The motivation of employees is the job of management, the authors will say. Motivating employees is the job of leadership, the great business thinkers will say. And so it is, the general theme of the majority of management and leadership books on the market today is that employers are responsible for motivating their employees. Having read and disagreed wholeheartedly with a number of these books over the years, it is time I address what I believe is a serious issue plaguing American workers today, an epidemic of sorts that has poisoned the once proud well of industriousness that built this nation into the economic superpower that it is today.
I believe that modern business writers and thinkers have it wrong, terribly wrong, and I believe their thoughts and ideas concerning the motivation of employees is enabling the spread of disease throughout our collective American workforce and the culture of business in general. The belief and reoccurring theme espoused by these authors and thinkers is that as mentioned, it should be the job of leadership and management to motivate employees, and that a lack of motivation from said employees is a sign of poor leadership. I submit to you today that not only are the aforementioned beliefs extremely arrogant on the part of these authors, thinkers, and the employees themselves, they are laced with an entitlement mentality as well. Few other phenomena embody the Twitter hashtag #firstworldproblems as well as these beliefs, in my humble opinion. We have truly become soft if just having a job is not motivation enough to work at it and work hard. Consider in the third world people live on a dollar a day and so forth...yet Americans who have jobs paying many times that amount are still believed to require a bit of extra motivation from their employers.
To comprehend the absurdity of the proposition that employers should be in the business of motivating employees, imagine the scenario from the perspective of the corporation or business owner:
- You offer a competitive salary
- You offer a competitive benefits package
- You are flexible in that you do not micro-manage, evaluating employees based on results, not hours worked
- You offer a certain degree of security
- You know that an open position in your organization results in hundreds of applicants for the job
The business gurus and thought leaders are not satisfied, however, and many of the employees themselves are not satisfied just the same. In addition to the aforementioned opportunities, in a highly competitive job market I might add, you, the business owner or corporation, are still expected to motivate your employees as well. The opportunity to work, the pay, and other benefits you offer are not enough!
From the perspective of the employee -
- You receive a competitive salary/wage
- You receive benefits...health care, vision, dental, perhaps other perks and so forth
- You have a certain degree of security in your job
- You know that a good/great job is hard to find and that should you leave there are many that are hungry to take your place
Yet despite the benefits, it is not enough for you. The privilege of working is great, sure, and while yes, there are hundreds waiting to replace you (and everyone is replaceable), you just cannot seem to find that extra drive and motivation. On top of the aforementioned benefits and salary you demand that your employer motivate you as well, for simply paying you to do the job is not motivation enough!
The thought process behind why an employee would need added motivation from an employer or expect as much is mind-boggling. The employee is getting paid to do a job...if nothing else, what other motivation is needed? Is it not an equal exchange of money and benefits for time and motivation? If said employee cannot seem to find motivation, perhaps they should leave, or ask for a reduction in salary, or a reduction in responsibility? There are plenty of people quite motivated and willing to take their place.
Forgetting the money and benefits, there was a time in our history when simply having a job and the pride that came along with the privilege and ability to work was motivation enough. There were few if any leadership or business gurus talking about emotional intelligence, personality tests, or motivating employees; men and women worked for work's sake, and took a bit of healthy pride in a job well done. They were motivated because that is what people did - worked hard - and they were grateful for the opportunity to do so. The thought of an employer having to motivate an employee after providing them with the opportunity and the privilege to work was not in any way shape or form in the forefront of the minds of the people at the time. Without going too deep into the history...we do not have the term "Protestant Work Ethic" today because people expected their employers to motivate them during the early years of this nation's founding. See Coming Apart by Charles Murray and his chapter on industriousness for more; we have lost a sense of true work ethic in this country if employers are expected to motivate their employees because they are otherwise unable to do so themselves.
In my world of NCAA Division I Sports...imagine if a Director of Athletics had to be constantly motivating his or her senior staff or head coaches? Imagine if head coaches had to be constantly motivating their own staff? How would athletic departments around the country move on to bigger and better if they were still trying to master entry level motivation? Google...Apple...excellent pay, excellent benefits, and the employee is on the forefront of a tech revolution that is as exciting as any in human history. I would hope that no other motivation is needed for said employees!
I propose then a paradigm shift in our business culture, and it needs to start with the thought leaders and thinkers in the corporate world changing their tune and putting a bit of pressure back on the employees and members of the organizations in question. I will take the lead and propose it is not the job of the leader, manager, or business owner to motivate, no, the leader simply guides the passion and strong work ethic already found in the employees, members of the organization, or team. We have done a great disservice to American workers and allowed them to become soft if we pay them, with benefits, yet do not expect them to be motivated in return for their paycheck. I believe this a change we can make, and ideally the most influential in the business world echo the thoughts I share here today.