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The new normal

44’s Jonathan Brown considers how when it comes to making a happier workplace, money might actually be only pocket deep.

Back in the old days, the relationship between employer and employee was simple. The bond was merely transactional – you gave your time, your skills, your expertise and your strength, in return for your wage. Nothing more to it.

But, things have changed. The line between work and home life has become blurred, with people available online out of hours, often expected to put in more time and to improve productivity. But with resources tighter than ever, how can we motivate people to give more?

One way is to move from what behavioural economist Dan Ariely calls market norms to social norms – in effect, for companies to develop deeper relationships with employees, which aren’t merely based on money.

Social norms

In his 2008 book Predictably Irrational, Ariely says: “Money… is very often the most expensive way to motivate people. Social norms are not only cheaper, but often more effective as well.” Great benefits, pastoral care and creating a sense that people are truly valued by the company all help to build a stronger bond.

“In this 24/7 work environment social norms have a great advantage,” he adds. “They tend to make employees passionate, hardworking, flexible and concerned. In a market where employees’ loyalty to their employers is often wilting, social norms are one of the best ways to make workers loyal, as well as motivated.”

Good communication

Which is where good communication comes in. After all, you can’t build a relationship with someone unless you talk to them. So talk to your people well and you’ll build closer ties, inspire trust and increase motivation.

But there’s a catch. Ariely points out that having embarked upon this course, a company has to stay on this path too. Undermine the social norms by asking too much and you’ll create a workforce that’s not just less engaged, but could become positively hostile.

So keep talking to them. Make it clear that, just as you expect them to be there for you, you’re there for them. But, above all, remember that people can smell insincerity, so make sure you mean what you say, and say what you mean.

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