CSD: Motivating Employees in a Challenging Economy

Discussion
Nov 07, 2011

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of an article from Convenience Store Decisions magazine.

Over the last few years, many employers have not had the funds for raises and bonuses. Employees are increasingly asked to do more with less — often with little thanks.

Fortunately, human resources expert Todd Patkin claims you don’t need a single dime to make your people happy at work or to show them just how much you care about them and appreciate their efforts.

"People will never admit it, but money is not the thing they desire most from their work. Instead, showing appreciation, respect, and, yes, even love are the three most important ways to make your people feel great about their work," said Mr. Patkin.

He offered five tips for employers to keep morale high without spending a cent:

1. Send encouraging notes. When you notice that an individual has done an excellent job or has achieved an important goal, send a specific handwritten note conveying your most sincere appreciation and admiration. This will take only one sheet of paper and five minutes out of your day, but it’ll make a lasting impression on your employee.

2. Distribute inspiration. Society tends to think of work as a place of drudgery, obligation and boredom. If you help them to see the world as a sunnier place and to improve their attitudes and ways of thinking about their entire lives, their professional and personal productivity will also increase.

3. Tell success stories. Even if they brush off praise, everybody loves to be recognized. When someone in your organization has done something great, tell them that you noticed their outstanding work and tell the rest of the team, too. Many employees feel that their leaders take them for granted and only point out their mistakes.

4. Identify stars. Recognizing stars is taking the concept behind telling success stories to the next level. Some team members will roll their eyes at "Employee of the Month" programs, but you can rest assured no one is going to turn down this honor.

5. Make it a family affair. Whenever possible, engage your employees’ families when praising them. Having a leader validate all the hours each team member spends at work will be remembered far longer than a bonus. Plus, when spouses and kids know what Mom or Dad does at work and are onboard with it, your employee’s performance will be buoyed by support from the ones he or she loves the most.

Discussion Questions: What are some of the most effective ways to motivate employees without money? Can you point to any unusual forms of motivation that you are aware of that have been most (or least) successful?

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21 Comments on "CSD: Motivating Employees in a Challenging Economy"


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Adrian Weidmann
Guest
9 years 6 months ago

Employees are the first and direct contact between your brand and your shopper/customer. Empowering your employees to make spontaneous decisions when dealing with your customer service is a simple way to motivate your employees. Listen to their suggestions! Employees see how all of your strategy and policies effect your customers — good and bad. Employees want to be part of an innovative and successful team. Implementing their insights and suggestions will allow them to take ownership of your brand and protect it.

David Livingston
Guest
9 years 6 months ago

First, the economy is doing excellent right now. The economy is always good for good people and good companies. So the economy should never be used as an excuse for less than stellar results. The suggestions above are all excellent when sincerely executed. However, people are not stupid and can usually see through phony or insincere attempts to improve morale. Everyone has a weak spot for some kind of pleasure or stimulus. It could be anything from donuts to sports gambling. Keep feeding employees what they want and they will show up on time every day looking forward to coming to work.

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
9 years 6 months ago

Employees are more motivated when you can make them feel appreciated. So showcase their worthiness before their family and friends in their work environment. Most people are more thrilled when their values and work ethics are shared in front of their family, which is the usually priority #1.

Doron Levy
Guest
Doron Levy
9 years 6 months ago

Empowerment is a huge deal when it comes to motivating retail employees. When you give them the training, support and tools they need to go above and beyond the job description, you are creating a future leader within your organization. Even more so than money, humans have a big need to feel like they belong and this holds true in the workplace. Empower your team and make them feel like they are contributing to a common goal.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
9 years 6 months ago
I’m sorry, but this is silly. One assumes Todd Patkin is making enough money to cover his house payment, adequate health insurance for his family and know from one week (sometimes one day) to the next when — or if — he’ll be working. When it comes to other employees — especially retail workers — this is rarely the case. I’d suggest Mr. Patkin pay attention to both the Occupy (Fill in the blank) and Tea Party movements which share — at their heart — a common rejection of the economic status of middle and lower class Americans. The only people who believe money isn’t a motivator are those who have lots of it and even most of them are working on ways to increase their bonus. Take a letter to Mr. Patkin … “ Dear Todd, Just an encouraging note to say we love all the things you are doing for us in H.R. We know your family is proud of the fact that you’ve hung with us even after we demanded you take… Read more »
Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
9 years 6 months ago

I agree with John’s article and would ask why this has not been put in to more widespread practice. I have to add opening the stores for more hours during the holidays, as we have seen from recent articles, is certainly not the motivator and inspiration needed to keep employees happy.

