are part of the business, said Jerry Creighton Sr., executive director of the New Jersey Institute of Technology’s Enterprise Development Center in Newark.

“Make sure the employees know as much about their companies as the top managers,” he said. “What is the purpose and strategy of the business? Everyone should be informed.”

Joe Babajko, a former business executive who consults with companies and coaches senior managers through his business, Progressive Solutions & Innovations in Wyckoff, agreed that communication is a key driver of employee productivity.

“Managers sometimes see employees as a disposable part of the business,” he said. “In reality, they are the most valuable assets that most companies have. Employees like to know that they are appreciated, and they want to understand what is happening in the company and to feel part of the company. You shouldn’t wait until their performance reviews. When I ran a business, we used to have information sessions about where the company was going and what our objectives were. That gives employees ownership and pride” in their place of work.”

Employees should receive “praise where deserved,” Babajko added. If someone is doing a good job, be sure to tell him – but don’t offer empty praise. Employees will resent a gesture that is not genuine.

“And if you find people that are contributing the lion’s share of the work, compliment them on their job,” suggested Creighton. “They understand you are appreciating them and they can in turn influence and motivate their colleagues” to work harder.

“With today’s technology, it is more possible than ever to catch people doing something wonderful, important and meaningful,” said Aldonna Ambler, president of Hammonton-based AMBLER Growth Strategy Consultants. She suggested celebrating a team’s good work by presenting video clips of their successes, featuring photos, graphics and statistics.

“Build a sense of community, a sense of greater purpose, a sense of making a difference,” she said.

When it comes to inspiring productivity in employees, Brian Shube of Brian Shube Consulting in Monroe, struck a strong note of caution.

“The big bugaboo that I would not recommend would be to try to use money as a motivator,” he said. “Money is a terrible motivator. It motivates you until you get it, and then it no longer works as a motivator.”

Babajko agreed that money alone as a motivator doesn’t work well; however, he did suggest that if a manager is giving a bonus, it should be tied to performance and should not be subjective.

“Sometimes companies think it’s too expensive to offer a bonus,” he said. “I would challenge them that it is too expensive not to offer a bonus. When you are getting performance out of your employees and rewarding them directly for it, it pays off.”

Training may also help infuse new energy into a team, especially if a company is on a strong growth path and requires new skills to maintain that upward trajectory.

“We know that in order to survive, move and grow, you have to figure out ways to do things better, smarter, cheaper and more efficiently,” said Creighton. “No business ever moves along if you do things like they were done 20 years ago. You always have to look for doing things better, and helping employees to stay up with the trends and have new ideas.”

And yet, training is not a cure-all for employee motivation, Shube said.
“Training can be counterproductive; people think they’re smarter than the person who is training them,” he cautioned. “Incentivizing can be situational. Figure out what you are trying to accomplish before you decide how you are going to do it. And be sure to involve employees in this planning process. That way, they are sure to take ownership.”

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