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January 2011 Archives

2327243497_b0b6baede9_m.jpgIn his blog, a shel of my former self, organizational communication expert Shel Holtz plays off a recent blog post by David Spark that "calls BS" on some companies efforts to boost employee morale.

Holtz gives a good example of an experience from his time at Mattel and boils his argument down to this:

There is only one way to improve morale in any organization: Identify and fix the conditions that have led to lowered morale in the first place.

So, are the recognition practices employed by many businesses really worthless? Well...maybe. Here are a few thoughts:

  1. "Morale boosters" won't make up for underlying problems. Just as the best marketing in the world won't save a poor quality product, having a company party, or handing out certificates of appreciation won't make employees forget about bad leaders, inadequate compensation, frustrating policies or poor working conditions. In an earlier post, I commented on a story in The Onion that made this point brilliantly. Fix the underlying problems -- don't just try to gloss over them.
  2. Do you know how your employees like to be recognized? Ask them. Certificates, parties, ribbons and other tools can be effective, if employees actually value them. If not, they can come across as cheap, superficial and meaningless. Similarly, if an employee is embarassed by being singled out for public recognition at a big company event, that's not really a motivator, is it? In fact, I'd bet that employee will go to great lengths not to get recognized again. This highlights the importance of starting with a good assessment and involving employees in the process of designing, developing, implementing and refining workplace programs and policies, including recognition practices.
  3. A healthy workplace culture fosters engagement and performance. In a recent post, Dr. Matt Grawitch commented that a "quick-fix mentality has taken over in many organizations," since slapping together a new program is seen as faster and easier than trying to change the culture. Employers who truly understand the link between employee well-being and organizational performance focus on creating a healthy culture, where employees are proud to be part of the team, find meaning in their work and feel valued for their contributions. These organizatons not only see better morale, they also support employee well-being and achieve better business outcomes.

How do you recognize employees in ways that are meaningful and sincere? As a leader, how can you help your team members succeed? Leave your comments -- the best response gets a trophy.


We invite students with research on psychologically healthy workplace topics to submit proposals for poster presentations for the 2011 Psychologically Healthy Workplace Conference. Poster presentations will take place Saturday, April 9, 2011 at the Westin O’Hare Hotel in Chicago, IL as a special conference session.

Topics can include, but are not limited to: workplace wellness and health promotion, employee involvement, work-life balance and flexibility, employee learning and development, occupational health and safety, job stress, diversity, Industrial-Organizational Psychology, Occupational Health Psychology, management and employee recognition.

Guidelines for Poster Presentation Proposals

  • Proposal must be submitted via email to phwa@apa.org no later than February 7, 2011
  • Proposal must be in Microsoft Word, follow APA format and be no longer than 300 words
  • Please include the presentation title, statement of problem, study design, sample size and composition, measures used, analysis method, results and conclusions
  • Also include a one-page bio with presenter’s credentials, academic affiliation, education, research and work experience, list of presentations, statement of career goals, mailing address, email and phone number

Posters will be selected and students will be notified by February 15, 2011.

The Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program (PHWP) is a collaborative effort between the American Psychological Association and the APA Practice Organization designed to help employers optimize employee well-being and organizational performance. To learn more about the program, please visit: www.phwa.org. Additional information about the conference is available online at www.phwa.org/conference.

Photo Credit http://www.flickr.com/photos/berkeleylab / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


A recent survey of Australian employees found that workers in small businesses care more about the direction of their company than workers in large businesses (65% to 49%). Furthermore, 26% of workers in small businesses “strongly agreed” that they were appreciated, but only 10% of workers in large businesses had the same sentiment.

On its face, these results seem to be a bit of a conundrum, because they suggest that workers in small firms are more engaged than workers in large firms. How can this possibly be? After all, larger firms have more financial resources to offer more formalized programs, cafeteria-style benefits, and better pay.

I think the conclusion that one can draw is that the perks offered by larger employees are not what drives engagement. Instead, things like organizational culture, positive relationships with supervisors and co-workers, feeling as though you are having a meaningful impact – those are the key factors that drive engagement.

So, why is it that the issue of engagement always seems to center around the provision of tangible perks and benefits? After all, most engagement surveys look at issues like compensation and benefits as relevant factors driving “presence” at work.

It probably has more to do with the quick-fix mentality that has taken over in many organizations. It is much more expedient to create a new program or benefit than it is to change the culture of an organization. To make the issue worse for large companies, the bigger the company, the harder it is to create an integrated engagement culture. So, the quicker “solution” (if you want to call it that) is to try to bribe employees into being engaged.

Yet, the true motivators of engagement are not the compensation and benefits. As I’ve previously argued, at best these are nothing but satisfiers (or hygiene factors to quote Herzberg). They will not provide the daily incentive to engage workers. If you cannot create an engagement culture – and it has to be one that focuses on culture, relationships, and leadership – you will have a difficult time getting employees to really care about the direction of your company.

Photo Credit http://www.flickr.com/photos/canonsnapper / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0



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This page is an archive of entries from January 2011 listed from newest to oldest.

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