CHRISTOPHER THOMPSON’S January 9 column, “People are quitting their jobs in record numbers”, points to management failures and an employee awakening as factors in the significant number of people changing jobs. I’d like to address a few things employers can do to retain and motivate workers.

Abraham Maslow presented a five-tier “motivation pyramid” some decades ago that is still relevant today. In it, the bottom two tiers — survival and security — are addressed by money. If you have enough, your family survives, a bit more and you have security too. This is called a “living wage.” Above these, the Maslow tiers are love and belonging, self esteem and esteem of others, and self-actualization at the top. Thompson alludes to self-actualization when he writes “doing something they truly love and are passionate about.”

Not every job provides this highest level of motivation, but those that do, when paired with attentive employers, are in the sweet spot for worker retention. And note that the top three tiers of motivation are not driven by money for most people. A congenial workplace that provides credible recognition for employees while developing a team spirit is the key here. Holding “team meetings” and using a bunch of jargon does not count.

One major company reported to have 150% turnover annually of their “team members” claimed to provide higher entry-level wages as it fought against an effort to unionize. Apparently its employees did not “feel the love”, a sense of belonging, or the respect of their employer else they wouldn’t be moving on so quickly. In today’s social media aware world, problematic employers find themselves in the spotlight.

Another leader in motivational thinking is Daniel Pink with his book “Drive”, who identified three significant motivating factors that overlap in many ways with Maslow’s: autonomy, mastery and purpose. How does your company provide these?

Working from home, employees have assumed a new level of autonomy that many have found works well. Eliminating the commute hassle and being able to strike a better work-life balance in real time has been a revelation for them. Some attentive employers have even been able to eliminate office space as they’ve embraced this new virtual reality, not that it isn’t without its challenges.

Innovation often is triggered when employees from different disciplines have the opportunity to informally interact. But the famous “water cooler” has dried up in the virtual office. Nor are there breakrooms or cafeterias where workers can develop as motivators a sense of love and belonging or the esteem of others. All the worker has is their disembodied team.

How are employers still meeting the motivational needs identified by Pink and Maslow?

Some augment “on-the-job” tasks with other types of engagement, such as asking workers to spend 20% of their time on new tasks.

Some support outside training, degree programs and professional activities, such as attending conferences, authoring papers or participating in seminars and local professional society chapters.

Some encourage leadership roles in volunteering outside of work, as this can serve as a training ground for new skills and provide a feeling of purpose and autonomy hard to match on the job. Many employees want to help kids in various ways. Volunteering with Scouts, Young Inventors, Destination Imagination, Boys & Girls Club, and many more local groups can help develop the next generation of employees with essential skills and as mentors.

As Dean Kamen says of the FIRST Robotics competitions, “We don’t use kids to build robots, we use robots to build kids.” Employers’ who invest in their communities build the loyalty of their employees and respect from key community leaders as well.

The bottom line is this: businesses that pay their employees sufficiently and are able to satisfy their motivational needs will survive and thrive, attracting new employees. Those that don’t will lose their workers to those that do.

Jim Isaak is chair of the IEEE professional society New Hampshire Section of IEEE and president emeritus of the IEEE Computer Society. He lives in Bedford.

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CHRISTOPHER THOMPSON’S January 9 column, “People are quitting their jobs in record numbers”, points to management failures and an employee awakening as factors in the significant number of people changing jobs. I’d like to address a few things employers can do to retain and motivate workers.