Are Motivation, Engagement, and Rewards Enough?
Are Motivation, Engagement, and Rewards Enough?

Are Motivation, Engagement, and Rewards Enough?

A shifting economic landscape rife with challenges continues to reshape the world of work. McKinsey’s February 2021 Report, The Future of Work After COVID-19, assesses the lasting impact of the pandemic on labor demand, the mix of occupations, and workforce skills required in eight countries: China, France, Germany, India, Japan, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States. It predicts that more than 100 million people, or 1 in 16, will need to find a different occupation by 2030. 

The most apparent change has been the increasing number of companies adopting remote working arrangements to varying degrees. Bloomberg’s article on the US-based study expects work-from-home will lift productivity by 5%. The World Economic Forum referred to Microsoft’s Report, the Company’s Annual Work Trend Index, where it surveyed 30,000 people in 31 countries highlighting seven main trends, some of which are: Flexible work is not going anywhere, high productivity is masking a high level of exhaustion, and shrinking networks are endangering innovation. Microsoft suggests hybrid arrangements.

In the BBC’s Article, Coronavirus: How The World Of Work May Change ForeverRobin Dunbar: Emeritus Professor of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford says that this is reminiscent of a time 20 years ago, but remote work arrangements could not be sustained on account of the importance of face-to-face engagement within workgroups and the support and social system that the office environment provides. Professor Dunbar continued that there has been a loneliness epidemic for the most part of the last two decades.

The Loneliness Pandemic, Harvard Magazine’s Article reported that in 2017 former US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy ’97 called loneliness a public-health “epidemic.” The UK’s “minister for loneliness” was appointed in 2018, the world’s first loneliness minister. “In the US, people are so lonely; they’re renting friends or paying to be cuddled.” – Noreena Hertz.

264 million people suffered from depression worldwide in 2020, which is the leading cause of disability globally, according to the World Health Organization. A study conducted by Everen Erzen and Özkan ÇikrikciThe Effect Of Loneliness On Depression: A Meta-Analysis, involving a sample group of 40,068 individuals, found that loneliness may be said to be a significant variable affecting depression. 

Although this piece is not about remote working or loneliness, motivation and the question “how do we get more out of people?” have been on our minds for decades. One, therefore, cannot ignore the value of connectedness in our lives when discussing productive work. James Robertson, who used to walk 21 miles each way to his job in Detroit, said about his work: “It’s fun, and my co-workers were like my second family.” 

Productive work is essential to an individual’s self-knowledge; people are not mentally or emotionally designed to live in isolation. We get to resolve the complicated mystery that is us through an infinite number of exchanges with others. “Your unconscious, that inner extrovert, wants you to reach outward and connect. It wants you to achieve communion with work, friends, family, nation, and cause. Your unconscious wants to entangle you in the thick web of relations that are the essence of human flourishing.” – David Brooks, the Social Animal.

But to view this from a different standpoint, are organizational support systems’ coping skills and their fitness for adaptability up to the task? Consider the number of organizations that changed the titles of their HR Managers many years ago to Business Partners but to an employee or the customer; everything remained the same. Dave Ulrich’s model has existed for over 20 years, but the transformation has been slow. The same applies to HR and Predictive Analytics, where its integration into organizational systems to inform better decision making has been at snail pace. Or performance where technology integration in the classroom is concerned during school closures that affected an estimated 110 million children and young people and significantly impacted working women in the MENA region.

How To Get More Out of People?

“If there was a single question that obsessed 20th-century managers, it was this: How do we get more out of our people? At one level, this question is innocuous —who can object to the goal of raising human productivity? Yet it’s also loaded with industrial-age thinking: How do we (meaning “management”) get more (meaning units of production per hour) out of our people (meaning the individuals who are obliged to follow our orders)?” – Gary HamelThe Future of Management. One of the common answers is motivation, engagement, and rewards through which organizations feel they have a certain level of impact or control over the levers of people’s performance. 

