Having spent thirty years as a human resource and labor relations consultant, I have observed that a positive labor relations environment is highly dependent on the relationship between employees and their immediate manager or supervisor.

Listed below are five important actions that managers should take as part of their day-to-day activities to motivate their employees to do the best possible job for themselves and their company.

  • First, and foremost, managers must understand that they are not just responsible for ensuring the completion of tasks, but also for managing and developing their people. Too often, managers focus solely on task completion with little regard as to how things are achieved, ignoring the concerns, needs and ideas of their employees. As a result, employees often feel unappreciated and unvalued, which can lead to resentment and diminished performance.
  • Second, good leaders and managers are visible to their employees. Having conducted focus groups with hourly employees over the course of many years, without exception, employees express their desire for management, especially senior management, to be visible and accessible. Typically, managers who are seen on the factory floor from time to time are viewed as caring and concerned about their employees. Adversely, managers who are rarely or never seen are viewed as distant, uncaring and unappreciative of their employees’ efforts. As one employee explained it, “if you are playing basketball or football and look to the sideline, it’s great to see a coach urging you on, but a terrible feeling to see an empty space.”

  • Third, as managers interact with their employees on a day-to-day basis, they must remember that they are mothers, fathers, community leaders, etc., and like all people, seek to be treated in a respectful manner. In talking with employees over the years and asking them to explain why some managers are more effective than others, often times, the discriminating factor revolves around simple actions, such as the supervisor taking the time to say “good morning,” “please,” “thank you” or inquire about their day or family.
  • Four, provide recognition whenever it is appropriate. When an employee does a great job or shows extra effort, is important to reinforce that effort or behavior with recognition. When managers fail to recognize a great effort, employees often say to themselves, “why should I work extra hard or provide that extra effort when it goes unnoticed or is unappreciated?” This problem is often exacerbated when supervisors provide feedback on only poor performances and never take the time to recognize outstanding performances. While some companies provide recognition awards to help address this issue, we have found that a simple conversation, or letter to the employee, remains the most effective form of recognition.
  • Five, from what we’ve heard from employees, the ultimate form of acknowledgment happens when supervisors ask employees for their ideas and opinions. Too many managers, knowingly or unknowingly, convey a message of, “just leave your brains at the gate; I’ll do all the thinking around here,” which can be very demeaning to an employee’s ego or self-image. Contrarily, asking somebody what they think sends a message to the employee that the manager and company value not just their manual labor, but their ideas as well. Clearly, while all ideas are not good or practical, many are and can contribute to the company’s success. In any event, asking people for their ideas and suggestions is a powerful motivator.

The Hutchison Group provides customized employee relations training for managers and supervisors that is both practical and effective. Again, given our 30 years working as Employee Relations Consultants, we have found no more important endeavor than to prepare and equip first-line supervisors with the necessary skills and insights to create and maintain a cohesive and productive work environment.