Damien Grant: Fear, greed and vanity are excellent staff motivators

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Employers and Manufacturers Association chief Kim Campbell.  Photo / Greg Bowker
Employers and Manufacturers Association chief Kim Campbell. Photo / Greg Bowker

Kim Campbell, the Employers and Manufacturers Association chief, gave an entertaining speech at a breakfast seminar last week in which he touted productivity gains to be had from an engaged workforce.

Money was not the primary motivator, he assured us.

It is a nice idea but in my opinion fear, greed and vanity are better motivators than team spirit.

Fear is a primeval motivator but sadly the effect is short-lived.

Yelling at and threatening staff generates incredible short-term results but prolonged exposure wears down even the most resilient wage-slave.

But the absence of fear triggers the default human setting: sloth. You only need to visit the front counter of any government department to see an example.

Contrast this with McDonald's. There should be more pride and community spirit at the Department of Self-Importance than at a fast-food joint, yet I'm always impressed at the speed at which my McNuggets arrive and unimpressed watching staff at the Ministry of Indolence wander, reluctantly, to the counter.

The difference is fear. McDonald's fires shirkers.

It should come as no surprise that greed is a highly effective motivator. Money talks.

Employees are not going to care about your interests more than their own and they shouldn't. People prioritise the interests of themselves and their families. Wages are for time and expertise; not loyalty. If you hanker for unthinking loyalty and affection, buy a puppy.

If you want hard work done, give a cash incentive, not a pep-talk. Most people need to see the rewards of their labour in their wallet, or in something tangible that has meaning and value to them.

Which brings me to vanity. People like to be praised and given treats. They will work to obtain public recognition and sulk if expected praise is not forthcoming. Some employees who understand this suck up to the boss, applying platitudes that cause him to work harder to keep them on the payroll.

Most people are lazy. They need to fear the stick and taste the carrot. Forget any HR puffery beyond that. Thinking you can con people into working hard by winning their respect on a team-building golf day is hubris. A small minority are naturally hardworking and driven. They want to work and have an internal drive that needs to be channelled and not stifled by an insecure manager and a dysfunctional organisational structure.

Campbell is correct that, all other things being equal, an engaged workforce is more productive than a disengaged one - but the pyramids were built with the whip. We should not forget that.

- Herald on Sunday

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