Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

11 Scrooge Approved Employee Motivation Ideas You Should Never Use

December 24th, 2012 | Jody Thompson

What is the #1 way to increase motivation in the workplace? Well, we have our pet motivational theories and ideas, but we wanted to explore some of the horrible, terrible, Scrooge-approved ideas that are still floating around in the year 2012.

But back to the bad ideas. We gathered some stories from around the internet and our own personal experiences, and compiled a list of 11 Scrooge-Approved Employee Motivation Ideas You Should Never Use.

11. Be thankful you have a job

Love this one, because it’s super motivating and also a veiled threat! One employee who works at a bank relayed this story:

My employer had a manager’s meeting this afternoon. One of the things they went over was trying to get us to be more motivated. They handed out a sheet of paper and one of the bullets/topics they went over was that “We should be thankful that we have jobs and that we work here (bank) due to the economy.”

Alright! Now, anyone who is not extra motivated and working really hard to show how much you deserve this rare and elusive job, please show yourself out the door.

10. Giving orders to the minions

The days of top-down, military style management where the managers bark out orders to the workers is long gone. Or is it? There are still plenty of industries that operate this way, using micromanagement and threats to get employees in line. To these leaders, an intrinsically motivated and highly productive workforce seems idealistic and naive. Here’s a real-life quote from a retail worker:

As someone who works in a giant retail store full of dozens of managers, the managers who cooperate with me see the greatest amount of productivity from me. I’ll work way harder than what is expected of me because I enjoy feeling productive. The managers who want to build up a wall where they don’t have to cooperate with me and simply give orders…I’ll literally trick them into thinking I’ve done a lot of work by manipulating their system and then I take triple cig breaks and just sit around all day…

9. Criticize and abuse

Your employees don’t need encouragement. No one likes to be praised or told they’re good at what they do. Just keep pointing out the mistakes, making people feel bad about their work, and offering no support or constructive feedback. That’ll do the trick!

One employee writes (hilariously):

A truly Machiavellian master can abuse and personally insult people into having something to prove, driving them to work harder. While an increase in workforce intelligence is not guaranteed, your victims will move faster and try to be perfect out of sheer fear. It helps if you maintain the image of omniscience and practice walking up behind people when they’re not looking.

I’ve had bosses like that. I did not know it wasn’t normal until I got a job where the management wasn’t a reincarnation of Vlad the Impaler.

8. Blaming your lazy employees for not being motivated

Maybe you think your employees are useless. You try so hard to motivate them and nothing works – they’re just lazy, lazy employees! Here’s one manager’s response to how he tried to motivate employees:

In the end, [none of my motivation techniques] worked for an extended period of time and I got tired of trying to motivate people. I have always had a great work ethic and an ability to increase my own efficiency pretty drastically, which is how I ended up managing, but I finally gave up, did the work myself, and waited for the rare times on the big jobs where my guys realized what lazy pieces of crap they were for watching me do ten times the work they were doing and stepped up for a day to help out. I have no interest in managing people ever again. If I couldn’t do it with my efficiency-oriented mind and pretty much unlimited freedom to reward in any way I wanted then I know it’s just something I can’t do. I suspect I would have gotten better results with the rod than the carrot. Motivation through fear may not be ideal but I doubt those type of managers are doing the work themselves.

Wow. I think he pretty much nailed it when he said, “I know it’s just something I can’t do.” Blaming your employees for not being motivated or productive, and just doing the work yourself or giving up is not the solution.

7. Financial incentives

Financial motivation can be both a good and a bad employee motivation technique. It all depends on the approach. Since we’re focusing on the bad in this post, let’s see how the wrong approach to compensation incentives can backfire. The pros at Vision Link Advisory Group say this:

Most companies are disappointed in the results they get from their incentive plans because they use them in one or more of the following ways:

“Carrot and Stick” approach to motivation
Means of changing behavior
Getting people to do things they don’t want to do
Motivating people to “do the right thing”
6. The Peter Principle

The Peter Principle is commonly phrased, “Employees tend to rise to their level of incompetence.” Does your company suffer from this phenomenon? Writer Oliver Thereaux says on his blog post “Why Most Managers Suck”:

Of course…any company with a hierarchy [is prone to the Peter Principle]. The main reason is that “promotion” in our industrial society, generally means “You’re really good and experienced at your job? Now stop doing it and start managing a bunch of people”.

