Here are 33 traditional and voguish beliefs that, on the basis of their research, the authors of The Enthusiastic Employee say have little or no basis in reality. These beliefs, covering a variety of areas, are widespread and, when applied to the typical employee and work situation, are wrong. They also often contradict each other, as “common sense” beliefs often do. The 33 myths are:
1. All that most workers care about is their pay and benefits
2. People will never be happy with their pay
3. When employees complain about their pay, they are really unhappy with something else
4. To a significant degree, praise can be a substitute for money
5. Traditional merit pay systems work
6. Profit sharing is a major motivator of employee performance
7. To survive in today’s fiercely competitive marketplace, companies should keep wages as low as they possibly can
8. Employees object to a large difference between their earnings and the earnings of senior management
9. People who feel secure in their jobs become complacent
10. Telling people they’ve done a good job makes them complacent
11. Companies that have no hesitation laying off surplus workers do better than companies that go to great lengths to keep their workers employed
12. Most people doing routine work hate it
13. Most people dislike work of any kind
14. Most people don’t care whether they do a quality job
15. Professionals are much more concerned about doing a quality job than are nonprofessionals
16. Whether workers should be treated as thinking human beings depends on the type of work they do. For example, it is useless — even counterproductive — for employees doing routine, highly standardized work to be involved in decisions about the work.
17. If they are not supervised closely, most workers will try to get away with whatever they can
18. Most workers dislike their immediate managers
19. It is the immediate manager that is the cause of most employee morale problems
20. No matter how nicely a manager does it, correcting an employee’s performance will be resented by the employee
21. People who have too much to do are more unhappy than people who have too little to do
22. There are major differences between generations in what people want from their jobs
23. Young people today resent authority much more than young people did two or three decades ago
24. Young people today are much less concerned with job security than were previous generations
25. There are major differences between cultures and countries in what people want from their jobs
26. Loyalty between employees and their employer is — and should be — dead
27. Companies that are loyal to their employees are less successful as businesses
28. Traditional organization principles — such as the need for hierarchy — are stifling and outmoded in today’s “new economy”
29. Whether a company is ethical and a good corporate citizen is of little concern to most of its employees
30. It is best to foster internal competition to improve performance
31. Most employees resist change, whatever the change is
32. “A bitching army is a good army” — when employees are happy it is because their employer is giving them too much and not demanding enough from them
33. You can’t generalize about people at work because every individual is different
The Myths vs. the Findings
The Enthusiastic Employee contains analyses of data from surveys of literally millions of employees in hundreds of organizations. In this section, organized by 16 topic areas, are the book’s main findings in relation to the 33 myths:
Morale and Performance
The Myth: “A bitching army is a good army” — when employees are happy it is because their employer is giving them too much and not demanding enough from them
The Finding: A disgruntled army is not a good army, at least not for long. The authors show that there is a strong positive relationship between employee morale and business success, as gauged by productivity, quality, sales, long-term stock market performance, and many other measures. Employee morale is a direct consequence of giving workers what they want and the three major goals of the overwhelming majority of workers (see below) are entirely compatible with the objectives of the company. Further, included in what employees want is high — not low — performance standards.
Employee Goals and Motivation
The Myths: There are numerous inaccurate beliefs about the goals of employees and their motivation:
Myths About Motivation: People dislike work of any kind; most people don’t care whether they do a quality job; professionals are much more concerned about doing a quality job than are non-professionals; if they are not supervised closely, most workers will try to get away with whatever they can; people who have too much to do are more unhappy than people who have too little to do
Myths Specifically About Pay: All that most workers care about is their pay and benefits; people will never be happy with their pay; when employees complain about their pay, they are really unhappy with something else; to a significant degree, praise can be a substitute for money
Myths About Generational and Cultural Differences: There are major differences between generations in what people want from their jobs; there are major differences between cultures and countries in what people want from their jobs; young people today resent authority much more than young people did two or three decades ago
The Findings: The overwhelming majority of workers are shown in The Enthusiastic Employee to have three main goals at work:
- Equity: To be treated justly in relation to the basic conditions of employment (especially pay, benefits, job security, and respectful treatment)
- Achievement: To take pride in one’s accomplishments by doing things that matter and doing them well; to receive recognition for one’s accomplishments; to take pride in the organization’s accomplishments.
- Camaraderie: To have warm, interesting, and cooperative relations with others in the workplace.
