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Motivating the contemporary employee.

More and more employees hold new work values, and the successful supervisor must understand and bridge the gap between these and the traditional values of the past.

I've been working in this laboratory for more than 25 years-20 years as a supervisor. I used to understand my employees better. We had the same values. Now, I'm finding it more and more difficult to understand them. They definitely don't think the same way I do."

The long- or short-term supervisor with traditional values may find that some employees today hold markedly different attitudes toward work and organizational authority. These differences create a potential source of serious problems.

To motivate the contemporary employee, the laboratory supervisor has to recognize and adapt to employees who hold new and different work values. Equally important, supervisors must be aware of their own values.

The differences between the contemporary and traditional employee are better understood when you consider their varied attitudes on loyalty, commitment, compensation, participation, recognition, professionalism, job security, communication, and work.

The traditional employee displays more loyalty and commitment to the laboratory than the contemporary employee. That doesn't mean the traditional employee is consequently better. On the contrary, blind loyalty may be more fragile than commitment built on reciprocity.

This attitudinal difference was clearly expressed by one young technologist: "I'm different from my mother who was a technologist for many years. She stayed in the same laboratory for 10 years even though she wasn't paid well and was treated poorly. I would not put up with those working conditions. I would find another job fast."

Compensation is another area where the traditional and contemporary employee differ. It *Is important to all workers but tends to be valued more as a consequence of performance by contemporary employees. The traditional employee is content to earn standard salary increases at regular intervals; the contemporary employee expects merit increases when they are earned.

Contemporary employees also have more desire to participate in decisions that affect them, while traditional employees tend to be more passive toward authority and more willing to accept their supervisor's decisions without question. One outspoken contemporary employee said: "I'm not a robot! Any supervisor who expects me to sit quietly on the sidelines while she makes decisions that affect my future is in for a rude awakening. I want to be consulted and have a full hearing given to my opinions."

A word that works magic for contemporary employees is recognition. They expect more than compensation for outstands ng performance. They want appreciation and credit for their accomplishments-tangible and intangible rewards.

Traditional employees are more concerned with job security. They prefer structured and predictable work environments-no unpleasant surprises. The contemporary ones are much more tolerant of ambiguity; their security is derived from high self-esteem and the feeling that good employees are always in high demand.

Communication is another magic word to contemporary employees. They want to know how they are performing and what is going on in the laboratory. They welcome regular, accurate, and complete feedback from their supervisors.

Another difference between traditional and contemporary employees is their set of priorities. Traditional employees usually put their work before family and leisure, yet they don't expect much in return. Contemporary employees, however, tend to place family and leisure before work, and at the same time, they have high expectations of their job.

This precedence is expressed well by one of today's employees in a large laboratory who said: "Work is certainly not the most important thing in my life. But considering that I spend 40 hours a week in the laboratory, I want to get something from it. I want my job to be worthwhile, interesting, and challenging. Very important, I want to have developmental opportunities."

Are your work values traditional or contemporary? Depending on your age and family upbringing, you probably have a mixture of both but tend to lean one way or the other.

Natural tendencies will influence your supervisory behavior, so you will get along better with employees who have a similar orientation-and you will probably run into problems with those who do not.

Since more employees hold the new work values, consider supervisory strategies to make your style more contemporary. Generally, such strategies will encourage managers to discard traditional attitudes about authority and structure to create an environment where people work because they want to, rather than need to; where workers' feelings contribute to, rather than detract from, task accomplishment; and where rewards, rather than punishments, get the job done. Let's look at these strategies.

* Treat employees with sensitivity and empathy. Most supervisors like to regard themselves as sensitive, caring, and empathetic but in reality may not consider these qualities necessary in a working relationship. One candid supervisor in a large laboratory said: "I don't have the time or the inclination to coddle my employees. They have a job to do and so do I. In fact, I deliberately try to keep staff members at a distance. I get more out of them if they are afraid of me."

Supervisors aren't pampering employees by valuing good interpersonal relationships, nor are staff members spoiled when their feelings are considered.

