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If I Bribe You To Love Your Job, Is It Still Love?

From researchers at Press Ganey (via Anne Zieger at The nextHospital Manifesto,) hospital employees hate their jobs. And the usual responses - rejiggering pay, benefits and job content - have reached the point of diminishing returns.

When confronted with Press Ganey's results, more than a few executive teams will survey their own employees and conclude "We're the outlier.  OUR employees LOVE their jobs."  A few of those teams will be correct.  Many more will be wrong, courtesy of the mathematics of "averageness."  In a normally-distributed world, not everybody can be above average.

What to do?

Maybe start with a simple goal: make work more compelling than bowling. (One of my all-time favorite blog post titles.  But you'll have to click on the link to see what I mean.)

It's said that, as voters and citizens, we Americans will nearly always do the right thing...but only after exhausting all other options.  Now replace "Americans" with "executive teams" and you have...what?

Adding a few cents an hour to someone's pay is expensive yet relatively easy, requiring little personal commitment beyond raising one's hand when a vote is taken.  Less expensive (though more difficult) is increasing employee engagement the old-fashioned way, where the only resources required (beyond time and attention) are shoe leather, #2 pencils and a focus on active listening.

What do employees crave?  In my opinion and in no particular order:
  • Meaningful participation in decisions affecting their work lives.  
  • Having a voice and the dignity of seeing that voice count for something.  
  • Hearing the conversation's other voices speaking honestly and openly, whether delivering good news or bad.
I said this in a post a few weeks ago about what hospitals must do to achieve true strategic separation:
"Broaden the conversation. Hospitals are not democracies and great strategies are usually not the work of multiple committees. Still, there is a rich store of knowledge and thousands of great ideas locked up in the heads of your physicians and employees. Engage them. Ask them for their help...and mean it."
There it is.  Ask for help...and mean it.  Might that be part of the solution to your diminishing growth prospects AND your employees' general disengagement from their jobs?

Assuming your compensation structure is already market competitive, WHAT IF instead of an across-the-board $1.00/hour increase ($2,080 annually for a full-time FTE), you gave everybody the equivalent in HOURS to pursue meaningful projects on the forefront of innovation and improvement.

By my calculations, a little more than a week per year for someone making $40/hour.  (Be sure to account for those hours in a different cost center.  You'd hate to wreck those elaborate hours-per-workload-unit benchmarks, blowing your CFO's mind in the process.)

If you're a parent, you know your kids will pocket an allowance but what they really want (and need) most is your time. By itself, an increased allowance doesn't produce happier kids any more than $1.00 an hour will fix what ails your employees.  So stop the bribes. They cost you real money and deliver little in return.  

Instead, give something infinitely more valuable.  Call it a gift of time and freedom, an unexpected removal of boundaries and the embrace of possibilities. 

WHY NOT call those "freedom" hours your "innovation budget?"  Track the projects and carefully monitor the business outcomes, including the effect of participation on employee engagement.  It'll cost you the same as a "happiness bribe" but with the potential for longer-lasting positive results, including happier employees.

"Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity." --George S. Patton



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