Why Desperation and Guilt Trips Do Not Motivate Employees

In nearly every job I’ve had, I’ve seen the following scenario:

Someone comes up with a campaign to motivate employees or encourage participation in an initiative – it might be staff giving for the holidays, competition to increase sales or participation in an staff-wide event.

It sounds like a good idea. People nod along as the idea is presented. And then, when the campaign is launched, there are crickets chirping.

There are no donations coming in for the holiday campaign. No one gives a flip about the staff-wide event and your sales numbers are just the same as the were before.

What happens next is quite predictable.

Organizers feel deflated and turn to communication tactics that only make matters worse. First, they begin with the guilt trips. “Think of how many children won’t have toys this year if you don’t participate.” Or, “we only have 10 percent of staff participating – we can do better than this.”

When that doesn’t work, organizers turn to down-right desperation. “Look! See how awesome this event is! You know you want to be a part of it.”

They begin to sound like the girl who’s so desperate for a prom date, she’ll bribe anyone to go with her.

Do you want to be that girl?

If not, here are a few productive ways to encourage and motivate your employees:

  • Ask for employee input. Oftentimes, bosses ramrod initiatives down employees’ throats without asking for their input. Instead of boosting company morale, this often creates resentment and begrudging participation. Before you sign your staff up to volunteer at an event or put together the same holiday festivities as you do every year, ask your employees first. You might find they have something else in mind altogether.
  • Focus on benefits. Instead of guilting employees into participating in something, why not focus on the benefits instead? If you’re raising money for charity, focus on the cause and how participating will make a difference. If you have a competition for increasing sales or developing a new product idea, talk about the incentive to participate. Whatever you do, don’t make it be about helping the company. People want to know how participating benefits THEM.
  • Offer productive incentives. Incentives are often a good way to encourage employee participation. When I worked a non-profit, we had trouble with our staff giving campaign – less than 20 percent of employees made donations to the charity each year. To encourage participation, we gave every staff member who donated a coffee mug with the organization’s logo on it and entered them into a drawing for a $50 gas card. At a time when gas prices had reached their highest, this was perfect timing and the right incentive to offer for employees, many of whom commuted a significant amount every day. With this new campaign, employee giving rose to 90 percent and we raised more money from staff than we ever had before.
  • Make it easy. Sometimes, employee initiatives are too complicated or difficult to participate in. People are busy and the last thing employees want is some initiative that is going to take up a lot of their time. For the employee giving campaign, we gave employees the ability to deduct a monthly donation from their paycheck. Employees only had to fill out a simple form and we took care of the rest.
  • Show the love. Employees, just like clients and customers, want to feel needed and appreciated. Better than any incentive is simply letting employees know that you care and value the work they do every day. Take time to recognize a job well done and employees will love you for it.

Although effective internal communication isn’t as sexy as marketing and social media, it’s an important component of successful businesses. If you want to have a happy and motivated team, it’s important you invest the time and energy to pay attention to their needs.

What would you add to the list? Does your company struggle with finding ways to encourage and motivate employees?

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P.S. This post gave me the perfect opportunity to weave in a picture of my chocolate lab, Bailey, who is the best at begging in the whole wide world. I think she’s the only who can get away with this desperation and guilt trips. It sure works on me!

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Laura Click

Laura Click is brand strategist, speaker, podcaster and the founder of Blue Kite. Learn more about Laura and her work at Blue Kite.

4 replies on “Why Desperation and Guilt Trips Do Not Motivate Employees”

This is an interesting topic, Laura, and one that’s not so easy as giving tips. I for one, to offer perspective on what I mean, am tapped. Tapped and trapped is how I feel — from telemarketers at organizations I’ve never heard of to local groups needing funds to school fundraisers, and my customary non-profits I give to.

I would offer the coat off my back to anyone who needed it, and give all my money to the poor, but there are times that everyone grows weary when campaigns are disingenuous and the recipients are suspect.

We see so much the fraud and stealing of funds from financial markets, corporations, non-profits and more. Will my $50 actually go to a needy person or will it be used for administrative requirements? If companies want to really get employees to open pocket books they need to be more creative with to which organization the funds are going and more knowledge about the causes these groups represent.

I think a lot of folks feel this way – whether it’s an internal employee thing or just asking for donations in general. I feel bad for non-profits right now – the need has never been greater, yet everyone’s pocketbooks are worn thin. You’re right – both companies and non-profits really need to get creative about how to drive donations. As with any non-profit campaign, it’s about getting people invested in the cause. People want to know their donations matters. If you don’t give them the proof of what their donation does and you don’t appreciate them for their gift, don’t expect them to open their wallet for you again.

Thanks for weighing in, Jayme!

Laura, these tips are excellent for any organization trying to garner support for any project, whether a business, church, school, or any other group. Great post!

As for product incentives, I don’t know if you saw my post on crowd funding, but Kickstarter’s policy is that any project asking for support on their platform must offer incentives for different levels. Scott Indermaur, a local photographer here in RI (Revealed Project), raised over $17,000 recently from supporters using Kickstarter. I’m sure a lot of that support came because of the incentives he offered, especially the increased incentives at higher levels of support. They were as simple as a signed copy of the book being published and a digital download of the movie.

Perhaps organizations could do the same? Offer greater incentives depending on level of support for a project? I’m thinking for every can of food brought in for a food drive, for example, the giver receives a raffle ticket.

Oh, to harness the power of
 beautiful, beloved begging dog!

I didn’t see that post – I’ll have to go find it!

When I worked at the non-profit, we paid a lot of attention to donor gifts and “touches”. I worked at a children’s charity where larger donors could sponsor a child for a year. People at a $15,000 giving level, don’t need some random tchotsky, but they wanted to be valued, appreciated and made to feel their gift was worth something. We did a lot of things like send hand-made valentines from the children or crafts made in the woodshop. I think sometimes it is about incentives and sometimes it’s about making donors feel good about their investment. Both work, it just depends on the strategy and the charity. It’s amazing what people will do for small tokens of appreciation!

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