Time and flexibility perks in short supply: the manager perception gap on motivation

According to the Health and Safety Executive, the UK lost 27.3 million working days in 2014-15 due to work-related ill health. You’d think companies would be acting swiftly to address this. And yet the recent Britain at Work report suggests there continues to be a great deal of inertia when it comes to companies making meaningful progress with employee wellbeing.

Eminent organisational psychologist and influencer Cary Cooper discusses some of the report’s key findings in HR Magazine. Among the statistics he picks out are the following. Only 45% of employees view their organisation as supportive. Just 19% are prepared to actively recommend their company to potential new recruits. A staggering 49% would not recommend their organisation to anyone.

As Cooper observes, the quality of working life at organisations simply isn’t good enough. The reasons why might vary but there are some common denominators; the executive summary of the actual report makes a very telling statement.

‘While many managers appear to have a positive view of their people management skills, this often does not tally with employees’ views of their managers.’

It paints a troubling picture. On one hand we have a significant proportion of employees going to work each day feeling low, unlikely to be performing at their best and leaving the office already feeling dejected at the prospect of returning the next day. At the same time the managers of those employees feel they’re doing a good job of keeping their people positive and motivated. While the manager/ employee relationship isn’t the only factor in keeping employees engaged, it’s a pretty important one. A significant perception mismatch is a real concern.

It’s an issue other research has highlighted too. This report from McKinsey earlier on this year refers to the fact that senior people have a ‘rose-tinted view’ about the realities of what it’s actually like for employees. The biggest perception gap? It’s around the ability of managers and leaders to motivate their employees.

It’s time to revisit the manager/ employee relationship

Collaborative working and close, supportive relationships with peers are vital. But so is the unique relationship between an employee and their manager. If they’re out of sync with each other it can do serious damage.

Organisations urgently need to invest time and effort working out what they can do to improve the relationship between the two. Managers must ask themselves how well they know the people that work for them. They need to reflect on their capabilities when it comes to listening and taking proper notice of employees. The digital age has raised communication expectations but that communication cannot just be one way. Today it’s about stories and two way conversations. Managers should let employees know their efforts are recognised and find creative ways to reinforce that message.

How? It might be through social recognition supported by a reward or perk. And that doesn’t mean big budget blow outs or access to tired retailer discounts. It might be obscure like a manager giving an employee a perk to go property viewing at a minute’s notice. To most, this means nothing. But to anyone who’s sat at their desk watching their ideal flat be listed then rented by somebody else within the space of a few hours, it means a lot.

Of course it relies on the manager knowing their employee’s looking for a new flat in the first place. However this is where perception mismatch surely lies. If you want your employee to truly care about your deadline or sales numbers, you need to play the game and care about their rental aspirations. As the Britain at Work report mentions, a shorter working day for a birthday or favourite activity acknowledges the employee’s contribution to work but at the same time shows a manager’s understanding of what will excite or de-stress an employee.

Of course inventing and managing such time or activity-related perks has been impossible until recently. But now most employee recognition applications offer pre-built perk catalogues as well as budgets for managers to distribute.

That means managers have little more to do than pay attention to an employee’s life outside of work, or frustrations inside work, to find the right perk at the right time. What value can you put on a simple perk that entitles an employee to redeem a 2pm finish to pick up the kids from school? Or pitch their idea directly to the CEO? Or be able to view and rent that flat? It’s these carefully selected perks that really motivate employees. Because it’s making their life better and at the same time telling them their manager genuinely cares.