It is therefore not true that workers just want one thing, such as money. Psychologically healthy people have a variety of needs.
- The needs cannot be substituted for each other, e.g., non-financial recognition (such as a “thank you” from the boss) cannot substitute for money but money also can’t substitute for non-financial recognition. All of the needs are important. The authors advise their readers not to believe those who tell them that they can keep costs and employee pay complaints down by various recognition (or other) programs.
- It is not true that “workers will never be satisfied with their pay.” On the average, 40% of workers rate their pay as “Good” or “Very Good” and 23% rate it as “Poor” or “Very Poor,” The rest rate their pay as “So-So.” Further, there is great variability between companies in employees’ satisfaction with their pay, the range being 69% to 8%. These differences are found to correlate strongly with how well the company actually pays! Nothing surprising there: Employees know when they are working for a good-paying employer and when for one that seeks to squeeze the last nickel out of them. In this connection, the authors advise that employee complaints about pay not be “interpreted” as really about something else (boring work, inattentive supervision, etc.) Complaints about pay are almost invariably about pay.
- Since the overwhelming majority of people want to be proud of their work, it is untrue that “most people don’t care whether they do a quality job.” They care a lot! A major reason for worker frustration, the authors discover in their surveys, is not being able to get the job done or done well because of obstacles such as poor equipment, insufficient training, bureaucracy, and conflict among the various parts of an organization. The desire to do a good job holds true for 95% of an average workforce. The other 5% can be described as “allergic” to work (breaking out in hives, no doubt, as they contemplate in the morning going to work). These shirkers constitute but a small fraction of any workforce but management often sees them to be the majority and institutes policies and practices (such as very close supervision) that frustrate — indeed, demean — the others. This turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy whereby these others start to act as if they didn’t care and, indeed, have to be supervised closely. It is a vicious circle. What a waste of the talent and the natural motivation that people bring to their jobs!
Dr. David Sirota, Chairman Emeritus of Sirota, comments: The main question for management, then, is not, “How can employees be motivated?”, but rather “How can management be deterred from diminishing – even destroying – employee motivation?”
- Do “most people dislike work of any kind”? Only when management makes the environment within which work is done onerous. Otherwise, work is a normal — and often a highly satisfying — part of a healthy person’s life. A recent, related study by Sirota Consulting shows that while people are most satisfied with a reasonable amount of work, those with too little work to do are less satisfied with their companies than workers with too much to do.
- The research reported in The Enthusiastic Employee demonstrates clearly that there are no differences in the basic three goals by occupation, industry, age, sex, gender nation or culture. People everywhere and in every station of life want to be treated fairly, be proud of what they do and for whom they do it, and have good relationships with their co-workers. Much of what is written about generational differences (“Gen X” being less concerned about job security and more resentful of authority), or national differences (e.g., Latin Americans are less interested in work than North Americans) is bunkum. So is the notion that professional employees are more interested in doing a quality job than are nonprofessionals, such as hourly workers. That slur on hourly workers is disproved by the data reported in the book.
Copyright © 2005 David Sirota, Louis A. Mischkind, Irwin Meltzer
About the Authors
David Sirota is founder and leader of Sirota Consulting, a firm with a national reputation for improving performance by systematically measuring and managing employee, customer, and community relationships. He previously served as IBM Director of Behavioral Science Research and Application. Sirota has taught at Cornell, Yale, MIT, and Wharton, and was a study director at the University of Michigan’s Institute of Social Research. His work has been featured in Fortune and The New York Times. He holds a doctorate from the University of Michigan.
Louis A. Mischkind has researched organizational effectiveness for 30 years. Prior to joining Sirota Consulting, he was Program Director of Executive Development at IBM and Special Advisor on Human Resources to the President of IBM’s General Products Division. He has taught courses in social and organizational psychology at NYU, Santa Clara University, and San Jose State University. He holds a master’s degree in experimental psychology from Columbia University and a Ph.D. in organizational psychology from New York University.
Michael Irwin Meltzer joined Sirota Consulting full-time in 2001, after serving as its attorney for 20 years. He has advised businesses ranging from financial consultancies and real estate developers to sales, distribution, and construction organizations. He has also served as an Adjunct Assistant Professor at Pace University, teaching business organizations, real-estate law, and trusts and estates. He holds a J.D. from Brooklyn Law School.
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