Yes, it's really true. People can enjoy their jobs

John van Maurik looks at ways of motivating staff and making life at work more fun

If work is such fun, how come the rich don't do it?" Like many a word spoken in jest, there is a ring of truth in Groucho Marx's witticism. Of course, since his day things have moved on. Employers are more enlightened, conditions are better and those at work more motivated. Or are they?

A recent mail-shot advertisement contained some arresting statements. "Almost half your employees see you as the enemy," it declared. "Over a third see no route to success in their current position," it continued; and "a quarter care little for money or status." Pick the bones out of that one, Mr or Ms HR Director, if you can. And it is not just a case of replacing people until you get the mixture of skills and attitudes right; good staff do not grow on trees. A recent survey of recruiters by the Institute of Personnel and Development found that a third of the job advertisements placed by respondents had achieved a zero response.

The question must then be: what will motivate staff in the future? And by the same token, what will encourage the right people to both join and remain with your organisation?

The first thing is to accept that people's attitudes to their employers have changed. Staff see themselves as ever more expendable, as potentially dispensable entities, with the old concept of a "job for life" now often regarded as a sad joke. In the light of recent large-scale redundancies in the city, and the cancellation of outstanding offers to graduates in retailing, this attitude is understandable.

So what does make for a committed staff member? What causes people to exert the effort that brings about results, that adds to shareholder value or - to put it more bluntly - guarantees business survival? Well, all the evidence points to those employed working harder and more intensely, yet with a more candid view of the world. A survey reported by the US- based Strategic Business Forum suggests that end-of-century workers now see the relationship with their employers differently. It is basically short-term rather than long-term and they are more willing to listen to advances from other employers, feeling a greater need to seize opportunities. At the same time, they are working harder but feel a strong need to achieve a proper balance between personal life and career. They are more independent, being less ready just to follow orders and more ready to ask for the reasons behind them.

And what do the above characteristics of the modem worker mean for you? The following motivation checklist gives a number of essential steps to building up morale. What is more, the questions raised can be answered with either an employer's or employee's hat on.

1 Define your understanding of commitment.

Let it be known that it is important for everyone to get their work/personal life mix right and allow staff to balance their jobs with other parts of their lives.

Presenteeism, the antithesis of absenteeism, should be regarded as a sin. It is not necessary to come home in a state of exhaustion to feel that you have been effective.

2 Give leadership

People want to feel that their organisation is heading in the right direction. By the same token, they usually want to feel that it is pursuing worthwhile goals. Try the lottery win test: ask yourself: "If I were to win a fortune, what would still make me come to work here?"

3 Manage change sensitively

Change is the one real constant at work, so the way it is handled can make all the difference. A good starting point is to ask people's opinions on ideas for improvement.

4 Seek to praise

Some years ago a national paper asked people what was lacking most in their lives. It expected that the answer would be "sex, but in fact it was "praise". Cheap and easy.

5 Set clear goals

People like to feel that they have achieved something. So set specific short-term goals.

6 Listen

Staff have concerns and also ideas. Give both your undivided attention.

7 Build interest

Interested people are motivated people. Can jobs be redesigned to make them more interesting and challenging?

8 Explain the rules

All organisations have rules; they may be irksome but will become less tedious if the reasons behind them are explained. Within the the rules, give genuine authority and allow people to make real decisions. At the very least this should encourage more innovation, creativity and enterprise. As Mae West once said: "Given the choice of two evils, I always pick the one I've never tried before."

A short list, but a potent one. Yet no mention of money? Well, money only seems to be relevant when something about it is wrong. Usually if pay is seen to be fairly distributed within the organisation, bearing in mind work scope and seniority levels, and then is not out of kilter with the overall business sector, it plays a relatively small role.

Dwight Eisenhower once said: "Unless each day can be looked back upon by an individual as one in which he has had some fun, some joy, some satisfaction, that day is a loss." Let's keep that thought alive as we enter the brave new millennium.

John van Maurik is a consultant at PA Consulting Group's Management Centre at Sundridge Park. His latest book, `The Effective Strategist', is published by Gower.

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