Humanely slaughtering idleness – How to motivate and engage your employees

For a long, long time and far across this galaxy, countless corporations have used the same old strategy to attract and maintain their workforce. When it comes to satisfying employees, the traditional method has always been increasing their wages as the main incentive.

While more money can be equal to a satisfied employee, and satisfaction translates to happiness, it has nothing to do with motivation, involvement, or emotional commitment. In fact, “for some employees, being satisfied means collecting a paycheck while doing as little work as possible” says the online HR assessment and development company, Custominsight.

Also, satisfaction isn’t enough, it’s not a direct formula to increase performance. Custominsight adds that “the conditions that make many employees “satisfied” with their jobs are likely to frustrate high performing employees. Top performers want to be challenged and to challenge the status quo. They embrace change, seek out ways to improve, and want all employees to be held accountable for delivering results. By contrast, low-performing employees often cling to the status quo, resist change, and avoid accountability whenever possible.”

Those bad habits of undermining the importance of worker’s emotional needs and companies recurring to buying out off the problem with big paychecks have brought about a modern and new infamous trend into the work environment called idleness, also known as empty labor. It’s become such a pandemic, that “studies indicate that worldwide, the average employee spends about 1 to 3 hours a day goofing off at work” according to Lindsay Beyerstein’s article for

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This subject, has been covered in depth by a scholar of business administration from the Lund University in Sweden called Roland Paulsen, author of the book called Empty Labor: Idleness and Workplace Resistance, in which he investigates the phenomenon he named “Empty Labor”, that can be described as any action a worker does on the clock which is not work related, whether it’s sleeping, chatting with fellow coworkers or writing a thesis.

While interviewing more than 40 employees for his book, about how they spent their time at work on private activities, Paulsen points out common answers to the question as to why people spend so much idle time instead of working. Some labeled their jobs as “miserable”, or “so meaningless”, that they used idleness as a way to endure them. For others, the main goal was to get back at an “abusive boss, annoying co-workers or a firm that stole their wages”, which is a clear sign of disengagement. While a portion said they “wanted to work more, but were not being employed adequately”.

Most of the causes that lead employees into empty labor mentioned in detail on Paulsen’s book can be humanely slaughtered by motivating and engaging your employees with what experts in the management industry call: Emotional salary. Just to outline the importance, according to Louisa Peacock, on an article for the British media group The Telegraph, “a comprehensive report by Kenexa, an engagement consultancy, claims that 20m workers are not fully engaged at work, costing UK GDP some £26bn a year in lost productivity, sick pay and earnings”.

After analyzing the problem and before going in depth on the strategies to solve it, if you are new to the subject, some of these questions might have popped up, like: What exactly is motivation?, What are employee engagement and emotional salary? And how does this all add up?

As we read before, keeping employees motivated and engaged plays a key role in the success of modern organizations. So, what is motivation? It’s the energy, direction and perseverance put into achieving a goal. In the words of Luis Velasquez, Executive Coach, Speaker and Employee Engagement, Diversity and Inclusion Consultant, motivation “is about getting something in return for their efforts. Employees are motivated by the prospect of getting a bonus, perk, benefit or recognition. They may even be motivated to take on more responsibilities and get promoted. They are motivated by personal gain and may not always do what is best for the company.” As we can see, employee motivation by itself might just not be enough to fulfill the company needs.

That is where employee engagement comes in. According to, “an engaged employee is one who shows commitment and willingness to help out beyond their normal job which leads to better business performance.” So, as we can infer, engagement is the factor in the equation that works towards taking your business to the next level, and mixed with motivation, it adds to an emotional salary.

An emotional salary is a route towards employee motivation and engagement. Emotional salary refers to all those non-economic compensations that workers get from the company, which aim to promote the employee’s positive view towards his work environment, increase productivity and meet personal, professional or family needs he might have, ultimately improving their quality of life and promoting a good organizational climate.

For Octavius Black, CEO of Mind Gym, “the way to get people to turn up to work is to pay them a salary. The way to get them to commit at work is to match it with an emotional salary in five denominations: Purpose, appreciation, mastery, support, and connection.” He says, “the answer comes in giving people the five things that they want the most from work.”

