Understanding people, rethinking employee motivation in the age of Facebook and blogs

A perennial challenge facing human resource professionals is keeping employees motivated at work. What drives someone to put in 100 per cent of their energy at work? What makes an employee consider a company a great employer?

Contributed by Michael Vavakis

Ask any leader and they will tell you that there is no simple answer. However, there is an appreciation to stop the second guessing and create a clear solution to keep employees motivated and inspired...

Perhaps, there are many interesting insights HR practitioners can gain from the rapid proliferation of social networking sites and other similar platforms in the Web 2.0 space. MySpace, Facebook, Twitter and individual blog sites have given a new voice to the individual. These platforms allow individual voices to be expressed, to be heard – Who am I? What do I like? What are my aspirations? What are my fears?

Just as any company developing their sales and marketing campaign has to consider complementing their traditional media buys with an online strategy, of having to move away from media monopolies to the fragmented internet landscape of individual voices, HR professionals would similarly have to get up to speed with the new profile of employees which is centered on the notion of ‘I’.

Employees will increasingly not be a faceless member of a team but one that demands recognition of his individual needs. They are individuals within a team as opposed to simply being a part of a team. Hence, a company that offers a ‘one size fits all’ approach, be it in job scoping, remuneration, benefits or career advancement opportunities will not address the issue of employee motivation adequately. The company has to offer employees choice for the individual as opposed to making decisions on behalf of the collective whole.

Incorporating the ‘I’
The idea of tailoring HR policies and even work-life practices around individuals may be considered a far stretch for many organisations. Companies will tend to presume that it is too expensive, too complex or not in their role to adapt motivation and retention tools to individual needs.

However, working in an element of flexibility into HR policies so that the employees’ function, age, gender and other unique factors in their and their family’s lives are considered need not be a monumental task. It does not require a full revamp of the company’s benefits system or a change in organizational structure. Companies simply have to give due consideration into evolving their HR practices such as work life policies or compensation so that employee have a say and are engaged in the decision that impacts themselves.

Hewlett-Packard applied the individual perspective in modernising its compensation policies which are now differentiated across several factors. An example of this is the points-based system for rewards and recognition. This allows an employee, after being nominated for recognition by managers and peers, to tailor his or her rewards from a menu that includes cash, gifts and services that are relevant to their individual wants. The company gets to keep a certain structure and predictability within their rewards system yet the employee gets to choose an incentive he thinks is most rewarding.

Work life balance is passé
Another clear trend emerging from the Web 2.0 era is the blurring of lines between work and personal life. In the baby boomers’ generation, staying in the office later than the boss was considered noble. Work and personal life was clearly separated and loyalty was measured by the number of years spent with the company.

But as the workplace evolves, the notion of ‘going to work’ has become less relevant as work is no longer about the location but the results delivered. Hence, trying to balance the number of hours one spends in the office versus the home is no longer as critical. The notion of work life balance will increasingly be passé as what is truly needed will be workplace policies that propagate work life integration.

The key to capitalising on this transformation, is again, in capturing the ‘I’ component. This is possible by structuring workplace policies that is underlined by trust and respect of the individual. Concepts such as flexi-time, condensed working hours, part time or job share have been practiced for many years now but there is still need for a more progressive mindset in management to recognise and reward the benefits that these practices bring to the company.

For example, at HP, two employees share a single responsibility of managing the supply of personal computers from manufacture to sales departments. They are accustomed to using the same contact details, business notes and team members, each working on different days to the other. Their combined productivity exceeds every expectation, while colleagues and business associates benefit from diverse qualities that would be difficult to find in a single employee.

For these two individual employees, they are able to achieve fulfilment in their careers, offer their employers increased productivity yet achieve their personal life goals all at the same time. Their managers facilitate this process, not just by allowing job share to happen, but also to set appropriate performance objectives that are specific, measurable, realistic and timely.

In view of the macro trends happening around us today, HR practitioners are truly in a unique position to impact workforce engagement more than ever before. Employees today are sophisticated but are also dealing with more demands in their work and personal lives. Let us lead the way in creating workplace environments that encourage creativity and entrepreneurship by celebrating the individual employee.
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Michael Vavakis is the Vice President of Human Resources (HR) for Hewlett-Packard Asia Pacific & Japan (APJ). He and his team of HR professionals engage both businesses and employees closely in building a performance based culture.

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