The Barter That Never Existed

The workplace operates on a faulty trade equation:

X amount of value an employee contributes = Y amount of rewards an employer dishes out

The employer may expect, (explicitly or implicitly, consciously or subconsciously) that an employee ‘exceeds expectations’ before handing out relevant rewards (In the context of this article, rewards referred here are tangible, monetary rewards). Employers may seek to minimize cost, maximize value. Investing on recognition programs, providing office perks such as free food, foosball tables, bean bags are primary examples.

The employee, on the other hand, may strive towards amplifying the value they contribute. Reasons for such amplification could be driven by two motivating factors: 1) I’ve worked hard, people must know it 2) I’ve not worked as hard, people shouldn’t know about it. Some employees may also choose a “quantify to justify” approach. “I have contributed a 7 out of 10, but I your rewards are 6 out of 10. I shall bring my performance a notch lower”.

Examples given here are to illustrate this imbalance and faulty assumption that the employer employee relationship operates on a barter, a perceived equal trade off whereby in reality it does not. These may or may not be applicable to your work place but dare I say these are not isolated phenomenons. Employers will always strive towards motivating employees with minimal cost whilst employees will always strive towards receiving the most rewards with minimal effort. Bottom line is both sides (employer and employee) are equally guilty.

The idealist says: “Do your part as an employee, work your butt off and create a situation where there is very little doubt that you have exceed expectations. If you do what is right, things will flow.”

The realist says: “Manage perceptions, build relationships, do good work but you don’t have to go all the way, things will flow. Companies owe it to us, we are just doing our part to even the playing field.”

We can go on and on and there would be countless opinions, comments, thoughts and endless debate. My humble proposal is as follows:

For employers

Create a mission: Align everyone’s mission (vision, task) to the organization’s mission. Get everyone in a room and trash it out. If you have an uncanny ability to determine everyone mission AND get everyone to buy in to your ideas and instructions, by all means do it yourself.

Make real promises: Empower managers to make real promises. Provide them with reward guidelines. They may screw up, but if they don’t achieve their objectives at the end of the day, hold them accountable.By the way, promises should also include ‘non-rewards’ or ‘punishments’.

Meet the promises: Pay up or ‘Men’ up and hand out ‘Non-rewards’

For employees

Accept the mission: For individuals looking for jobs, perhaps this is a timely reminder that we all need to be crystal clear with the mission at hand. For those already in a job and disagrees with the mission, there are two options: 1) Look for another job 2) Accept the mission. Bottom line is, sexy or crappy mission, if options are scarce, accept it wholeheartedly, there is no refund policy once the mission is accepted.

Increase your stock: Do not unnecessarily decline opportunities to acquire new skills and experiences. Being overly fixated with tasks at hand, busy schedule, decline learning opportunities because of ‘lack of time’ will not do any good in increasing your stock. Find ways to reduce existing volume of work. The consequences of not ‘making time’ is that you will end up having limited options when it comes to choosing the type of missions you get to accept and decline.

Realizing this perfect Barter between employer and employee hinges on the single most unreliable humanistic value — Integrity. Again, I present youw ith two options: 1) Act with integrity 2) Act with integrity only when you are sure it will be reciprocated

Your call.