On the people side, the legacy term “Human Resources” no longer captures the relational essence between individuals and their work. One’s expectations from a job today far exceed those of an individual in the 1960s; Those days a man was content it was a source of income. Today we have fulfillment aspirations wherever we make a significant investment of our time and effort. The way we see the world this Century and ourselves in relation to it has fundamentally changed the currency in which we expect to get paid for our efforts. That currency may differ from one individual to another; it is not a one-size-fits-all.

What the world demands of us has also changed. Our most significant marketable assets that determine our level of employability are the currentness and pertinence of our knowledge, skills, and our creativity. A good part of our struggle involves remaining relevant where automatized actions don’t get us very far at all. With so few seats and so many people, any disclosure that we are struggling and need support may constitute a relinquishment of our competitive edge at a time when long-term job security has generally gone with our younger days.

Motivation, Engagement, and Rewards

Individuals almost always get into a new role with the desire to do a good job, if not a great one. They need to feel they made the right choice, as much as the organization does. “One of the hallmarks of a man of self-esteem is the profound pleasure he experiences in the productive work of his mind. His enjoyment of life is fed by his unceasing concern to grow in knowledge and ability.” Dr. Nathaniel Branden.

To continue to build on that positive note, it’s important not to drop the burning coal of intrinsic motivation into ice-cold water, which could lead to presenteeism, a term coined by Chester Elton. Presenteeism is where individuals show up every day, but they aren’t really there, “Human beings are uniquely capable of regulating their involvement and commitment to a given task or endeavor…The extent to which we do or don’t fully contribute is governed more by attitude than by necessity, fear or economic influence” – The New HR Analytics

The figure below shows the steps from engagement to departure.

An image showing thirteen 13 steps in the departure to engagement process
Source: The New HR Analytics, Dr. Jac Fitz-Enz

Since Motivation Theory is not the centerpiece here, I will limit myself to what I have referred to for measurable outcomes. Herzberg’s Motivation-Hygiene Theory and its scope of implementation, highlighted in The New HR Analytics, provides a practical tool for measuring 15 global factors or drivers of engagement developed by Scarlett Surveys. It’s important to note that before an organization attempts to improve engagement factors, it would be necessary to neutralize disengagement factors. As for baseline rewards: “If someone’s baseline rewards aren’t adequate or equitable, her focus will be on the unfairness of her situation and the anxiety of her circumstance….The best use of money as a motivator is to pay people enough to take the issue of money off the table.” Daniel H. PinkDrive. You can refer to the 15 engagement drivers in the post titled, What is Employee Engagement? 2016.

The Hay Group’s (now Korn Ferry) Total Reward for Engaged Performance Framework below is a reference where organizations wish to establish a Total Rewards Strategy to articulate how they will use tangible and intangible rewards to provide a compelling total package – The Manager’s Guide to Rewards, Doug Jensen, Tom McMullen, Mel Stark, Hay Group.

The Manager’s Guide to Rewards by Hay Group
Source: Hay Group

Attribution of Value

Today, sitting outside of the HR profession, I think that we may not be as conscious, sometimes, of the fact that all things are not equal in value to people, e.g. the level of the challenge of a work assignment is not as important to one person as it is to another, although there may be a higher level of awareness of that on the tangible rewards side demonstrated in the personalization of benefits’ packages as well as the rationale for cafeteria plans. You may be interested in reading SHRM’s article titled: Perk Up: 6 Benefit Trends to Watch in 2020 for benefits’ trends.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs tells us that social needs emerge when physiological and safety needs are satisfied. It makes sense, if humans acted rationally all the time.

