I know the best low cost method: A PHONE CALL TO THE POLICE! HAHAHA! Seriously, it’s illegal to strike in Singapore. But as recent events prove, anyone can be pushed to the brink. Like when MoneySmart’s management cancelled free Cheezels night (If our ex-manager’s reading this, we hope that prosthetic arm is working out). In this article, we look at how companies can keep employees happy in Singapore…even without big pay raises and bonuses:
Employee Satisfaction vs. Employee Motivation
Before we get started, let’s look at two important concepts. That’s employee motivation, and employee satisfaction.
I spoke to a Human Resource manager, who only wanted to be known as Donnie:
“There’s a classic study by Frederick Herzberg, which distinguishes between motivation and satisfaction…
…Motivation is when employees feels invested in the company, and want the company to do well. They feel responsible for the company’s success or failure. We usually see this kind of attitude in small start-ups, where employees do more than what is required.
Satisfaction is different. It is possible for employees to be satisfied with their salary, but not be driven to make the company succeed. This is a common problem in large corporations, where staff have a “Just work, take pay, and go home” mentality.”
Donnie believes that companies should focus on employee motivation, not satisfaction.
“Satisfaction is easily lost,” Donnie says, “and employee demands can grow unsustainable. If you want to work on just satisfaction, your are always on the rear foot, waiting every year to see what new demands come about.
But if you focus on motivation,you are proactive. You make employees want to work, and you make employees demand less of you. When everyone is motivated, there is no question of a strike anyway.”
As a bonus, building motivation tends to be cheaper (in dollars and cents) than raising satisfaction. Common ways to do this are:
- Respecting Corporate Culture
- Building a Sense of Ownership
- Food (Because This is Singapore)
- Flexible Work Hours
1. Respecting Corporate Culture
Corporate culture is about how employees dress, the language they speak, and their various in-jokes and office traditions. Lest you think it’s not important, corporate culture is…
“The third most common cause of workplace friction,” Donnie says, “and the worst thing a supervisor or manager can do is refuse to respect it.”
In some companies, corporate culture is actively preserved. This most typically involves dress code: In some big companies, anyone in jeans or sandals can be formally reprimanded. In small Internet companies like MoneySmart, any employee showing up in shirt-and-tie will earn a nickname involving genitalia.
“If everyone in a company speaks informally,” Donnie suggests, “and you get a fresh grad who spouts business jargon and thinks he’s Peter Drucker, the boss needs to encourage him to adjust. The opposite situation is true as well.”
How would this prevent strikes? Through inclusivity:
When everyone feels like they’re playing on the same team, they’re less disruptive. Insubordination and rebellion tend to start with the “bad fits”, who are usually grumbling long before the strike.
2. Building a Sense of Ownership
It’s important to see how our company’s success affects us. Otherwise, it’s like being a monkey in a cage: Whether we dance on the trees or just fling poo at visitors, we won’t affect the zoo’s revenue. And we won’t care.
But a sense of ownership will change our perspective. If management ties yearly or monthly performance to our work, employees feel responsible for earnings or the lack thereof.
“A common way to build a sense ownership is by giving stocks to employees,” Donnie says. “Some companies make the mistake of thinking that, oh, we’re a small company, our stocks are not worth much, so no point.
They misunderstand. Just the act of giving stocks creates a sense of ownership. If employees can see the stock price going down, they will re-think their strike. They will understand a missed bonus or increment.”
3. Food. Because This is Singapore
Google, one of the world’s most desirable employers, gives out free food to its workers. All the restaurants in their office complex are free to employees.
While most companies can’t afford that, they can afford the occasional meal. Going out for lunches (on the company tab) can be a bonding experience for co-workers. If it’s a decent restaurant, it also builds a sense of gratitude and obligation.
“Just be sure it’s non-obligatory,” Donnie says, “and make sure it doesn’t interfere with the employees’ personal time. From our experience, mandatory dinner and dances only irritate people.”
Free lunches are a good chance for management and employees to interact, on an informal basis. When employees feel they have the boss’s ear, they’re less prone to dramatic action.
4. Flexible Work Hours
Words like “work from home” and “flexible work hours” are psychological crack cocaine. According to Donnie, these options send employee motivation into overdrive. Well, for a while at least.
“We’ve actually done two studies,” Donnie says, “and found when local employees are allowed to work from home, or given flexible work hours, they actually work even longer than usual. Many are also willing to settle for less pay, because most of them value time more than money.”
Donnie admits the effect “moderates” after a while. But if someone is threatening a strike, or wants to quit, companies should try extending this offer. For a few months, those companies will be getting the same amount of work without paying more.
This is related to point 2. Employees need to feel appreciated, and that their jobs matter. This is doubly true in Asia, where we’re fond of external validation.
“We find that Asian workers are less willing to give themselves credit,” Donnie says, “and culturally, most Asians are taught not to announce our own achievements. Shy, you know? So we rely a lot on external authority, like supervisors, to recognize our achievements for us. And we take it very personally when it doesn’t happen.”
But could this lack of recognition lead to things like strikes?
“It may not lead to one, but it is a circumstantial factor. If someone is underpaid, they may be willing to tolerate it a while longer, so long as their boss expresses real gratitude for their work.”
So whether you love your company, or feel oppressed by your employer, recommend these steps. It may make both your lives easier.
What low cost method motivates you to work? Comment and let us know.
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