Dear Bob and Peter,
What can you do when the owners of a company just don't believe in rewarding employees? My concern is for the laborers in our warehouse. No one ever says a kind word to them; no one sees how much they need a pat on the back. The owners of the company think that giving a Christmas dinner every year is your reward. How can I present a reward system to the company and get them to see what a difference it would make?

You need to get on management's radar screen. Rewarding employees isn't just a good idea because it makes employees feel better (although that's not such a bad thing, is it?), but because it makes good business sense. Happy employees are more productive, provide better customer service, and are less apt to leave a company for other opportunities. A study by Sears, Roebuck and Co. at 800 of its stores found that if employee attitudes on 10 factors (e.g., treatment by bosses and workload) improve by 5 percent, customer satisfaction will jump 1.3 percent — leading to a 0.5 percent increase in revenues. For Sears — which has annual revenues of about $41 billion — this translates to more than $200 million in additional revenue a year.

So how do you get on management's radar screen? Try posting an article or survey on the benefits of employee rewards on company bulletin boards. Bob's Web site — — has lots of free articles that you can post or pass on to management and coworkers. Give your boss or your boss's boss a copy of Bob's book 1001 Ways to Reward Employees — it's full of ideas for rewarding employees, most of which cost little or nothing to implement — or The 1001 Rewards & Recognition Fieldbook, which has a chapter on the topic of selling recognition to top management.

Dear Bob and Peter,
I have found that working in a strictly commission environment causes a lot of friction. When the chips are down and a salesperson has to choose between being slightly dishonest with a customer or coworker to make a sale and making ends meet, often the customer or coworker loses out. I have often felt that commission sales result in the staff working for the good of themselves rather than the good of the company. How can more positive motivation methods be implemented in this environment?

If you reward your employees — commission or otherwise — for “being dishonest with customers, weaseling away customers from coworkers,” and so forth, then that is what your employees will do. To change their behavior, first decide what behavior you want them to exhibit. Then take a close look at your system of rewards and recognition, and make sure that it reinforces the behavior you want. For example, if you want your commission salespeople to cooperate with one another, then give them an incentive to do so — perhaps a cash reward for an “assist,” like an assist in hockey where a player sets up a teammate to make the score. Or, have part of the honor of being top salespeople be an expectation that they share their strategies for closing their sales.

Dear Bob and Peter,
I am a cyber café owner in Malaysia. I don't know why my staff members here are so lazy, and the motivation or encouragement that I am giving them is really not effective. What can I do to encourage them to be better workers?

The big question is: Why are your employees unmotivated? Do they have the tools they need to do their jobs well? Are they paid a fair wage? Are they trusted and invited to share their ideas? Identify demotivators and neutralize them.

Next, ask your employees what motivates them, and then find ways to make these things happen. Some employees are motivated when the boss tells them they did a good job. Others are motivated by more responsibility, or learning opportunities. Still others are motivated by material things such as cash, gifts, or awards.

Dear Bob and Peter,
How can you motivate a person to be a team player after a long period of time as a loner? This person is very confrontational, distrusts management, and is a union employee.

Your question brings up a couple of points. Any employee who distrusts management probably has a reason for feeling that way. It's likely that managers in his or her past have failed to uphold their promises — probably on more than one occasion. The first thing you have to do is build a bridge of trust between the employee and yourself. Depending on the employee, this can potentially take a very long time. However, if you keep your promises and are fair in your dealings with all your employees, you can establish trust with even the most negative worker.

Then, reward the behavior that you want to see more of. Put your employee in situations in which he has to work in a team setting. Assign him to a self-managing team, to an employee committee, or to work on a community project. Then reinforce any positive team behavior that he exhibits.

Above all, be patient. It's probably taken your employee a long time to get to where he is now. It will probably take a long time to get him to the place that you envision. But get moving in that direction, one step at a time.

Dear Bob and Peter,
My staff constantly quarrel and act jealous among themselves. It creates a situation where I am unable to make them operate like a team. Do you have any advice?

Exactly why is there so much quarreling and jealousy? Meet with each of your employees — one-on-one — and talk to them about it. Are the causes personal, or are they created by the work environment? For example, some employees may believe that you are favoring certain people over others, or morale may be low because of low pay or long hours. They might be competing for your attention. Or maybe they just don't like one another. In any case, the first step is to get to the roots of the problems and identify them so you can determine what changes need to be made.

Next, you need to remove the sources of conflict by giving everyone an equal shot at your time and at the rewards of your organization, whatever they may be. Finally, build teamwork within your staff. To do this, you need to incentivize team behavior by rewarding your employees whenever they act the way you want them to. You can do this via verbal or written praise (preferably delivered in front of the other staff members) or by giving them more tangible rewards such as movie passes, gift certificates, or time off.

You should also run your staff through some teamwork training. There are many exercises available that can help your employees learn how to work together as a team and to see the benefits of doing so. Check with your human resources or training department for assistance, or check your local bookstore for books on teambuilding.

The Management Bible (John Wiley & Sons Inc., February 2005), by Bob Nelson and Peter Economy, is available at your local bookstore or by calling (800) 225-5945. Reprinted by permission of John Wiley & Sons Inc.