Sunday, August 14, 2011

What Makes Employees Happy?

Isn’t this the age old question? Ask three hundred executives and human resource directors that question. You will receive three hundred responses.

If you read “Drive The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” by Daniel Pink, you will see that scientific research demonstrates that people typically fall into two groups – those intrinsically motivated and those extrinsically motivated.

The extrinsically motivated employees are motivated by conditions outside of them – money, benefits, working conditions, etc. According to Daniel Pink’s book, they are transactional by nature – if you do this, then you will receive that.

The intrinsically motivated employees are those employees that we usually describe as self motivated. According to research cited in Daniel Pink’s book, these people are motivated by mastery of their job, autonomy within their job, and a purpose for successfully completing their work.

Whom do you recruit? The best answer probably depends on the nature and culture of your business. My suspicion is that you want both types of people in many businesses. The better question is, “Are your executives/managers skilled enough to identify and manage both types of motivated people effectively?” If not, is your company willing to offer them the training to understand how these types of employees are motivated?

The delightful conundrum that humans offer is that we do not fit into boxes well. Just as you feel that you are successfully recruiting intrinsically motivated people, some employees suddenly begin to act more like transactional employees. Typically that means it may be time to study your compensation structure. It is important to take money off of the table. Don’t give away the company and don’t make work an “if…then” proposition. Possibly what they really need is more autonomy or a better understanding of the purpose of their work? The unhappy employee may not know how to communicate those needs. They know that they need a change and feel that more compensation may help them feel better. The terrible success rate of counter offers demonstrates that usually more compensation is not the answer.

We are back to the important question, “What makes employees happy?” “It depends” is not a helpful response.

Let’s apply the chemistry elements analogy with each response from the 300 executives and human resource directors. Take all of those elements and simmer them down to the base elements. Doesn’t it boil down to these two elements? “Am I making a positive, measurable impact”; and, “Am I having fun?” If both of these elements are present, compensation takes care of itself. The employees will do the work necessary to receive the appropriate compensation.

The challenge for companies is to recognize those base elements and strive to help their employees succeed and have fun. It is not easy. Those who are successful generally are found on the Best Places to Work lists; and financially benefit with an engaged workforce.