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Published: Tuesday, 2/8/2011

Workplace perks can motivate even poor performers

BY ANN BELSER
BLOCK NEWS ALLIANCE

Perks such as workplace flexibility will motivate even poor performers, research on organizational psychology indicates.

It may seem counterintuitive to reward the worst performers in a department, but researchers at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Mellon University have found that giving perks to departmental losers makes them better employees.

It started with Denise Rousseau, a professor of organizational psychology, deciding to study the various deals that individual employees received. At the time, she expected top performers and longtime employees to receive special perks, whether permission to come in a little late or to specialize in the more complex issues of the job.

Both management and co-workers recognized those perks as warranted.

But Ms. Rousseau also found something she didn't expect: The less valuable employees worked out deals with their employers too.

These individualized arrangements, which Ms. Rousseau refers to as "i-deals," tend not to be about money.

Instead, they can involve where people sit or whether they get more lab space, if they get any grief for showing up late; or whether they can duck out early occasionally. to watch their children's events.

And the advice of people with more seniority is often taken into consideration when deadlines are set or projects are scheduled.

"It's part of the status of respect that comes to longtime employees who are high achievers," she said.

So how do the other employees get special consideration?

Although most people know they can negotiate employment arrangements before they walk in the door -- be it salary, vacation time or even special parking arrangements -- the years after they are hired also are rife with opportunities to arrange special deals that work to the benefit of both parties.

Ms. Rousseau said she and her collaborators have never found any workplace where fewer than 75 percent of the employees had i-deals. And, she said, those deals make the difference between employees who are loyal and those who jump ship at the first opportunity.

Her team found that i-deals had a positive impact on employee engagement. "The guys with the scuzzy reputations, though they have fewer i-deals, when they got deals, they became valuable contributors of citizenship behavior," she said.

The best managers, she said, write down the i-deals in their departments because if the deal is absolutely clear, then the parameters are clear as well.

For instance, if someone consistently leaves earlier than anyone else, there is usually a quid pro quo -- for instance, that person is the first called in on weekends or maybe even that worker gave up money or vacation time to leave earlier. Then, when someone else comes into the manager's office wanting the same deal, it may not be as attractive when the parameters are explained.

Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Ann Belser is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.

Contact her at: abelser@thepostgazette.com



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