Monday, July 6, 2009

Why Aren't People Working While at Work?

My son recently began his first job. He is doing mostly manual labor in a retail environment, but he is excited about the opportunity. He knows that I am in business as a consultant and I work with helping companies be better performers. So, he naturally has had many questions for me:

  1. Who is FICA and Medicare and why are they getting my money? What if I dont want Medicare when I am old? I directed him to ask that to our current President and his Grandmother who is currently collecting on both.

  2. Why do people get to read magazines at work and others don't? Interesting question, which I respond with insights into motivation, work ethic and accountability.

  3. Why are people lazy at work especially when we are in a recession? Another good question which I refer back to number 2 with some added thoughts on leadership.

  4. Why do we turn customers away because the lazy people reading magazines can't get to their jobs out in less than 2 weeks? I told him to give his manager my phone number.

In all seriousness, I began to think about why these individuals are not engaged in their work. And then it dawned on me. People like to be held accountable. So, yesterday I dusted off my old MBA textbooks on Motivational and Work Behavior to see what it had to say. (plus I needed some facts about this blog, that I was mulling over).

Without going into a lot of theory, basically the authors (Richard Steers and Lyman Porter) discuss determinants of commitment:

  1. Goal Setting-Individuals like to have goals and it doesn't really matter who sets them. They can or management can. In a research study when employees set their own goals they were similar to those set by management

  2. Group Influence-Peer pressure matters in the workplace

  3. Values, incentives and rewards-need to encourage production and have value to the worker

  4. Interactiveness-active participation in the workplace.

  5. Internal factors-Expectancy of success and self reward. These definitely have to do with the psyche of the employee. Simply put, does the employee expect he/she can reach the goals and do they give themselves credit for reaching the goal?

So, what can the company mentioned above do: (for very few dollars)

1. Make sure all employees have measurable goals that are attainable, they like that. (see 1 above)

2. Put in some kind of incentive for good performance perhaps a contest on customer feedback that is tracked visually. (incentives plus peer pressure)

I am sure there are many other areas that need attention, but these screamed at me as being some low hanging fruit they may want to try. What are some other areas you feel drive employee commitment? I have a few ideas what are yours?


Lacey said...

I couldn't agree more! I used to work at this place where people would put off their work, or claim it was someone else's responsibility. The moment we gave THEM the responsibility, they started to take more pride in their work, figure out how to make things more efficient, and learned from the mistakes they made.

Suzi said...

You are so right,ladies.

Tell me though....what do you do with a key senior executive who has watched a company grow from humble beginnings to something larger, and cannot relinquish responsibility to employees? The person has all sort of stories of how they have been let down any time they have tried to give responsibility away. As a result of this, turnover is high, commitment is low and generally people show no motivation. What are your thoughts on how to approach the issue with this executive?

Unknown said...


My first thought is that a business owner is a different animal especially one that starts small and experiences growth. The skill sets that are good at start up mode are sometimes not the ones you need in growth mode. With that said, your executive needs to trust his employees first and hold them acountable with measurable goals. So, if he cant do those things then he suffers and so does the employees. Any other thoughts?

Barbara said...

If the key executive started the company, it's hard for someone who made the sacrifices for his dream to relinquish control. If he wants the dream to live on and grow, he cannot do it alone. If he's "in the weeds" as Cathy and I like to call it, he will not be able to keep his eye on a vision for the company. It sounds as though the company is at a stage where defining the vision and strategy for the next phase of growth is appropriate. From there, measurable goals should be set for which everyone is accountable. This exercise can remind your executive why he started the business in the first place and if it's done in the right spirit, many of the current frustrations can become improvement opportunities.
He also may be somewhat isolated (start-up CEOs usually are) and might benefit from a peer group organization like Vistage...are you close enough to him to offer these suggestions? Good luck!