I hate her too, with her knowing reproachful eyes that call me a coward, a monster . . . The Hunger Games (p. 118).
A recent Wall Street Journal article urged managers to acknowledge workers when they perform well – e.g., to express their gratitude for civil conduct. This conclusion is partly based on the research of Dr. Christine Porath, associate professor of Management at Georgetown University. People repeat what is reinforced (a basic tenet of motivational theory). They are less likely to do so if you say nothing.
In companies where achievements are met with silence, there is risk on the downside – but no reward on the upside. What then is the impetus to go above and beyond in a place with no rules? The intrinsic motivation of some is however strong enough they will perform regardless of external goodies. These people are in many cases working for a cause greater than themselves, one which if ignored would result in the degradation of office culture. They are so driven by what needs to be done that they engage in the “show them strategy” – doing things at which other have suggested they are inept.
People may not remember what you said, but they most certainly will remember how they felt in your presence. The WSJ article states that incentives (in the case for acting civil), set the stage for office behavior. People acknowledged for being “civility stars” take center stage in firms that eschew office savagery. Most individuals don’t work solely within an honor system, and thus need this additional “nudge” to move forward. We’ve seen the same approach work at Celanese regarding diversity management. If we truly want people to “play nice,” then employers need to do more than pay lip service.
Bullies in the arena of work are slayers of others’ spirits. Workers perform uncivil functions in various ways – through public humiliation, through private betrayal, and through myriad small things that cumulate in hobbled performance.
Company rewards can be nonmonetary – a simple thank you, a handwritten note, or an “Atta boy” administered in meetings. Social learning theory argues that people garner cues from interaction with their peers. If there are positives for respectful conduct, they are more likely to follow suit. The problem with non-reward is that “lone wolves” may overcompensate, bearing the brunt of fashioning programs and crafting policy. In a culture that values civility, this should be everyone’s job. “All hands on deck” are needed for continuous commitment to covering the bases.