Tuesday, June 7, 2011

How do you motivate temp workers?

I like to answer questions at Linked In, the online business-networking site. Today someone asked a question about motivation that sparked an email discussion with the person posing the question.

A few years before I was born, Abraham Maslow posed his “Hierarchy of Needs” pyramid. The issue in today’s discussion was how to best motivate temporary workers. What shocked me was the automatic assumption that the basic need of Maslow’s first and second tier had already been met. That all the workers had established their psychological and safety needs.

In fact in modern society food (part of the psychological needs) and employment (part of the safety needs) are intertwined with our jobs.

Since most temporary workers are still trying to meet the two basic need of Maslow’s hierarchy the rest of the motivators cannot begin to take effect.

The person I was corresponding with, who made the assumption that those needs were already met, referred me to a video by Daniel Pink on The Surprising Science of Motivation. What surprised me was that Mr. Pink, a well-respected motivational speaker and writer, made the same fundamental assumption. In his video he seemed shocked that money only motivated until the most basic needs were met, after that personal satisfaction and growth became the prime motivators.

The big surprise to me was that both Pink and my correspondent forgot that the subject gets to define at what point those basic needs were met. For some, paying the rent on a minimum apartment and cable TV is enough. Others need (or think they need) a 2,500 square foot house, with all the trimmings, and two new cars.

My point that the observer doesn’t get to decide when the minimum needs are met, that the subject does really matters when you are trying to discover the correct motivator for your workers. Each one will have a slightly different key to their “basic” needs just as each one will have different things that give them personal satisfaction.

What you must remember when you are trying to motivate your temp workers is that most of them either haven’t met or are just barely meeting their most basic need for food and shelter. On top of which they are deeply concerned about sustaining or increasing their basic level of food and shelter. After all, you are using temps because it costs less than full time permanent employees and you expect the work to only last for a short time after which you plan to cut them loose.

You can’t expect to invoke Maslow’s higher order needs fulfillment of love/belonging, esteem, or self-actualization unless and until you fulfill the more basic food and security needs first! In the same vain you can’t expect to use Pink’s video as a key since the fundamental assumption that the basics have been met is generally false for most temporary workers.