By Derek Irvine
There is an interesting “iceberg” effect when it comes to employee motivation. Company leadership tends to focus on what is immediately visible, both for top talent and for severe underperformers for example. This focus can come at the expense of less visible, but no less impactful dynamics
What can get missed are the employees in the middle, an interesting proportion of whom show up and stay at their jobs despite being generally unmotivated, performing just enough to not bring attention to themselves. As I write on the Compensation Cafe, this group of employees was the subject of some recent research:
A report in the Wall Street Journal highlights a study by Aon Hewitt that looked at this group of employees. That study found 8% of employees fit into this profile of “prisoner” employee – defined as those “who stay at their jobs despite feeling unmotivated” – which was related to both longer tenure and salaries above market rates.
The article goes on to suggest that compensation is generally an ineffective lever in increasing motivation, and in fact may only contribute to increased feelings of being “held prisoner.” The net impact is a reduction in functional voluntary turnover, negatively affecting colleagues and sapping the company’s potential.
The solution is probably two-fold. For employees who are either unwilling or unable to become more motivated and productive performers, the business and HR need to have processes in place to identify and move those employees out. For everyone else, there is much more hope.
Developmental coaching and ongoing feedback can help to uncover barriers to that employee’s motivation and find solutions in the form of new roles or responsibilities.
Social recognition can also be a powerful motivator that builds on those conversations, amplifying examples of good performance and engaging a positive cycle of behaviors that align with the company’s core values.
Finally, a greater proportion of the overall compensation portfolio can be aligned towards real-time performance, creating more opportunity for motivation creation.
What are your thoughts on the best ways to transform “prisoner” employees into productive and energized contributors?
About Derek Irvine
The VP of Client Strategy and Consulting at Globoforce, Derek Irvine is one of the world’s foremost experts on employee recognition and engagement, helping business leaders set a higher vision and ambition for their organizations. As a renowned speaker and co-author of "The Power of Thanks" and "Winning with a Culture of Recognition," he teaches companies how to use recognition to proactively manage company culture. Derek holds a B.Comm and Masters of Business Studies from the Smurfit Graduate Business School at University College Dublin.