What motivates employees to do good work?

New research published in the Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory suggests that the answer is not as simple as we once thought.

For decades, management advice books claimed that things like incentives, pay, and empowering workers was the driving force behind happy and productive workers.

But Neil Boyd, professor of management at Bucknell University and coauthor of the research, believes what is most important to employees is feeling like they are part of a community and having a responsibility for that community at work.

“Bottom line, does it matter if I come to work and feel like I’m part of a community? And the answer is clearly yes,” Boyd says.

“Organizational leaders ought to think about building a community culture that supports employees feeling like a family.

"When people show up to cut the cake in the break room, it can have benefits that last much longer than the short, sugar-induced morale boost.”

Employers should begin fostering a sense of community responsibility as early as the recruitment process.
It was long assumed that employees felt committed to their job because of their sense of importance they held within the organization. Instead, Boyd feels it may be commitment to immediate coworkers, rather than the company as a whole, that is more binding.

Effectively developing a sense of community drives employees to do their work well, act in the best interest of the company and even improves their psychological health at work.

“Employers should begin fostering a sense of community responsibility as early as the recruitment process,” Boyd says.

“Job descriptions should tout a company’s culture as community-minded. Prospective hires should be evaluated for how well they fit into the existing culture and their desire for community and willingness to participate in office social events.

“Organizations can also do a better job at looking at community building programs in performance appraisals. Typically, these efforts are ancillary, not a priority. But our research shows it’s worth the extra attention.”