What matters most to employees? Pay, of course. If you don’t compensate people fairly for the contracted work, they will not engage fully over time. This article makes a rather elegant argument for the position:
"This isn’t to undermine the importance of things like manager training and corporate culture: Studies have repeatedly shown that while competitive pay and benefits can lure employees to companies, having a positive work environment and a good boss play crucial roles in keeping them there. But if they feel under-compensated for the value they provide, it’s only a matter of time before greener pastures — or at least, the appearance of greener pastures — lure them elsewhere."
Yet, as my esteemed Café colleague Jim Brennan pointed out, pay can also be an effective incentive to reform bad behavior – particularly the removal of pay in the form of denying an increase received by everyone else.
“In the past, no reprimand or rebuke from his superiors really had any effect on him. Verbal and written warnings just rolled off his thick skin. But losing the big income boost everyone else was getting really hurt. It affected his family. That struck home. It suddenly became important to him to remedy his well-understood deficiency."
While both observations are important and extremely relevant, neither is surprising. As Maslow’s hierarchy of needs explains simply, unless and until you meet physiological and safety needs of employees, you cannot expect them to achieve higher order concepts of achievement, respect for and by others, problem solving, and creativity. It is a progression built on a solid foundation of the meeting of basic needs first. And that makes sense as those two lowest levels cover basic physiological needs (food, water, sleep) and safety (of the body, employment, resources, family, property and health).
At work, managers play a critical role in helping to fulfill many of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs by creating the conditions and environment in which employees want to engage more deeply.
How can you communicate “I’ve got your back” to members of your team?
1) Compensate them fairly – This is the baseline requirement. Work – and the pay we receive for our work – are how we fulfill those basic needs of the lower levels of Maslow’s hierarchy. Be sure pay is not just fair for the work being done, but also helps meet those base needs or you will likely find yourself investing more anyway in recruiting and training costs for a repeated stream of new employees.
2) Look for ways to recognize efforts, contributions and achievements – As complex human beings, we need more than “just a paycheck.” We need to know someone notices and appreciates what we do. A paycheck communicates “you did your job.” Recognition communicates “you did your job exceptionally well or in a way that demonstrates our core values, and I noticed.” This type of recognition and appreciation helps fulfill those higher levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
3) Communicate publicly and privately – One of the best ways to tell someone “I’ve got your back” is by telling other people. Publicly sharing the excellence demonstrated by others on the team lets them know you will sing their success loudly to help them advance their careers. Reprimanding or correcting negative actions or outcomes in private only also communicates “I’ve got your back” by letting the employee know, “I will help you achieve your best, but I won’t belittle you in front of others, and I won’t tolerate less than what’s expected for the job.” For the most part, we all want to do our best work, but we can’t if we’re worried about constantly being embarrassed in front of colleagues.
What other ways do managers communicate “I’ve got your back?”
As Globoforce’s Head of Strategic Consulting, Derek Irvine is an internationally minded management professional with over 20 years of experience helping global companies set a higher ambition for global strategic employee recognition, leading workshops, strategy meetings and industry sessions around the world. His articles on fostering and managing a culture of appreciation through strategic recognition have been published in Businessweek, Workspan and HR Management. Derek splits his time between Dublin and Boston. Follow Derek on Twitter at @DerekIrvine.