Sunday, February 18, 2007

Work-Life Balance and Motivation

The Egg example is buzzword-laden, and seems to argue that they achieve maximum motivation by doing things companies should just do anyway, namely using previously learned management theories to do extraordinarily non-revolutionary things like providing a clean work environment and actually providing its employees with achievable targets and goals. By acting like any of this is somehow a new thing, and repackaging it in this "Egg DNA" format, they're revealing that they're out of touch with their employees (who could not care less on a daily basis about Theory X) and that they have no real new content to bring to the table here. The argument that "we listen to what our employees say and want" is just not particularly convincing, especially if their entire motivational program consists of just talking a whole lot about productivity and achievement.

I am more impressed by La Rosa's program, which seems relatively uncommon among food service (speaking from experience) and at least attempts to treat employees with actual respect and allows them to evaluate the performance of their superiors. While such trappings as the "chief people officer" are a bit silly-sounding, it's nonetheless the case that empowering employees in the often-dehumanizing and very top-down world of food service can really have a positive effect. This is especially relevant, I think, when a primary differentiating factor between your business and your competitors' is customer service.

Speaking as a potential future supervisor (likely in an academic library setting, which is quite fortunately an environment that allows for much personal contact and a great deal of "soft" management), I believe that the best motivational tools are primarily based on personal relationships. Workers, like people in all facets of their lives, desire approval and appreciation as well as the knowledge that they are supported as humans and as workers. There is nothing worse than working and not being acknowledged for creative and interesting contributions. Such contributions, especially if they are innovative, deserve praise. Along with that praise should come trust, and greater freedom and independence. I intend to provide those whom I supervise with a sense that they are truly valued. How?

-Initiate discussions in which I mention the ways in which their work has made a positive difference in the library, and the ways in which their contributions have been uniquely their own. I believe people truly need to feel ownership over their projects; like it was as good as it was because they did it, not just because it got done. An appreciation of unique value is ideal for a supervisor.

-Provide independence in the form of flex time and a general sense that work and life can compromise with one another. Getting errands done, and having a family, are difficult given the work schedules some places require nowadays. In libraries, some significant percentage of the work tends to be done alone and with little requirement that it be done within a certain time of the day. Allowing some schedule flexibility, and evaluating the body of work rather than the hours someone was visibly "at their desk," tends to work well in this kind of environment. I believe employees are more motivated and feel more positive about coming to work if they don't feel like they must be there at the expense of the rest of their lives.

-Provide opportunities for improvement. People feel better about work if they feel that those in their organization are trying to help them improve. Allowing and encouraging employees to attend seminars and conferences, and allowing them to share these outcomes in their work, reduces the drear and gives employees a sense that their vocation and improvement is valued in addition to the work "getting done."

-Listen. There is nothing worse than working for someone who cannot or will not hear feedback in the opposite direction.

-Learn. Employees, especially librarians, love to teach and to show. A willingness to learn new techniques and new ideas from employees increased the "family" environment and generally improves morale, motivation, and a sense of collegiality that is truly motivating.

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