In The Workplace

I’m the human resource (HR) manager of a small factory with 130 workers. We have a high turnover rate now approaching the 25% mark. That’s across all jobs, including line supervisors and managers. What’s the quick solution to help stem the exodus? — Yellow Submarine.

“Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because they want to do it,”  according to former American President Dwight Eisenhower (1890-1969). But what if your supervisors and managers are part of the problem? Can demotivated managers motivate their workers?

Of course, not. You can’t give what you don’t have. And this applies to motivation. If the supervisors and managers are not motivated, then how can they help motivate others? In the first place, you need to discover the root cause (or causes) of the problem. Is it about low pay and perks? How about work culture? How about the style of top management? Is it about the incompetence of line executives? The list could go on and on.

“Understanding what motivates your employees — and leveraging it at the right moments — has the power to transform your business,” according to Jim Barnett, writing in Forbes (2020).

In general, motivation can be described as either “intrinsic” or “extrinsic.” Intrinsic motivation is what prods a person to achieve something monumental because that’s what they want regardless of material rewards, work culture, or their bosses’ management style.

Intrinsically motivated people are those who want to achieve their career aspirations with or without material rewards. I’ve seen it in a lot of people who want to prove something for some reason, like an experience of rejection and the opportunity to prove their detractors wrong.

On the other hand, extrinsic motivation involves performance bonuses, promotions, hefty merit increases, foreign trips, stock options, and substantial zero-interest loans  to finance things like new houses — rewards that could fall into the category of “golden handcuffs.” Between “intrinsic” and “extrinsic” motivation, what do you think will work best for your company.

Citing a 2014 study that incorporates a 40-year meta-analysis, Barnett says: “Intrinsic motivation was nearly six times more powerful than extrinsic motivation in predicting performance.”

You may argue that this 2014 study was done by people with a Western orientation. How about a specific country like the Philippines, or in a local setup, like your own organization? Be aware that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

We promise to learn from others, but we challenge their lessons. That’s just critical thinking. But we also promise to save money for the education of our children, but succumb to the temptation of using it as a downpayment for a new car. We promise to undergo an executive medical checkup, but cancel appointments at the last minute.

How much are we losing by ignoring the red flags representing mismanagement? Sure, you can undertake your own study to account for your company’s unique circumstances. That’s assuming you have the time and expertise to come out with an objective result.

One approach is to conduct an annual employee morale survey that covers management style, compensation policy, working conditions, performance standards, and many more. To make the results objective, require all employees to participate while guaranteeing anonymity.

It’s better to hire an external consultant to process and analyze the results so that you will not be accused of tinkering with the outcome.

As a management consultant and former HR practitioner with more than 35 years of corporate experience, I’m all too familiar with the Filipino mindset of ningas-kugon, which is more or less equivalent to procrastination. You may have completed reading this article and promised to heed my advice only to forget it the moment your boss dumps an important assignment.

In the end, you’ll end up with nothing except the need to impress top management and workers with alibis that are the equivalent of directly blaming line supervisors and managers for their incompetence. You end up returning to zero with no data to back up your claims because you failed to carry out an employee morale survey.

The ball is always in HR’s court. It’s the primary department responsible for reducing the turnover rate; the line executives are responsible for carrying out whatever plans are implemented to limit turnover.

There’s no “quick solution.” Much depends on the HR department’s determination to address the high turnover rate; that involves accurately diagnosing what is troubling the organization. And the best approach to achieve this is a morale survey.


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