Enjoying Your Work
Richard Brislin

Monday, December 27, 2004

Managers face the difficult
task of motivating workers

THE PEOPLE a company is able to attract to its work force will always be its most important asset. Without a capable and highly motivated workplace, a company cannot provide goods and services, cannot respond to customer demands, and cannot make adjustments in dynamic business climates.

No matter how talented workers are, however, there is the danger that they will be lulled into complacency if managers do not consistently communicate high expectations and reward excellent performance.

These managerial tasks are part of the complex process of motivating the work force, and this will be the topic of this and several upcoming columns.

Motivation starts with knowledge of worker valences. That is, managers need to know what will move their workers from the status quo to a more ambitious set of company goals. Valences consist of what workers value. Workers want an adequate salary so that they can satisfy physical needs for themselves and family members.

These physical needs include food, shelter, clothing, and a means of transportation. Once these physical needs are met, people very quickly become concerned with their motives, or what they find personally important in life. Motives go beyond physical needs and deal with psychological requirements such as acceptance by others, the opportunity to pursue tasks that are seen as important, and the possibility of helping others achieve their goals.

After managers make sure that their workers have adequate salaries such that physical needs can be satisfied, they need to address psychological concerns. Managers need to know their workers well enough so that they can help employees satisfy their motives.

Employees bring a diverse set of personally important valences to the workplace. Some enjoy constant communication with others, sharing what they know, and having numerous positive interpersonal relations with coworkers. Some employees enjoy taking on tasks where they can demonstrate personal achievements.

They want to write a training manual, open up new territory for marketing the company's products, or bring in a large number of new customers. Other employees enjoy being in charge of different work groups. They enjoy organizing the diverse contributions group members can make, are good at delegating, and are skillful when giving people feedback on the progress they are making.

Good managers know their employees and can assign them to jobs where they are able to satisfy their motives. Employees who enjoy working with others often find success in a company's human resource division. Or, they may find that they enjoy positions where they are expected to provide long term services to customers.

Managers are blessed if they have employees who enjoy feelings of achievement upon the successful completion of tasks. With these employees, the manager's job is to make sure that the tasks undertaken are consistent with overall company strategy. Other employees may not be able to demonstrate stellar achievements through individual efforts, but they enjoy being in charge of a large work group. In other words, the employees enjoy the feelings of power that are associated with directing the efforts of others.

Managers need to monitor the work of employees who enjoy positions of power. If left unchecked, some employees will become intoxicated with power and will become abusive toward group members. This will lead to task failure and employee turnover.

Managers must harness the diverse talents that employees bring to the workplace. They must also be clear about workplace contributions that will lead to salary increases and promotions. This will be the topic of next week's column.

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

The purpose of this column is to increase understanding of human behavior as it has an impact on the workplace. Given the amount of time people spend at work, job satisfaction should ideally be high and it should contribute to general life happiness. Enjoyment can increase as people learn more about workplace psychology, communication, and group influences.

Richard Brislin is a professor in the College of Business Administration, University of Hawaii. He can be reached through the College Relations Office: cro@cba.hawaii.edu

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