Most people at work are good employees.  They do what’s expected most of the time.  They work hard, come to work every day and play well with others.  Some employees go above and beyond the normal expectations.  They arrive early, stay late and are nice to have around.  But then there are those few employees and occasionally good employees, when they do it wrong or not at all.

We have all asked ourselves at some point, “What’s going on?  Why can’t they just do what I asked them to do?”

Here in this series, we will highlight 13 reasons that can affect a person’s performance and provide some ideas on how to handle them when they arise.  Many managers feel that they are just not motivated, which leads to non-specific answers to the problem.  In contrast, knowing what the problems are changes the question from, “How do I motivate them?” to “How do I improve their performance?”  Understanding this concept leads to specific actions that can be taken.

There is No Positive Consequence to Them for Doing It

“I worked last night to finish a report and my manager didn’t even look at it this morning.”

People do things for which they will be rewarded.  That is a human behavior.  On the other hand, they don’t do things for which they are not rewarded.  Many managers feel that getting paid is the reward, but people don’t come to work to get paid, they come to work so the pay doesn’t stop.  An employee can perform badly for a period of time before the pay stops.

Research suggests that small rewards received immediately and frequently have more of an effect on performance than larger rewards delivered long after performance.  Using verbal compliments about performance is a great way that managers can quickly and frequently reward a performance soon after the completion of a project or task.

Rewards come from three sources: The work itself, fellow employees and the boss.  Many tasks or entire jobs are difficult to do, are repetitive or boring.  If employees do not view their work as rewarding and the manager does not deliver rewards for the work activity, there is likely no positive consequence to them for doing it.  If you do not reinforce a performance with a compliment, they may not continue, even though you pay them to do it.  Rewarding people for appropriate performance helps you get what you pay for.

What Can You Do?

  • Deliver rewards as reinforcement for the performance you expect and pay for. Catch them doing something right. For example: “I noticed that you stayed to complete my report last night. I really appreciate the ef­fort.”
  • When verbally rewarding people, do it privately to avoid the “apple polisher” comments from fellow workers.
  • Verbal comments should be specific; avoid generalizations such as “good job,” and “terrific.”
  • If you take the time to ask people to improve their performance, then take the time to check for improvement and verbally compliment the improvement.
  • If a five-part report is on time, but one section is inappropriate then separate the good from the bad. Don’t just dwell only on the bad stuff.
  • Don’t wait for people to complete projects before delivering a positive consequence.

Tangible reward examples are:

  • “You did such a great job on that difficult report, here is an easy one.”
  • “You work so hard in making our deadlines, I would like to buy you lunch today.”
  • “You are one of the few people who have perfect attendance. Why don’t you leave early tomorrow to start the weekend?”

Learn more about handling employee problems.