I have always believed that encouragement is a better motivator than fear. It certainly is for me, anyway.
In most of the jobs I have had, fear was used to “motivate” employees. One example comes to mind immediately. At one of my former workplaces, employees were sent an all-staff e-mail to let us know that if we ever forgot to approve our time sheets again, we’d be fired immediately. That right there is a setup for failure. Threats cause stress. Do you know what stress does? It causes people to become forgetful. Aside from that, everyone forgets to do even routine things from time to time. We’re only human, after all.
Of course, people did forget and nobody was fired for it. The human resources person was just frustrated from having to track people down and decided to unleash that frustration in an e-mail. In addition to the fear and stress that the e-mail caused, it also caused a mistrust in the human resources person. Did this person ever mean what they said? What other seemingly insignificant thing might set them off? Would anyone ever be punished for a justifiable offense if they weren’t punished for disobeying the e-mail? Honestly, I still don’t fully know the answers to these questions. Punishment certainly seemed arbitrary there.
There are more extreme examples I could give than the e-mail example, but I’m not trying to call anyone out. I also wouldn’t know where to stop if I cited more than one example. So, let’s switch gears to the positive.
At my current workplace, encouragement and praise are used to motivate employees. It works. This company has been recognized as one of the best places to work in the area for multiple years in a row (seven, if I recall correctly). Employees are happy. Just yesterday, I worked late to help a client. I wasn’t required to do that. I could have told them that I would get to it first thing in the morning. My boss would have backed me up. However, because I feel empowered by my colleagues and I know this client is always grateful for any help I can give, I wanted to work past my time to get this done.
This never would have been the case in the fear-motivated workplace. In that situation, I lived to clock out. I tried to address this with that human resources person once. I was asked what could be done to improve customer service (I had originally been hired for my reputation in customer service). I suggested that some time and effort be directed at finding out what would make the employees happy, because happy employees perform better and are kinder to customers. I was told, “It’s not my job to make you all happy.” It was left at that.
There is some truth in that. Employers shouldn’t go out of their way to make employees happy. Their main focus should be on the business. However, in this particular instance, “it’s not my job to make you all happy” was actually, though perhaps subconsciously, being translated into “it is my job to make you unhappy” when put into practice. Hence, the fear-based motivation.
Now, I’m happy. My happiness increases my productivity and improves my customer service. I was very stressed Monday morning about taking my licensing exam and everyone on my team (we don’t really call them departments here, which I think is indicative of the culture) was so supportive and encouraging. My boss had even offered some study tips the week before, having gone through it himself once upon a time. When I returned that afternoon, having passed the exam, every person on my team congratulated me. It was apparently leaked to our human resources person by someone, because I received several e-mails from other teams yesterday. I also frequently receive an enthusiastic “thank you” from my clients and have very pleasant e-mail exchanges with some of our carrier representatives.
My point is, fear motivates a person in the short-term. It can have its uses. For example, fear of being eaten by a shark will motivate you to swim for your life. Constant fear, on the other hand, will wear you down. It is actually demotivating in the long-term. Encouragement and praise build you up and empower you from day one. They are always motivating.