Lessons in employee recognition

I’ve been studying a lot lately about motivation in the workplace. For an MBA class, I am putting together a group presentation on the very subject. One of the most insightful theories on motivation that I’ve come across is Herzberg’s Motivation-Hygiene Theory. Herzberg proposes that there are two types of motivation: a type that leads to dissatisfaction and a type that leads to satisfaction.

Herzberg calls the type that leads to dissatisfaction, “Hygiene Factors.” These are motivators that, if taken away, will lead to dissatisfaction but, if added, do not increase positive satisfaction. They include extrinisic things like salary, job security, fringe benefits, and work conditions. Basically, employees come to expect these things and, if they don’t receive them, they aren’t happy. But they aren’t going to be more happy if they do receive them, because they take them as givens.

Herzberg calls the type that leads to satisfaction, “Motivators.” Motivators include more intrinsic things like recognition, autonomy, and challenging work. When added, these factors increase the positive satisfaction of the employees. That is, they actually begin to like their jobs more (as opposed to disliking them less). Motivators are what cause employees to put their heart and soul into their work.

How Fathom Motivates Its Employees

Fathom is a digital marketing an analytics company headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio. There are many things that impress me about the company. They have an amazingly content-rich website including a fantastic blog on a wide range of subjects from a wide range of contributors and an emphasis on creating results for its clients (there is a counter on the homepage revealing how much revenue the company has delivered to its clients since 2011). But, I think the coolest thing is how focused Fathom is on making its employees feel like they’re part of something important.

Fathom gives its employees both autonomy (allows telecommuting two days out of the week) and challenging work (Internet marketing is always challenging when you’re bent on creating results). But the coolest way the company motivates its employees is by how it gives them recognition.

Fathom doesn’t only recognize its employees for a job well done; it recognizes its employees for living up to its core values. Each month, the company puts out an article called, “Fathom Core Value Stories.” In this article, the company recognizes four different employees that have exemplified its four core values: Everyone a Leader, Be the ConsiglierMake Order from Chaos, and Reward Sustainable Results.

Ladies and gentlemen, that’s how it’s done. Of course, you want to pay your employees what they’re worth. You don’t want to make them unhappy. But, throwing more money at employees is not going to make them feel like their work matters. And, on the margin, people want to matter more than they want to make a little extra money. Deep down, I think people recognize this simple truth: wealth lasts a lifetime but legacy lasts forever. Want to incentivize your employees to do better work? Make that work meaningful.

How are you motivating your employees? What kind of challenges to you give them to provide stimulating work? How much freedom do you give them to get that work done? How do you recognize their accomplishments? At its core, motivation is all about letting people know that they matter. Do your people matter to you?

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