Judith M. Bardwick, Ph.D.
While the list of specifics of what people can be rewarded with is very long, the core message is very short: We really appreciate your contribution.
In order to achieve sustained business success, the people who created that success must be recognized with psychological generosity. Psychological success is not an organizational luxury. Instead, psychological success is a requirement in order for people to continue to be motivated and achieve success for themselves, their team, their organization.
It is amazing how many people refuse to create psychological success – it is as though they were being asked to give a pound of flesh. Examples: Only the general manager knew the unit was and had always been profitable. Positive example: AT&T manager.
Psychologically, it’s very simple: people need to know that people, whose opinion is important to them, know what they did, know it was they who did it, and think they did a really good job. The most meaningful and impactful recognition is usually personal and immediate – in contrast with delayed and ritualized. Example: my Anastasi chards.
What do people want? Some things are pretty universal and predictable – compensation, recognition and autonomy, for example. And some things are very personal. And some things tend to cluster by age, by family stage, or by legacies of success or failure. Today, I think one should ask people what’s most important to them at this stage in their life.
Today, a lot of people are feeling very weary. While people can respond heroically during crises, a chronic crisis is debilitating. In other words, organizations should avoid the macho attitude that working 22 hours a day, all the time, is a sign of loyalty and deserves a merit badge. Exhausted people do not work well, nor are they creative.
Still, the reality is that people with large work responsibilities and/or large ambitions, will generally NOT live the stereotyped balanced life. While the external forces that lead to that are greater today, the internal causes are unchanged: very successful people tend to make work the psychologically largest commitment they have. Still, organizations that manage people wisely, should recognize that there are life stages or conditions when it is much more difficult (and perhaps unwise), to work full-out. While it is not a core motivator, responding constructively to those conditions could be a significant supplement to the people for whom it is an issue.
In other words, for employees who have achieved significantly and are regarded as significant organizational resources, the organization may implement programs that increase time flexibility, reduce stress, or provide direct relief. I have long argued – without success – that the option of working part-time when children are young can be a good thing for the parents, the kids, and ultimately the organization. Additional actions could include: paid or unpaid leave; home offices or telecommuting; variable work hours; sabbaticals; on-site day care; the provision of information concerning emergency day care or residential health care for seniors, and so on. Whatever the specifics of the programs, the core message are we care about you. We’d like to help you to continue working and get the stress down in your life.
Organizations need to beware of depending on a very few forms of recognition, because the vitality of any one, over time, diminishes. Meaningful rewards are usually moving targets.