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The Power of Motivation

Discerning what utility employees consider important.

Fortnightly Magazine - January 2012

Since organizations have existed, managers have struggled to create an environment that will motivate employees—especially field personnel, plant workers, and operations staff. How do I reward, recognize and praise employees in ways that are meaningful? What about those few workers who simply don’t care about themselves or others?

During the past three years, representative individuals among more than 350 participants attending leadership and team building workshops were asked to identify techniques that have meaning to them. Recent studies indicate that people from various generations— i.e., Boomers, Gen-Xers, and Millennials—each require a different set of motivators, but those age gaps seem less important to utility employees who depend on their colleagues for creating a safe work environment.

More than 1,500 examples of critical incident data were collected, analyzed, and organized into commonly mentioned motivators and demotivators. Data reliability continually increased as many of the observations, statements, and comments were exactly the same or similar.

These are the employees who literally are on the line, in the trenches and dealing with customers every day. Their remarks indicate they know precisely what is important, what adds value, and what gets in the way of their success.

Motivating Factors

Utility employees have a unique set of needs based on the challenges and dangers of their work. What they do share with other organizations is a requirement to be paid a fair wage with appropriate benefits linked to their performance. Feelings of accomplishment, creativity, fairness and involvement are important and shouldn’t be undervalued. However, money provides the necessities of food, shelter, clothing, etc. Author Susan M. Heathfield correctly observes that “To underplay the importance of money and benefits as a motivation for people who work is a mistake.”

Once their basic needs are met, front-line utility workers report that what truly motivates them are, in order of importance, safe working conditions, meaningful involvement in the organization, sincere appreciation by managers, a management culture that inspires trust and loyalty, challenging work, and cross-departmental cooperation and training.

Ensuring a safe work environment is the most tangible expression of management’s overall concern for employees. Unanimously, employees say they expect management to provide the tools, training and support to create a safe place to work. They know immediately the depth and sincerity of their organization’s commitment to safety.

Repeatedly, they echo a willingness to work with management to identify and make necessary safety changes. However, management must first demonstrate a willingness to ask questions, listen, and then work collaboratively to align safety concerns with business realities.

Linda Limberg, senior director of safety and training for Xcel Energy, says that she and her team of safety managers and consultants maintain a constant sense of urgency to create a safe and motivated workplace. The key, she says, is to “listen, share ideas