* Encourage innovation, examination of supervisory practices, and experimentation with new behavior. There isn't always one best way of doing something, so encourage employees to continually look for a better way. If you are critical, annoyed, or irritated by staff members with different ideas, the work environment will tend to stagnate.

One supervisor who fully appreciates this strategy feels it has been the secret to her personal success: "I'm not a very creative person. Yet my department has been responsible for initiating significant changes in procedures, which subsequently became standard practices with the laboratory. My staff members contributed innovative ideas, and I listened to them and gave their ideas a trial. Everybody benefited. We installed better procedures, my employees were pleased because they could make an important contribution, and I looked good personally. "

* Stress achievement rather than politics. In some laboratories, the supervisors are so busy politicking that they get distracted from their real job. Unfortunately, this unhealthy interest in institutional politics is passed on to their staff.

Nothing is worse than a laboratory full of politicians, as an exemployee of a large hospital lab attests: "I'm the type of person who likes to do my job and mind my own business. That was impossible to do in that laboratory. The supervisor was continually trying to go one better than all of the other supervisors. Everybody who worked for her was keenly aware of her attitude and tried to please her. This led to bickering with the other departments and a highly tense work environment. Getting the job done became a secondary consideration."

* Make a strong connection between supervisory efforts and laboratory success. By sharing the "big picture" with staff members, they begin to understand your supervisory behavior. They will appreciate your concern about the laboratory's success and realize that indivdual departments occasionally may have to suppress their personal interests to achieve it.

This is well expressed by a laboratory supervisor who is a strong advocate of this philosiophy: "Our hospital was in financial trouble, and every employee was told that we would have to economize. While some of the other departments in the laboratory resisted, I decided to make an all-out effort to cut costs. At first, my employees were concerned because they didn't see other departments taking similar actions. I met with them regularly, however, to keep them informed about the financial situation and the contribution we were making to improve it. Eventually, the other departments followed our lead."

*Demonstrate trust and confidence in your staff. The best way to build trust in staff members is to behave in a way that shows you believe in them. Give them responsibility and freedom of action. Most employees will live up to your expression of trust and confidence; if they don't, then impose restraints and controls.

A successful laboratory manager who recently retired said that through his career, he was rarely disappointed by employees to whom he freely gave trust and confidence "When I first became a supervisor, I was continually checking up on my staff. If anyone asked me, I would have admitted that I didn't fully trust them. Fortunately, however, I realized that my employees resented my close scrutiny; most of them had high standards of performance and personally accepted responsibility. Occasionally someone might disappoint me, and I might have to strengthen my supervisory control, but for the most part, I could rely completely on my staff members."

*Consider ways to make work more interesting, challenging, and creative. One of the most persistent problems every supervisor has to face is the monotonous daily routine. It tends to rob the energy and enthusiasm of even the most dedicated employees. One option is to meet regularly with staff members to discuss what can be done to improve the work environment.

. That is what this savvy supervisor does in a major laboratory: "Once a quarter, my department meets to hold a brainstorming session on ways to make our work environment more stimulating. This has led to swapping work assignments, changes in procedures, innovative approaches, and a lot of healthy discussion, which made everybody feel better."

* Commit yourself to the development of your staff. Traditionally, development is a staff responsibility, but contemporary managers recognize development as an integral part of their job. They tend to see that action plans for development are carried out, and they provide feedback.

A fully contemporary supervisor said: "The supervisor represents formal authority to the employee; she selects assignments and opportunities to learn on the job. She coaches and guides them, and her supervisory practices, attitudes, and style are observed and either emulated or rejected by the staff. The daily interaction between the employee and the supervisor is the vital ingredient in development."

Since more employees hold the new work values, try these strategies to make your supervisory style more contemporary. They can help you create an environment where your employees work because they want to; where their involvement contributes to task accomplishment; and where reward rather than punishment gets the job done. n
COPYRIGHT 1989 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Roseman, Ed
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Date:Aug 1, 1989
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