I work with a lot of human resources professionals who try to figure out how to get the best out of their employees.

There is real science behind recognizing and rewarding people at work. My friend Paul Hebert has good advice. I love my friends at Modern Survey and BlackbookHR. Check out their blogs. Globoforce has great things to say, too.

But by and large, I think much of the talk around employee engagement and motivation is garbage. You can’t bring democracy to Iraq and Afganistan, and you can’t trick an employee into doing her job well. She either does it well or she doesn’t. There are best practices around motivation and commitment, but there is also a wall. Only she can choose to climb it. Nurture that puppy all you want, but her potential is rooted in experiences she’s had very early in life. Her performance is up to her.

Now of course it’s important to recognize, reward, praise and compensate people in a manner that’s evolved beyond the old-world management techniques of the late 1980s; however, let’s not pretend that your HR function is the mom, the CEO is the dad, and your employees are children.

Your employees have children, and I think they’ll do great work for you if you start with fair pay and equal opportunity. Most companies aren’t even there, yet.

Why does everyone hate HR? Join the movement to fix that. Download the new e-book, “I Am HR.” ow.ly/xIRbQ Click to tweet.


  1. I can’t agree that “much of the talk around employee engagement and motivation is garbage.”

    But I can agree that engagement is a two-way street. The company needs to provide opportunity to engage and the employee must choose to engage.

    The problem IMO is that most companies look at engagement as a way to get what they want ($) by manipulating their employees. What they need to do is look engagement as a way to enhance the individual’s life – and then the $ becomes a nice added outcome.

    Company engagement and company success can’t be the reason but it can be the result.

    Do engagement because it is the right thing to do for your employees. The real focus is and should be – on helping the person over the wall – not manipulating them over it.

    And yes – it does start with paying them appropriately for their value.

  2. The company I work for is closing down my location. The majority of our workforce is hourly, part-time, and makes around $10 an hour.

    Since the announcement, the discussion at a managerial level has been “how do we incentivize people to come to work?” They’ve offered bonuses for things as simple as clocking in and out correctly and working the schedule. They’ve offered a bonus for working weekend days when we have the most call offs or no call, no shows.

    And it’s not working. Big surprise. Sure, pizza is okay, and an extra $100 or so (before taxes, natch) is nice, but it’s not a motivating factor when they see most of their management team bail on them early in the process and there’s no communication down about what’s changing and when.

    The time to reward and compensate was months ago, before things fell apart, and it’s like no one at that level even gets it. You can’t come in after the fact and try to convince people they want to bust their collective rear ends when there’s been no motivation to do that until the very last moment.

  3. Laurie I think you are spot on when it comes to the biggest mistake people make about engagement: that you cannot “engage” people, you can only create the very best work environment (physical and psychological), aka “culture”. Then people will choose to engage or not, and not all will choose to, no matter how great the culture. That’s the power of great recruiting, knowing who will and who wont.

    best, DB
    co-author, “The High Engagement Work Culture: Balancing ME and WE” (Macmillan, 2012)

Comments are closed.