In The Workplace

Now that we’ve been locked down due to COVID-19, what would you advise people managers about motivating workers, including those under flexible work arrangements like work-from-home? — White Lily.

A young man was whiling away a lazy afternoon when he found himself in the middle of a pasture with an angry bull charging him. The only safe haven was a tree, but the nearest branch was 10 feet off the ground. Adrenaline rushing, the young man ran for it and made a tremendous leap.

He missed it on the way up, but caught it on the way down.

In this pandemic, many of those who are lucky enough to still have jobs face the challenge of working to the satisfaction of their bosses, which has become more difficult if not impossible. How do we continue working when we need to maintain social, physical distancing but are still required to do our best?

The answer may appear simple and easy to everyone — job security. It’s the same adrenaline that pushed our carefree, young fellow to do his best to avoid that raging bull. The trouble is that job security makes some people complacent. They think they can’t be dismissed from work unless there’s a serious charge against them.

The pandemic changes the landscape. Even the most stable job can be gone tomorrow if the organization continues to lose money while being saddled with a demotivated workforce. Therefore, there’s no better way for management but to exert its utmost effort to boost morale so workers can do a good job and remain secure in their employment.

In good and in bad times, there are many approaches to boosting morale within any organization, regardless of size and nature of product or service. As part of the management team, you can do much to encourage workers and their managers. And since we are in belt-tightening mode during the pandemic when everyone is required to minimize expenditure, I’m recommending several measures that don’t require spending money:

One, act promptly to manage employee complaints and suggestions. This doesn’t mean management should agree with every employee concern to appease them. The key is to review the issue with the help of the concerned line supervising executive. Establish a 24-Hour rule similar to that in place at Ford Motor Co. to fast-track the resolution of issues. If the boss can’t settle the issue in one day, he must elevate the matter to the next level.

Two, agree on a reasonable daily work performance target. This means requiring both the boss and the workers to agree on achievable performance standards, even for those assigned to work at home. At times, when workers are tasked to work from home, management is often tempted to assign unusual or difficult tasks to keep people fully occupied. If that happens, all line managers must stand ready to provide online assistance, if needed.

Three, be courteous to all workers and managers. Even in the most difficult times, common courtesy must not be ignored. Requesting, rather than demanding that a certain task be done is far more likely to get positive results with employees. In addition, a sincere word of thanks is often effective and costs nothing. Being sincere means being specific about the things you like instead of making a general statement like “you’ve done an excellent job!”

Four, help the workers achieve their career goals. The best approach is to hear it directly from the horse’s mouth. Find out what motivates people to work hard. Does it have anything to do with sustaining one’s family, achieving a post-graduate degree, or enjoying foreign travel? If you don’t know the answer, it would be difficult to help your workers achieve their personal goals.

Five, appreciate what the workers have done beyond expectations. Identify those who have exceeded management expectations and place them on the ABCD (Always Beyond the Call of Duty) list. They are different from average individuals who perform the minimum requirements to avoid dismissal. The ABCD category must be commended publicly via online meetings and video conferences, followed up with a commendation letter, copy furnished their personnel file.

Last, continue paying the workers’ full salary and benefits. This is difficult for many organizations, but if your company can afford it, it’s much better to help them financially during this pandemic, out of humanitarian considerations. It’s one basic approach to motivate people. No amount of motivation can help hungry workers. You can improvise by continuing to pay out bonuses, other merit-related rewards or the statutory 13th month pay.

External motivational speakers won’t do the job, even the most expensive of them all, no matter how popular and good they are at public speaking. The best motivational coaches are your line supervisors and managers. That’s because they interact daily with the workers and they know them well, including their personality quirks.

Even the world’s most popular and highly-paid motivational speaker, Zig Ziglar, admitted he can’t do a good job motivating your people: “People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing — that’s why we recommend it daily.” And who else can do it daily to your people, but your line executives.

That’s assuming your line executives can do a good job. If they can’t do a good job motivating their people, then that’s a bigger problem that you must solve first. How can they possibly lead by example?

ELBONOMICS: You can’t give what you don’t have.


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