The University Record, November 15, 1999

Motivating others: Ask people what’s important to them

By Jane R. Elgass

Students in the Nov. 3 ‘Motivating Others’ class were told that creating an environment that makes people feel like they belong is an important factor in motivating them. The class was offered by Human Resources Development. Photo by Bob Kalmbach
People tend to do their best work when they are in an environment that makes them feel valued, where they get a pat on the back or a “thank you” for a job well done.

Those courtesies, so simple we sometimes forget to utilize them, can do much for office morale and can motivate staff to go the extra mile.

But how do you foster a welcoming environment, and how do you create motivated staff members?

We sometimes forget the power of simple courtesies, Barbara Mulay told a Human Resource Development (HRD) class on “Motivating Others” earlier this month.

A few things to keep in mind when thinking about how to recognize and reward staff members:

  • Don’t assume people feel valued just because they continue to be productive.

  • Don’t assume that what makes you feel good—in terms of recognition and reward—will make others feel good.

    Mulay noted that a study by Kenneth Kovach of George Mason University comparing employees’ ranking of what they wanted from their jobs with what their bosses thought was important to employees had some surprising results.

    Tops on the employees’ list was interesting work, followed by appreciation of work, a feeling of being “in on things,” job security and good wages.

    Employers thought good wages, job security, promotion/growth, good working conditions and interesting work were most important to their staff.

    It also is a good idea to think about where people are in their careers when thinking about rewards and recognition. Pay incentives might be appealing to young workers, while professional development opportunities might interest mid-career folks. Long-term employees might feel better about their job if they are included in policy and strategic planning discussions, giving them a chance to share the experiences they have had over the years.

    Easily overlooked but also important, Mulay noted, is attitude. “Attitude is contagious.” If a supervisor or team leader approaches the workplace with a positive, upbeat attitude about the projects being worked on, that enthusiasm will transfer to other staff, making for a more comfortable work environment all around.

    Leaders and supervisors who are serious about maintaining a productive environment and motivating staff to do their best need to talk with the staff to find out what is important to them, said Mulay, who is a staff development associate at HRD. Shy people, for example, may not appreciate public forms of recognition, while others might be boosted by an e-mail recognizing their efforts that is sent to all their colleagues.

    You can’t do the same thing again and again to motivate people, Mulay noted, indicating that taking the individual into consideration is important. Does the person prefer public or private recognition? Is the individual task-focused or relationship-focused?

    Public recognition can take such forms as a mention at a staff meeting or in a department newsletter, presentation of a trophy, or a gift of flowers at the office.

    Private recognition could be a gift certificate for a favorite store, acknowledging the accomplishment in a written evaluation, sending flowers to the person’s home or taking the person to lunch.

    Task-oriented individuals may appreciate being given more challenging projects or being asked for their input, while relationship-focused people may respond to a “thank you” at the end of the day or having colleagues provide extra support during bad times.

    Those at the late end of their careers might appreciate being given mentoring responsibilities or more control of their work environment, while mid-career staff members might appreciate flexible scheduling options and professional development opportunities. Those early in their career might need immediate praise to boost their confidence. They benefit from a variety of work experiences and usually appreciate the opportunity to test new ideas.

    For more ideas on recognizing staff, contact Human Resources/Affirmative Action for a free copy of the brochure “101 Ways to Celebrate People.” The brochure is part of the UMatter Staff Recognition Program, which provides a means to acknowledge the contributions staff make to the University. For a copy of the brochure, contact Donna Weyher, 763-1284 or See the Web at for information on UMatter.

    Are you a motivator?

    Are you motivating your staff? Use this checklist to find out.

  • Do you personally thank staff for a job well done?

  • Is feedback timely and specific?

  • Do you make time to meet with—and listen to—staff on a regular basis?

  • Is your workplace open, trusting and fun?

  • Do you encourage and reward initiative and new ideas?

  • Do you share information about your organization with staff on a regular basis?

  • Do you involve staff in decisions, especially those that will affect them?

  • Do you provide staff with a sense of ownership of their jobs and the unit as a whole?

  • Do you give people a chance to learn new skills?

  • Do you have a promote-from-within policy?

  • Do you celebrate the successes of individuals as well as your unit as a whole?

  • Do you reward staff based on their performance?

  • Are your rewards what staff really value?

  • Do your rewards encourage the behaviors you most want to see?

    Motivating Others, Human Resource Development, November 1999

    What contributes to staff morale?

    Employees’ RankItemEmployer’s Rank
    1Interesting work5
    2Appreciation of work8
    3Feeling “in on things”10
    4Job Security2
    5Good wages1
    7Good working conditions4
    8Personal loyalty6
    9Tactful discipline7
    10Sympathetic help with problems9

    Kenneth Kovach, Employee Motivation: Addressing a Crucial Factor in Your Organization’s Performance, School of Business Administration, George Mason University