"That's Not What I Deserve" Is A Problem Print

Dr. Thad B. Green

Everyone has experienced the frustration of not getting what they deserve. Work hard and perform well and nothing good happens. Likewise, take it easy and perform poorly and nothing bad happens.

In many organizations, what people get simply is not tied to their performance. Good performance goes unnoticed. Poor performance is overlooked. Promises are made and not kept. Managers do not have the authority to do what is right. Organizations do not believe in taking care of their people.

Whatever the reason, employees often question whether or not what they get is based on how well they perform. Consequently, when employees are asked to work harder, their reaction is, "Why should I?" When this occurs, employee motivation suffers, and so does effort and performance.

This problem is widespread. Many people believe, "I do not get what I deserve." Employees and managers at all levels experience this. People discuss the problem openly among one another. Some even are vocal about it with their superiors. Others say little, believing it would not help, and may even hurt.

From the manager's perspective, what does this mean? First, every manager has employees who are experiencing this problem. It may be more than one or two employees. It could be all of them. And their motivation, effort, and performance are suffering. Why? Because they do not believe the outcomes they receive are based on their performance.

Second, the damage caused by this problem may go unnoticed for a long time. Many employees are reluctant to confront their superiors about it. The reluctance may be out of fear or feelings of helplessness. The problem tends to have an immediate impact on employee performance. Yet it may take a while for managers to notice these downturns in performance. It will take even longer to recognize that the downturns stem from employees saying, "Why should I work harder when they don't give me what I deserve?"

Third, the consequences are damaging. Motivation drops. Effort goes down. Performance suffers. Trust evaporates. Loyalty disappears. Dedication becomes a thing of the past. Relationships deteriorate. Acceptance declines. In short, employees are not contributing to the success of the organization. They may, in fact, be working deliberately against it.

Fourth, the problem has a long lasting impact. Once the problem is discovered, it takes weeks, even months, to turn it around. It takes time, and lots of it, to change employee beliefs. Think about it. It takes time for employees to conclude, "You never get what you deserve around here." Likewise, it takes time for employees to start saying, "They finally are treating me right."

Not giving employees what they deserve is a serious problem. This has been brought to our attention with recent advances in the expectancy theory of motivation. It points out that people are motivated to perform well only when the following three conditions are met:

1. when the person believes effort will lead to performance (Belief 1);

2. when the person believes outcomes are tied to performance (Belief 2); and

3. when the person believes the outcomes will be satisfying (Belief 3).

The issue is whether or not employees will be motivated to perform well. Conventional approaches to motivation and performance focus on employee satisfaction (Belief 3). This is the "carrot and the stick approach." The idea is to offer employees something desirable as the way to motivate them to perform well.

The problem with conventional approaches is that they focus on the offering. These approaches fail to recognize the importance of convincing employees that they will actually receive the outcomes (the carrots) if they meet performance expectations. Employees who are promised something that is desired will not respond if they do not believe the promises.

In other words, the offering is not enough. Employees must believe they will get what they deserve if they perform well (Belief 2). That is, they must believe outcomes are tied to their performance. Otherwise, employees will not be motivated to perform nearly as well as they could.

(Conventional approaches to motivation and performance completly ignore the importance of Belief 1. It goes without saying that employees will not try very hard if they believe, "I can't do it." Self-confidence is an essential ingredient in employee motivation that is overlooked by traditional approaches.)

The majority of people in the workforce believe, "I do not get what I deserve. What I get is not tied to how well I perform." When this happens, motivation suffers, and so does effort and performance. This is a serious problem in the workplace.

Managers need to do several things. First, become more aware of the damaging impact that believing "I don't get what I deserve" has on performance. Second, recognize that many employees hold this belief. Third, identify specific employees who are experiencing this problem.

Fourth, take steps to link outcomes to their performance.

Managers who focus on helping employees believe "I get what I deserve" will see results. Employees will be more motivated, and this will show in their effort and performance.

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