How rewarding is your environment?

3 Minute Read

Supervisors play a key role in any organization, creating a link between organizational goals and front-line employees. They have a dramatic impact on employee performance and behavior…especially motivation. Supervisors are agents of their organizations and have corresponding power and accountability.

The job of a supervisor (as we would define it) is to get work done through other people. And in order to be effective, they must understand how to create an environment that motivates people to be successful. They must understand how their environment rewards or punishes employee behavior.

There are two main reasons people behave the way they do.

  1. They do things because there is something in the environment rewarding their actions.
  2. They do things to avoid something that they don’t like.

This sounds simple to understand, but there are entire college degrees (organizational behavior) to help people understand this process. So let’s use an example to help with the explanation…

Sara, a production line employee, is a quiet person who doesn’t make waves at work. She earns a decent wage, doesn’t have children at home to care for, but is very active with a local after school children’s group.  She just comes to work to earn her pay then goes to the after school program to work as a mentor.

Sara’s work team was told by their shift leader that they have to pick up the line speed so they can hit their numbers and reduce overtime. Sara understands what she needs to do to increase production and she doesn’t like to work overtime because she has other things to do after work.

Sara’s co-worker, Marie, is a different story. Marie talks pleasantly to the shift leader saying that she
understands that they have to do what they can to increase production. What the shift leader doesn’t know is that Marie tells Sara on the way back to the line that she needs at least one hour of overtime every day to increase her paycheck, and that she’s not going to improve her production rates. She also suggests to Sara that it would be in her best interest if she didn’t speed up too much either, because there are lots of others on the line that need the overtime.

“Supervisors play a key role in any organization. They have a dramatic impact on employee performance and behavior…especially motivation.”


Sara says nothing to Marie or to her shift supervisor. She works at her old pace so that she is accepted by the production team. The shift leader may not understand why there is still overtime. He doesn’t understand the behaviors that are causing people not meet goals. Sara is not increasing productivity because she’d avoiding the social stigma of not being a team player, which is stronger than the shift supervisor talking to the whole team about production or her work with the children’s after school program.

To manage this situation, the shift leader will have to watch the interactions between the employees.  The leader should help people understand the “big picture.” The reason behind the production increase. Instead of telling people just to increase line speed, he will need to bring the team together to ask them what they can do to eliminate overtime and hold them accountable to meeting that objective. If he finds people are slowing their work to increase pay, he could tie production levels to modest incentives. These could be financial rewards or incentives of other types. Reward people for doing the right thing: increasing line speed.

If you aren’t getting the results you want from your team or co-workers, look closely at what may be rewarding the old or undesirable behavior. The rewards may be inside or outside your business. They are not usually obvious, but they are always there.

For more articles on motivation, click here!

Want to know more on how motivation relates to your team? Watch this!
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