Give Employees What They Want - Employees
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Give Employees What They Want

Written By Mary Sedor

Article Date: 12-03-2007
Copyright(C) 2007 Associated Equipment Distributors. All Rights Reserved.

Does ‘happy' have a dollar value? It may be in vogue to say that people are your greatest asset, but when they know you mean it, your bottom line will feel it.

What do American Express, the Mayo Clinic and Starbucks have in common?

On the surface, given their diverse industries, one would be inclined to say: Not much!

But according to the book, The Enthusiastic Employee: How Companies Profit by Giving Employees What They Want, the workers at each of these companies' possess the highest morale in corporate America, and high employee morale is one of the key characteristics of companies that have experienced long-term success.

Each of these three organizations has policies and practices in place that ensure employee enthusiasm about the company and their jobs.

Dr. David Sirota, one of the co- authors of The Enthusiastic Employee, is an industrial psychologist and has spent more than 40 years researching and interviewing workers on their job satisfaction. Over the course of his career, Sirota has been involved with nearly four million workers.

A key myth about enthusiastic employees, says Sirota, is that it's all about motivating people.

"That's the wrong question," he said. "The real issue is how do you keep management from destroying the motivation that employees naturally and initially bring to their jobs."

Sirota says it's a myth that employees must be cajoled, provided incentives or otherwise pushed to do their work.

"When you have that view that this is what you have to do to "motivate" people, what in fact you're doing is destroying their motivation," he said. "It's a self-fulfilling prophecy. Assume that employees must be treated that way and sure enough, they will have to be treated that way - not because they are that way, but because of what you've done."

Sirota says there are two major internal factors that drive business success: (1.) the strategy of the business leader or leadership and (2.) the morale, motivation, enthusiasm and engagement of the workforce.

According to Sirota, enthusiastic employees:

  • Routinely produce significantly more than the job requires, often working all kinds of hours to get things done and done right
  • Volunteer for difficult assignments
  • Search for ways to improve things rather than just reacting to management's requests or to crises
  • Encourage co-workers to high levels of performance and seek ways to help them
  • Welcome, rather than resist, needed change
  • Conduct transactions with external constituencies, such as customers, in ways that bring great credit to the company
  • Are more likely to stay with the company, be an advocate of the company and they continue to contribute to bottom-line business success
"We have data showing that morale is related to a host of performance measures, including efficiency, work quality, customer satisfaction, withdrawal behavior such as turnover and absenteeism and stock market performance," he said.

For instance, 2002 was a terrible year for the stock market. According to Sirota's data, the companies with a high-morale workforce actually saw a slight increase in stock market performance. Companies labeled with a moderate morale workforce saw a 14 percent decrease, and the low-morale companies saw a 25 percent drop.

"The end result of higher efficiencies, customer satisfaction, quality, sales and so on, we find to be strongly related to stock market performance, as well as these other indices," he said.


One of the major factors in what Sirota calls "withdrawal behavior" is respect. When employees feel they are not treated with respect, it has a direct impact on turnover and absenteeism.

The Mayo Clinic is a great example of a high-morale workforce. Sirota surveyed the patients of the Mayo Clinic and asked them to write in how they felt about the hospital.

Here are some of their responses:

  • "Two nurses gave up their day off to be with us for my peace of mind. They brought me smoothies, they hemmed the pajamas my mother sent. They were wonderful."
  • "The phone was a Mayo heart surgeon. I couldn't believe it. He personally called to say come see him."
  • "My oncologist is...the kindest man I ever met. He related some of his personal life to me. I was more than my problem to him. He related to me as a person."
While it may seem that these comments have to do with the technical quality of the staff, that's not the case, says Sirota. It's the staff.

"The way the employees are treated is a major reason for this," he said. "The focus in the Mayo Clinic - what drives decisions - is the treatment of the patient. Second, the way employees are treated has a lot to do with the success of Mayo. All organizations should want to have employees like Mayo's employees."

Sirota says it doesn't matter if you're a hospital with 50,000 employees or a small equipment dealership with a few dozen employees - how employees are treated has a bottom-line impact.

"I'm telling you based upon our research and observation, this is a major factor in you making a buck - the commitment and engagement of your people," he said.

Destroying Enthusiasm

Sirota says employees naturally bring enthusiasm to their jobs and over time, several factors, such as lack of job security, lack of loyalty, lack of recognition and the inability to get the job done slowly chip away at enthusiasm. Only a meager 5 percent of the workforce will never be excited about work.

After six months on the job, there is an enormous drop in enthusiasm. The most common explanation is that there is a "honeymoon" effect when it comes to a new job. At first employees are excited and then something happens and they become slightly disillusioned. However, 14 percent of companies surveyed do not have a drop in their enthusiasm.

Job security is one factor that affects the drop in enthusiasm. Sirota says it's fashionable today to say that the younger generation of workers doesn't care about job security.

"Security is a fundamental need of most people," he said. "It's become fashionable not to emphasize security and to treat people at work as interchangeable objects. If you treat your employees like that, how do you expect them to treat you or your customers?"

Treating employees like inanimate objects also destroys enthusiasm. Employers lost their loyalty to their workforce, and in turn employees lost their loyalty to their employers, Sirota asserts.

After 9/11, when the airlines were taking a hit, Southwest Airlines decided not to lay people off when the rest of the industry was. Instead, they decided to eat the costs.

"The chairman of Southwest was crazy like a fox," said Sirota. "He believed his employees mattered. Just about every company has a sign saying ‘our employees are our biggest asset,' but that's the first place you make cuts. You wouldn't cut that much if you really believed this is your biggest asset."

The lack of recognition also digs into enthusiasm. Even the police officers surveyed, unionized railroad workers and CEOs all need to hear they are doing a good job.

"If someone works all weekend, goes out of his way to do their job, say thank you," he said. "It's a basic human need."

Treating employees like they cannot be trusted is a fourth factor influencing enthusiasm. Sirota says some companies treat employees as if they have to be closely supervised, berated and disciplined in order to do their work.

"When you treat them as if they can't be trusted it turns people off tremendously," he said.

Finally, employees lose their enthusiasm when they can't get their jobs done. In other words, when a lack of training, poor equipment, a lack of communication or cooperation, and difficulty making decisions all make an employee's job difficult - it becomes very frustrating for the employee.

What Do Workers Want?

Giving workers what they want may sound like a road to bankruptcy, but it's really a road to profitability. And so what do workers want? Sirota says workers have three basic goals.

  • Equity. Employees want to be treated justly in relation to the basic conditions of employment. "If people feel terribly underpaid or their benefits are much less generous than those of other companies, you're not satisfying that goal," he said.
  • Achievement. Employees want to be proud of what they do, and the organization for which they do it. Employees seek recognition for their accomplishments. "People want to feel proud of what they are doing," he said.
  • Camaraderie. Employees want co-workers who are productive, cooperative, interesting and whose company they enjoy.
"Most of the problems in dealing with employees stem from the behaviors of management who inadvertently depress or destroy the enthusiasm that employees naturally bring to their jobs," said Sirota. "Satisfying the three basic goals of employees brings huge returns for the business."

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Article Categories:  Human Resources  »  Management