Four ways to improve employee performance without a bonus

Written by Anibal Ballarotti for Progressive Dairy

What is the best way to motivate your employees to improve their work performance? This is a common question of farmers hiring full-time employees. In addition to basic wages, many employers offer pay bonuses to encourage good job performance.

In 2011, a survey of full-time farm employees led by Iowa State University showed that 65% were paid some type of bonus, either based in performance, volume, longevity or profitability. It’s difficult to know if these 65% of employees performed better than the other 35% that did not get any extra payment. Therefore, the question remains: Does this traditional practice of using money to motivate and retain workers really work? A study by Willis Towers Watson found that only 20% of employers in the U.S. believe bonus payments are effective employee motivators. What about you? Do you think this is the best way to encourage your employees to do their best work?

Pioneering studies in this field were carried out in the early 1970s by Edward Deci, who stated that people have three main psychological needs: to feel autonomous, to feel competent and to feel related to others. Payment, according to Deci’s research, does not achieve these needs. Too much emphasis on financial reward weakens autonomy and consequently intrinsic motivation, he said. This theory holds that a sense of ownership and autonomy is a fundamental element of motivation. According to that theory, humans naturally experience a sense of satisfaction from personal growth and improvement that results from having a sense of ownership of their work.

An opposite theory asserts that managers take a motivational approach because they believe that humans have an inherent tendency to avoid work. Such managers believe that monetary rewards are the best tool available to retain and motivate employees to achieve their best work on the job.

The most important factors for worker motivation may be unclear. It is possible that they vary from individual to individual. However, increased autonomy, acquiring new skills, being able to express ourselves, having better work conditions or earning more money could all be important considerations. What do you think best motivates people to do their very best? Some alternatives other than money are outlined below:

1. Responsibility

It is important that your employees understand that they are an essential component of the business. You can help improve this sense by giving them more meaningful tasks and responsibilities. By showing how meaningful they are for the business and for the society, they will more likely feel connected to the business and associate their own efforts with the success of the farm. Employees should also feel free to express their opinions and ideas when necessary, without fear of being ignored or reprimanded. As workers on the front line of the battle, their ideas and suggestions merit serious consideration. Welcoming feedback from your team whenever possible and instilling in them the feeling that their views matter to you gives them a sense of responsibility. Another strategy to enhance a sense of personal responsibility may be eliminating the supervisor figure. This step could promote an understanding that each individual is a valued, essential part of the team, rather than a solitary employee reporting to one individual. Working together as a team, with each worker on an equal level with their co-workers, will empower employees to devote more of their energy to solving problems, as well as promote a sense of accountability.

2. Growth

By providing education and development opportunities to your employees, you show them that they matter to the business and that there is room for promotion within their role. Nothing motivates people more than being encouraged and supported to become a better version of themselves. Employees appreciate and are motivated by understanding that a long-term training plan exists. Even if your business has no budget for learning and development, possibilities for training still may exist. Do not overlook services provided by your suppliers. Genetic providers, nutritional or pharmaceutical companies and consultants can be important resources in this activity. Neither should you overlook the community resources that can provide valued education for workers. Do your employees need language instruction? State programs are valuable here, and many libraries offer classes as well. Your employees may be unaware of such opportunities in the community. You can be the link that connects them to needed resources.

3. Work environment

Acknowledging the importance of a balance between professional and personal life is another motivating factor that can bring benefits to your business. Workers value being given a measure of autonomy or flexibility. This recognizes that they are not only employees, but also husbands, fathers and members of society with responsibilities in their personal lives. Steps taken to help them balance these needs may benefit the business as well. Their satisfaction with the work environment can enhance workforce retention, productivity and motivation. Other aspects of the work environment include maintaining adequate ventilation, lighting and sanitation. There may be other factors that can easily be overlooked. Why not ask your team to suggest ways to improve the work environment? Make a list of suggestions and provide at least some of these as collective rewards when a specific goal is achieved. This and other team-building activities can help create trust, respect, solidarity and, finally, motivation.

4. Recognition

Employees must be acknowledged for all their contributions and achievements. Recognizing good work does not necessarily motivate by itself. However, failure to do this will discourage motivation. Recognition can be more than bonuses for workers’ efforts. A successful manager will understand that some employees would be greatly encouraged by formal recognition in front of other colleagues, such as a certificate or a team lunch. You can also show your appreciation by allowing them some flexibility and giving them added responsibilities that you know they can handle. You can go even further and organize a monthly birthday party or a happy hour. Do not wait until the holiday season to organize a pleasant activity. You can organize events throughout the year to remind your team that everyone is part of the team. One thing is certain, we all like to be recognized for a job well done.

Before you look at ways to improve motivation for your employees, you need to make sure you are providing a fair, trust-based farm or workplace with competitive salaries. If there are critical mistakes in the way people are compensated or treated, then you need to fix those issues first. If they are not resolved, any other efforts to improve motivation will probably be unsuccessful. Let’s be clear. We are not proposing that financial rewards are not an important factor in motivation. Instead, we are suggesting that you take advantage of these behavioral science insights to better understand employee motivation. Taking a fresh look at your work environment and payment schedules could improve both job satisfaction and productivity.

Originally published on Progressive Dairy

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