Each month, “The Balance Sheet” provides questions and answers from experts on a topic that’s important to you as a manager. Please feel free to share this information with other colleagues who also manage people.
Q. My employee does not like her job, but she is good at it. I don’t have another position for her, and she doesn’t want to quit. Her morale is not very good. Sometimes her attitude is poor. Is there a way to help her feel more joy in her position?
A. There are several things you can do that might help your employee. Try helping her set goals during the coming year so she can look forward to some meaningful accomplishments. Find ways of rewarding her for steps along the way. Come up with different things that she can do voluntarily on her breaks, if she likes, that will allow her to gain new skills and abilities. Think in terms of giving her more responsibility in the office, not necessarily more work. More responsibility is a powerful reward for employees, sometimes better than a raise because it influences how people feel about themselves. Don’t rule out a referral to BJC EAP if her attitude gets worse, and you may wish to suggest self-referral now. There could be a personal issue contributing to her attitude problems.
Q. I struggle to motivate some of my employees. I just can’t seem to find the right combination of incentives. On the other hand, most of my employees are enthusiastic and produce well. As for the few employees who struggle, can you offer any tips on motivating them?
A. Much has been written about motivation and how to get employees excited about their work. All this has been to the benefit of employees and work organizations. But there has been a downside: the mistaken belief by managers that all employees can be motivated and incentive-induced to become top performers, and if they can’t, the manager is to blame. Once you have taken all reasonable steps to provide an effective and productive work environment, the rest is up to your employees. Your organization is in partnership with employees, who must ultimately take the ball you hand them and run with it. Some will perform well and others will not. Many supervisors are too hard on themselves as they struggle to find the secret to motivating all employees all the time. The best type of motivation is self-motivation.
Q. I don’t think management should be responsible for a team’s morale. Morale is a team issue. So employees should monitor their own morale and take steps to deal with it. Is this an unfair expectation?
A. In the anonymously written business book, Team Secrets of the Navy SEALS (Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2003), the author captures the essence of high functioning teams and shows how the lessons learned from their success can be applied to the everyday business world. He argues that teams must nurture themselves, identify patterns of decline such as morale issues and summon interventions to recapture their lost momentum. It is reasonable to expect that business teams can police their issues and address morale problems, but there is more to it than that. Where the SEALS are well funded and without competition, the teams you oversee may not be as well supported. Resources may be limited. The competition they face may be fierce. They need you on the outside looking in, and looking out for them. Morale problems can spread, and to ignore them or remain hands-off is a risky strategy for your organization. All teams, even the Navy SEALS, work within the context of a larger organization that must support them. When this happens, teams can thrive, set standards for themselves, resolve conflicts and address morale problems.