Human Needs VS. Total Rewards, Source: The Manager’s Guide to Rewards, Doug Jensen, Tom McMullen, Mel Stark, Hay Group

In January 2002, I started a job with a global manufacturer. The pay was better than I had earned over the previous two years, and the MD that I was going to report to seemed very nice during the interview. I was going to take over a secretarial role from an individual who was moving into an HR role. I was excited; on my first day she asked me to wait until she could finish a few things before starting the handover. I waited for about 45 minutes. Sat at an empty desk facing a wall. I then just took my bag and left. I had no other options at the time and only 20AED in my pocket. I had no idea how I was going to pay my rent or my water and electricity bill. I didn’t want to ask my family for money because I wanted to prove that I could support myself. Till today I don’t know why it seemed logical to me to walk away. She called me 10 minutes later apologizing and asking me to return; I said I didn’t think that the job was right for me.

Less than a month later, I started a job that redefined how I saw my professional life and where I developed a work ethic. Before that, work was drudgery; I was a clock-watcher who had the seed of ambition but didn’t expect I could make much of it. Fast forward to 2011, I was interviewing for my replacement for Regional HR Manager. One of the candidates was a young woman; she looked familiar. I reviewed her employment history, and there it was…she was the one I was about to replace many years ago. When I reminded her of when we first met, she was stunned and apologized once again. I said, please don’t apologize; to the contrary, I should be thanking you.

In his book Drive, Daniel H. Pink writes about the findings of some researchers like Teresa Amabile, who found that the type of work that involves solving novel problems or creating something new is significantly driven or motivated intrinsically – “Harlow’s third drive”. Harry F. Harlow, through his two-week experiment on learning using eight rhesus monkeys presented a novel theory in 1949 which led him to a third drive that powered behavior other than the biological, or reward and punishment, it was the performance of the task itself. Daniel H. Pink, also highlights an approach to motivation which focuses on autonomy, mastery, and purpose (the desire to be of service to others). Tony Robbins says there are 6 Human Needs that drive us:

  1. Certainty 2. Variety 3. Significance 4. Connection/Love 5. Growth 6. Contribution.

Yet in all of this, an important part of who we are or how we see ourselves is still missing; Our values. Our values are integral to our self-image and determine largely why we do what we do, what we love, accept and consider essential to our happiness. They provide for a filtration and evaluation system in decision making.

We’ve all met an individual who regardless of what organization he works for, the environment he’s in, or the people he deals with, he always goes like this:

· I offer my best effort, skills and knowledge in every situation regardless of the working environment.

· I am supportive. I extend support to others and it makes me happy. I don’t care if anybody notices.

· I will never compromise my quality of work regardless whether the organization demands much less of me or how I’m treated. 

People who are guided by such values usually don’t get enough attention because they wouldn’t compete with the attention seekers; they don’t make a fuss about how they resolved that complex problem, achieved outstanding results, or how they would only do more if they get more. They can’t imagine being or interacting with their environment or people in any other way.

Are Motivation, Engagement and Rewards Enough?

Change in the world around us for a long time has been happening faster than we can process, persistently pushing against the limits of our flexibility and resulting in a higher level of fear and anxiety. “When you are living in a world of slow change, it’s not a great challenge to your confidence in your own mind and your own resourcefulness but the more rapid the rate of change the greater the challenge to your trust in your own resourcefulness, in your own intelligence, in your own mind, in your own ability to make appropriate choices and decisions. To say it more simply, the more rapid the rate of change, the greater the challenge to your self-esteem.” Dr. Nathanial Branden.

People require a lot more support now than they did before the pandemic. In his book that keeps on giving, Managing Oneself,  Peter Drucker raises these points that are very pertinent to what we’re going through: “Only when you operate from a combination of your strengths and self-knowledge can you achieve true – and lasting – excellence”. He tells us that in order to live a life of excellence, we must ask ourselves these questions: What are our strengths? How do we perform? How do we learn? What are our values? Where do we belong? What should we contribute? He said, “Do your organization’s ethics resonate with your own values? If not, your career will be marked by frustration and poor performance.”

I think it would be of tremendous value to help team members find the answers to at least three of those questions.

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