When a bonbon is a meal

More on my lunch with Andy Rosen, who heads the U.S. compensation practice for ORC Worldwide, a big human resources consulting company. Most important, he didn't eat his coleslaw, even though it was excellent.

I was telling him that I have really valued bosses who emotionally engage with me in my work. Of course, it's entirely self-centered, but I tend to believe that the best bosses are those that facilitate the efforts of those producing the product or service. In the case of a newspaper, it could be the reporters, it could be the front-line advertising sales people, it could be the press operators or the truck drivers. Think about a call center -- the focus needs to be on keeping those operators cheerful and happy. In a factory, the equipment needs to be safe and maintained so the workers can produce. 

Obviously people need to be paid, because, obviously, we all need to eat. Assuming reasonable and equitable compensation, I tend to think that appreciation goes a long way in satisfying employees. And this is what I mean by having bosses emotionally engaged. The boss looks, the boss sees and understands the effort, the boss appreciates it and expresses that appreciation. It's emotional. 

Rosen said that a lot of the current research on employee compensation tied in with satisfaction makes a similar point. 

After lunch, Rosen forwarded an article to me that recently appeared in Fortune magazine. The gist was that big bonuses given to the top few do not pack the motivational wallop that can perk up an entire workforce. 

Here's a quote from the piece: 

What really works, says Eric Mosley, Globoforce's founder and CEO, especially for a budget-constrained company, are the things you might dismiss as the stuff of kindergarten: small awards, all the time, to almost everyone.

"Even high earners can appreciate a small award if it is unexpected," he says. Globoforce is a Boston human resource consulting company. By small, he means a $100 gift certificate to a restaurant and a thank you note.

In the Fortune piece, Mosley suggests that  80 to 90 percent of employees should get some kind of small reward each year, with 5 percent getting an award every week. Word of mouth will make the benefit known and will reinforce the behaviors companies would like.

I'd like to add a cautionary note to this: Employers can't cynically hand out $100 gift certificates like bonbons if the underlying pay structure isn't enough to feed a family. Once the sugar rush ends, the hunger persists and no one is happy on an empty stomach.