Ian Percy
Guest
9 years 6 months ago
This piece is so condescending I don’t know where to begin. Just the phrase “make people happy” tells me there is very little understanding here. If we could actually do that we’d have world peace by now and there’d be no reason for beauty pageants. Furthermore, people DO admit that “money is not the thing they desire most.” In survey after survey since the invention of HR this has been self-evident. Let’s look at what’s being said:1. Send an encouraging note – and oh by the way you need only one sheet of paper and you can knock this off in less than five minutes so it’s nothing to you. 2. “Distribute inspiration.” Are you handing out rations or something? Inspiration isn’t something you can inventory and keep on a shelf. 3. Tell people you noticed their outstanding work. Are you kidding me? What were you doing before discovering this insightful advice? 4. Identify “stars” — or at least stars for a month. Sounds like the Republican nominee race. Frankly, and here I may be… Read more »
Max Goldberg
Guest
9 years 6 months ago

I would add, treat your employees with respect. Everyone wants to be respected for the work that he/she does. Too often employees are taken for granted.

David Slavick
Guest
David Slavick
9 years 6 months ago
It’s a lot cheaper to do and say things than it is to pay the employee more or pay them what they are worth. How many companies over the past 5-6 years have killed their 401k contribution toward employee benefits? Understand the role of HR in the process for compensation management and you find a trend — its all about recognition (words, parking spaces and certificates you can post on your wall), but the reward doesn’t pay the bills or allow the employee to “move up” in lifestyle. Gift cards for recognition anyone? What else explains the temporary nature of tenure with today’s brilliant new managers in their late 20s/early 30s? Ahhhh to go back to the days when compensation was fairly distributed, 401k matching was a standard practice, stock could be purchased every two weeks at a discount and promotion from within was the standard vs. clean sweeps of staff when new upper management comes in from the outside. For those companies that DO get it and balance the reward of the all mighty… Read more »
Mark Price
Guest
Mark Price
9 years 6 months ago

The book “Drive,” by Daniel Pink, talks about the science of motivation, and how the research suggests that cash-based incentives are not only unsuccessful, but counter productive to improved work particularly in industries where creativity is required.

In our organization, we have focused on training and support, as well as creating a fun work environment, to help motivate and retain our employees. It seems like the training — the chance to get better at what they do, adding value to their work and their careers, is the greatest motivator for our team. We also do recognition, when we can, to help everyone feel like a “star.” Finally, we offer a great deal of work flexibility — our employees can work where and when they want, as long as they continue to delight our clients and, of course, do not miss key meetings and commitments.

This combination makes me proud to be the leader of this team; hopefully our employees feel the same!

Cathy Hotka
Guest
9 years 6 months ago

My kids have saved every encouraging note, every little recognition, every piece of flair they ever got from Starbucks or the other restaurants where they’ve worked. Encouragement works…and so does a raise.

Dennis Serbu
Guest
Dennis Serbu
9 years 6 months ago
Reality check: We can’t pay everyone $100,000 per year plus bonus. There will always be low pay, low skill jobs, and we will continue to pay what the market will bear and what is necessary to attract and keep talent. Those that perform and improve will move up the food chain. Those that don’t, won’t or can’t, we can at least provide a pleasant working environment where daily accomplishments and recognition of contribution is acknowledged. The aforementioned tips will go a long way towards creating said environment. One caution: when singling out the “Stars,” avoid the sycophants. Nothing throws cold water on warm fuzzies more than to publicly acknowledge the employees that are a mile wide and one inch deep. I prefer to praise in private, and do so in a sincere, one-on-one basis. Engaging the family is also a great motivator. Telling an employee’s wife what a great asset he is to the company goes a long way towards building loyalty. Catch people doing things right, and thank them for it. It will surprise… Read more »
James Tenser
Guest
9 years 6 months ago

“Take the cash
Don’t let them pay you in kind
Take the cash
Before they change their minds
Let’s see the color of their money…”
Wreckless Eric, 1978

Why else do people work?

Steve Montgomery
Guest
9 years 6 months ago

While I had intended to write something much longer, I will fall back on what I have found true in my experience as a retailer (or as anything else): “If you want good people, treat them good.” This includes all the items mentioned in the article and much more as many of those who responded before me wrote.

