The supervisor you don’t want to work for and you don’t want to be

What Motivates Employees?
What Motivates Employees?

WASHINGTON, June 30, 2014 – There has been a wide-spread philosophical debate about employee motivation, raging for many years. Who is responsible for it – the supervisor or the employee?

The correct answer is that the employee must have intrinsic motivation to the job – he must want to do it for reasons that are internal to him, but the supervisor can create an environment that strengthens that motivation.

Intrinsically motivated employees need a minimum set of motivators to enable them to produce work. They must be paid a fair wage, receive fair benefits and must be treated with respect. If their environment does not provide these minimum external motivators, even internally motivated employees are very likely to be unmotivated and leave their job.

Many people, including supervisors, question whether a supervisor can motivate an employee to produce. They cannot motivate a person to produce but they can create an environment in which an employee is motivated to produce, a small nuance that matters.

In order for a supervisor to impact the job performance of her employee, the basic external motivators must be present first: fair wages, benefit and respect. Once those minimum requirements are in place, the supervisor can create an environment in which employees will produce and thrive.

The first step the supervisor must take is to analyze each of her employees. Is it rewards, recognition, extra work, more challenging work, specific goals or some combination of these incentives that motivate them?

Each supervisor has the ability to offer these types of incentives. However, they must offer the correct incentives. For example, if they set challenging goals to motivate an employee when that employee works hard for recognition, this incentive will not work.

The supervisor can offer the right incentives and help create an environment that will enhance his employees’ motivation. But there is one more ingredient to this equation. The supervisor must evaluate and provide feedback to his employees that his employees perceive as accurate.

For example, if the supervisor always tells her subordinates “you do a great job” and “this work is excellent” without providing constructive criticism for improvement, then the employees who work for her will become de-incentivized to produce high quantity and quality work. They will learn to accept only praise; they will come to expect it. Then they will ask themselves, “why should I improve my performance since my supervisor always thinks I do a great job – there is no point.”

On the other hand, a supervisor may always criticize his employees. He may set an unrealistic bar. He may criticize when he himself fails to produce. This is a terrible double-standard and it completely de-incentivizes subordinates. They will not try to produce for a supervisor who constantly finds fault, sets too high a standard or who sets a double standard. They will learn to expect criticism regardless of their performance level. They will be dissatisfied and they will ask themselves, “why bother to do a good job?”

The last supervisor who will de-incentivize her employees is the one who is middle-of-the-road. She will not criticize poor performance and she will not compliment exceptional performance. She always rates performance “average.” She may be indecisive, or she may dislike criticism or compliments. No matter what the cause, employees will be dissatisfied working for her. They will never receive accurate feedback about their performance. They will learn to expect average ratings and evaluations. And they will ask themselves, “why bother to improve?”

A worker who does not possess internal motivation will generally become ineffective in any job. Those employees need to be redirected into something that do feel motivated to do.

To summarize, these ingredients will increase the motivation of an internally motivated worker:

  • Fair pay, benefits and treatment, and
  • A supervisor who creates incentives that match the needs of their workers, and
  • A supervisor who rates performance accurately and gives constructive feedback.

This week’s prescription: Create the right incentives for each worker and give them accurate and constructive feedback to increase their motivation (if you’re the worker, contribute to this by verbalizing what incentivizes you).


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