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So, let’s find out how to use Black’s formula to an emotional salary as our strategy to motivate and engage our workforce out of idleness.

1. Purpose

“When employees feel what they do doesn’t matter, interacting with the end users of your product or service can make all the difference”, says Rieva Lesonsky, contributing writer for In other words, that difference equals to a very negative impact on themselves, the client and your business. That is why, it is of the utmost importance that everyone in your workforce feels a sense of purpose, whatever the job. People who believe that their work makes a difference to the customer, society or at least to their team, are most likely to work harder, complain less and enjoy life more.

2. Appreciation

Don’t be misguided by the belief that praising your employees makes them complacent. People find it reassuring to know what’s expected of them and being appreciated when they attain the tasks assigned. To back this claim, Lesonsky tells us about a study called The Carrot Principle which “followed nearly 200,000 people for 10 years and found that the single most common thing the best managers did was regularly offer recognition to their employees.” Black adds that, “setting stretching goals and sticking to them is important but so too is celebrating when they’ve achieved and all the small victories along the way”, and remember that celebrating doesn’t mean creating a spectacle, you don’t have to create something elaborate or expensive, sometimes it only takes a verbal acknowledgment, a memo or an email to get the job done.

3. Mastery

“Not everyone can be promoted and not everyone wants to be. But almost everyone relishes the freedom to get on with a job that plays to their strengths and the chance to get better at it” says Black. The secret lies in giving your employees the resources to do their job well, frequent feedback so progress can be measured, and the necessary guidance to excel. If the talent is nurtured properly, be sure to leave the right amount of autonomy for them to innovate and decide how they’ll get the job done. The motivation gained by trust and self-confidence might give you a better outcome than you ever expected.

4. Support

In Black’s article for the, he states that “every report on employee connection highlights the role of the manager”.This translates, that a company that wants to succeed in delivering it’s employees an emotional salary, must have “a manager who cares, keeps them in the loop and helps them get ahead.”

“In large corporations employees can feel isolated or unrecognized in a vast sea of workers.” says Jayson Demers, Founder, and CEO of AudienceBloom. Taking a moment to speak to an individual alone and personally can mean the support he or she needs. By giving your workers individual attention, you demonstrate that you care about the individual behind the desk as much as the work itself, and that “you’re willing to take extra steps to make the individual feel comfortable.” Being friendly and showing enough interest in your workforce’s professional or personal wellbeing can help build a bond and a collective sense of teamwork, making “work seem less machine-like and more like an organic team effort.”

Speaking openly about your business to your employees and making them “feel comfortable coming to you with anything that’s on their minds can do wonders for the collective motivation of your workplace.” adds Demers. Applying an “open door policy”, for as simple as it might sound, can over time, make people feel backed up by their leader, more heard and valued.

Finally, Demers recommends that “if someone is under-performing, or is overwhelmed by a specific duty, take him/her aside for some personal coaching or one-on-one talks that can help that employee work through his/her problems”. It might be the push they need to further his career.

5. Connection

In Black’s Formula, “the fifth factor is perhaps the simplest of all: Working with people I like.” Socialization in the workplace makes people more committed, so you must ensure it’s a fun place to be. To promote camaraderie between your employees and uphold a good organizational climate, you can begin by organizing team-based events as simple as group lunches and small gatherings where people feel encouraged to let loose and act in a more casual manner. But always remember one thing: Never force it.

Sometimes, Lesonsky underlines, “no matter what you do, you may have some employees who downplay or badmouth it. When employees are feeling stagnant, resentment and negativity easily spread. Be aware of what employees are saying and if someone is sending out bad vibes, don’t delay in calling them on it.” As Black says, “this means dealing with cultural terrorists swiftly, however good an individual performer they are.”

Even though everyone has a mind of its own, making each person unique and unpredictable, those business leaders who get the importance of an emotional salary, have the sustainable answer to employee motivation and engagement. Then don’t be  part of the obsolete corporations that neglect or deny their employee’s emotional needs and end up losing profits and performance as a consequence. Address the problem and have a healthy business now!

Karim Dahmani
Karim Dahmani
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