Al McClain
Guest
Al McClain
9 years 6 months ago

Please allow me to line up squarely with Ryan, Ian, and David on this one. Doing little things to motivate employees is certainly not a bad thing, and I’m 100% in favor of treating all workers with respect and providing them rewards, recognition, and incentives. But, treating employees nicely does not make up for not making a living wage, which is where many employees in retail are these days. According to a national poll I saw today, only 1% rated the economy as “excellent.” All the donuts and pats on the back in the world won’t make up for an inability to pay the rent or pay for healthcare bills. Let’s start by paying employees a living wage with decent incentives for performance, and then give them the “Employee of the Month” stuff as an extra. Doesn’t need to be $100K per year, but 8 bucks an hour is not enough for anyone to live on.

Lee Peterson
Guest
9 years 6 months ago

In the creative business, being able to work on interesting projects/brands is a great motivator as well. It’s the reason we do what we do — to help great brands become even greater. But like all the points mentioned above, that only goes so far. Best thing to do during a recession is to keep rewarding your ‘stars’ financially, no matter what the cost. Because if you don’t, someone else will — but also because people are your #1 asset, they SHOULD be a priority.

BTW, the ‘telling success stories’ can actually backfire on you. The perception is, “if we’re doing so well, where’s mine?” I found that out the hard way.

Tony Orlando
Guest
9 years 6 months ago

In my business, I can not afford to pay my help 40-50 thousand a year, or I would be bankrupt. I try to provide a good working environment, and always let my help know when they do something well, with a smile.

It is hard to retain retail workers, but overall, if they do something special, I’ll slip them a cash bonus, and personally thank them. Around the busy holidays, I provide free lunches in our break room from our deli, which they certainly appreciate, and I throw a Fall festival dinner at my home, where they are treated to a gourmet dinner, and food certificates to the store.

Also I believe it is important to personally work side by side with them, when needed, to let them know that it’s important for me to help them get through a tough day.

Keep an open door and try your best to make them feel like it is the best working environment for the money around, and chances are you’ll keep your employees longer.

Mel Kleiman
Guest
9 years 6 months ago

Looking for motivational ideas here is a list that comes from one of my presentations.
1. Recognition
2. Respect
3. Relationships
4. Responsibility
5. Reward
6. Revelry
7. Communications

You also may want to consider the following 4 items that everyone is looking for in a job.
1. Great Boss and coworkers
2. Interesting work
3. Growth and opportunity
4. Family friendly environment. (Work life balance)

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
9 years 6 months ago

I’d like to expand on what David said: the economy isn’t just doing (sic) excellent right now, it’s doing super-duper uber-excellently right now; the best in history (or course my history only goes back 15 mos)…or it’s not; but it really doesn’t matter: plenty of employers — all of them, in fact, if you believe in “efficient markets theory” — aren’t paying better, not because they “have not had the funds for raises and bonuses,” but because they are quite happy to either return the funds to owners as higher profits, or keep it for themselves as higher executive bonuses. The unemployment rate that corresponds to “full employment” seems to keep creeping up. I’m sure come next November someone will argue it’s really 8.5% — and as long as some commoditized worker is out their willing to undercut someone else, it will continue (Marx may have at least got that one right).

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
9 years 6 months ago

Kumbaya. Yeah, that’ll work. Am I the only one who spotted the AP report last Thursday that “401(k) Matches Resume For 75 Percent Of Companies?” It’s by David Pitt, the AP Personal Finance Writer, and the lead to the story is this: “Most of the companies that either suspended or reduced their 401(k) matches during the economic downturn have reinstated them, business consultant Towers Watson said in a study released Wednesday.”

That’s the way to charm employees, as so many companies clearly understand according to the Towers Watson report.

Bill Emerson
Guest
Bill Emerson
9 years 6 months ago

There is a classic study by Harvard Business Review from decades ago that analyzed the key drivers to employee satisfaction. Money was way down the list. The primary determinant was “environment”. Todd’s list includes different aspects of one such environmental component – recognition. The primary element discussed by HBR was “making a difference”, which can also be described as a balance between responsibility and authority or, in a more current argot, empowerment. Nothing will charge up a good associate more than the authority and tools to address a problem or capture an opportunity without having to get someone else’s approval. There are some, but not many, retailers out there that practice this. They are the ones that are doing well in this economy.

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