What You Pay Does Matter

“$11.32 an hour,” she said. “That’s what many people can earn sitting on their couch. How am I supposed to encourage them to get off the couch when many of the jobs they qualify for don’t pay that?”

This statement came from a frustrated state career center worker tasked with getting individuals off federal and state assistance through a job placement program.

I could turn this conversation into a political post, but I won’t go there.  Instead, I’d like to focus on how it illustrates a basic premise of motivation.

I’m going to spend the next few weeks talking about how to give people what they really want out of work (motivational factors) through performance management and maximization practices, but let’s face it, when I do this, I’m making the assumption that a basic living wage, or even a wage that is competitive with the wage someone could go across the street and earn with the skill set they have, (a hygiene factor) is provided in all workplaces I’m addressing. I can talk all day long about how meaningful work leads to performance maximization, but if that meaningful work doesn’t meet basic needs, or if basic needs can be met by, well doing nothing, then people are going to turn to being unproductive or turn to walking across the street for the higher wage. They are going to sit on the couch either literally or metaphorically by the way the show up to work and well, do just about nothing, or by taking their skills and going elsewhere.

It goes back to one of the basic premises of workplace (or well really any place) motivation that drives behavior:  hygiene vs. motivational factors. Thanks to Herzberg, we have this tried and true theory that tells us if you really want to get the most out of people, you need motivational factors in the workplace like challenge, autonomy, creativity, etc.- basically all things that lead to meaningful work- to actually have the power to truly motivate someone.

However, hygiene factors keep people from being dissatisfied. And a lack of dissatisfaction is necessary for the motivational factors to work. Someone may be overwhelmingly content with the work they do, but if you don’t pay them enough to meet a certain standard of living, that oftentimes they compare to others around them that are doing the same or similar work, the motivational factors won’t work at least in the long run.

So before you go giving someone autonomy and meaning in their work and assuming that will keep people satisfied at the least or motivated at the most, look at how much you are paying. Get out your local wage survey and examine if your wages are competitive with the competitor across the street and around the world.   Goodness help us all when the competitor across the street ends up being the federal assistance program (okay, maybe I did have to get a little political).

When was the last time you examined your wage practices?

Mary Ila Ward

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