He then shares a quote from an architect at a small tech company who, when asked about the structure of his organization, said “Everybody codes here, except for the accountant and the CEO. The latter used to code, but he was so bad at it, we made him in charge of everything else.”

Promoting employees up the ladder is a well-known employee motivation theory. But, as the poor guy in #4 will testify, not everyone is cut out to be a manager! Managing is hard…but doesn’t have to be if you’re focused on the right things.

5. Overtime

No matter how much overtime you pay your employees, eventually your tired workforce will get burned out and become completely unmotivated. Expecting your employees to work insane hours, not take vacations, and deal with constant stress is a recipe for poor production and high turnover. One young man asks for advice about helping his dad:

My father is working at a company that is requiring him to work overtime almost every day. He gets home and then they call him back. They keep threatening him that if he doesn’t do it then they will find someone who can (meaning firing him). He doesn’t have a problem with getting paid or anything like that and he’s definitely willing to work some overtime but they are just expecting him to work way too many hours.

4. Bad goals and annual reviews

Employees are not motivated by the notion that their hard work will make company owners and executives rich, organizational change consultant Paul Levesque writes on Entrepreneur. Are your employees aligned around an ultimate outcome or goal that makes them feel proud to work at your company? When individual goals, management goals, and company goals are not in alignment, you’ll see groups and individuals working against each other. Couple bad goals with rewarding effort vs. outcomes for a truly demotivating good time.

3. Convoluted mission statements

Example: It is the mission of ABC Car Gadgets to provide personal vehicle owners and enthusiasts with the vehicle related products and knowledge that fulfill their wants and needs at the right price. Our friendly, professional staff will help inspire, educate and problem solve for our customers.

That’s a great statement and, if true, the customer will be happy and the company will make money. However it’s quite a mouthful and not something you can easily repeat or rally around. No one gets up in the morning and says to themselves, “Today I’m going to provide personal vehicle owners and enthusiasts with the vehicle related products and knowledge that fulfills their wants and needs at the right price . . . Hooray!”

2. Flexibility and other gimmicks

Or as we like to say, “Flexibility is the new F word.” No matter which way you slice it, flexible work programs fail. Why is that? Because managers hate “managing flexibility” (oxymoron!) and employees are wary of when, how, and if they should even use flexibility options.

Here’s a recent example of the failure of flexibility programs at Bank of America. We predicted the fall of this program when it began seven years ago. Now, we know there are many factors that play into B of A’s decision to cut flexbility and remote work programs. But our take is quite simple: programs focused on flexibility will always, always fail because they aren’t focused on results.

1. Ignoring intrinsic motivation

All of the above to say this…if you find yourself banging your head against the wall with employee motivation programs, gimmicks, rewards, incentives, perks, benefits, raises, promotions, all without success, then maybe you’re ignoring the basics. Those of you who have read Drive by Daniel Pink are aware of his endorsement of Results-Only Work Environment. In this TED Talk, Pink talks in detail about what actually motivates us and how most businesses don’t act in accordance with what the science tells us about intrinsic motivation.

This post was originally posted on ROWE on December 23, 2012. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Jody Thompson is a co-founder of CultureRx and creator of the Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE). Her first book, Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It, was named “The Year’s Best Book on Work-Life Balance” by Business Week. Cali and Jody (the co-founders of ROWE) have been featured on the covers of BusinessWeek, Workforce Management Magazine, HR Magazine, Hybrid Mom Magazine, as well as in the New York Times, TIME Magazine, USA Today, and on Good Morning America, CNBC and CNN.

Cali & Jody are nationally recognized keynote speakers and have presented to numerous Fortune 500 companies and prominent trade associations. Cali & Jody created ROWE based on the belief that the traditional solution of flexible schedules is not the answer to managing life’s many twists and turns. Bottom line? Work sucks. So they’re on a mission to fix it. Today, Cali & Jody are leading a global movement to forever change the way we work and live.

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