Monday, March 20, 2006

Motivation on the Job

From the Movie Office Space:

Peter Gibbons: You see Bob, it's not that I'm lazy, it's that I just don't care.

Bob Porter: Don't... don't care?

Peter Gibbons: It's a problem of motivation, all right? Now if I work my ass off and Initech ships a few extra units, I don't see another dime, so where's the motivation? And here's another thing, I have eight different bosses right now.

Bob Porter: Eight?

Peter Gibbons: Eight, Bob. So that means when I make a mistake, I have eight different people coming by to tell me about it. That's my only real motivation is not to be hassled, that, and the fear of losing my job. But you know, Bob, that will only make someone work just hard enough not to get fired.

Ugh. We had a meeting at work last Friday where basically my entire team were accused of being really lazy and not getting enough done. We were pretty much told to shape up and if we couldnt do that, we were encouraged to quit. It got me started thinking about motivation on the job in a more general sense but also how very unmotivating meetings like that really are.

There was a time at my job when I was motivated to work really hard because I thought that might mean a promotion. But I also was motivated to work hard because I enjoyed meeting the goals the company set for me and I enjoyed helping my team meet their goals too. I also enjoyed streamlining any process I could because that meant that we could do a large quantity of work with less work. There was also a financial reward. We would get good raises if we did a lot of work and we werent punished for goofing off if the work was done. It was all carrots and no sticks.

About a year ago, the management decided that we were goofing off too much. They decided to change things. They changed all of our goals. They rearranged the work space so that everyone had to sit with their back to the cube opening and their monitor facing the aisle so management could walk up and down making sure no one was interent surfing when they werent supposed to. They decided that they didnt like it when people wasted time by chatting with one another so if they saw two people talking, they would come and break it up. They also decided to make some other changes that would be too boring for me to describe but suffice it to say, they were quite unpopular.

The result was interesting. First, a lot of people quit. They chose not to replace all of them thus shrinking the team. But morale has been pretty low. And the new rules combined with fewer people have meant that everyone is working harder than they were before. But, they are getting less done. Everyone knows that since our numbers are bad, we wont be getting much of a raise. Everyone knew this months ago. So getting a raise has been removed as a motivation. And getting all of our work done so we can goof off a little bit has been removed as a motivation.

It is interesting. The motivation has changed. Now it is all sticks and no carrots. But the sticks dont seem to actually motivate people. The more sticks they get, the more they seem to start working just hard enough not to get fired. Which is all they need to do, if one looks at things from the point of view of labor as a economic transaction.

But people are motivated by so many other things than money. Wages are a good motivator for sure but there are less tangible things. A sense of accomplishment comes to mind. Peer pressure and the desire to fit into a group are big motivators. I think that loyalty to a company can be a pretty big motivation for people. But, what I have learned from this experience in my department at work. Punishment and threats are next to useless unless one can really replace the worker and is willing to do it. And even then, the motivation becomes not being fired which is generally a lot less than most people are capable of working. And threatening people or suggesting that they are lazy as a cover up for one's own mistakes removes all the positive things that can motivate people. All it does it make people stop caring.

I cant stop thinking about that quote there above from Office Space. Sometimes things are funny because they are so true.

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