Advice to managers

Want to make your employees happy, or at least avoid making them unhappy? Try this

Treat people differently…
It’s a venerated management principle: If you want people to feel like they’re being treated fairly, treat them all the same. But if it’s true, as many psychologists believe, that people are born with different personality traits, treating everyone the same makes little sense. Get to know your employees’ differences, suggests Tim Judge, Mendoza’s Franklin D. Schurz Professor of Management. Find out what motivates them and then revise the rules to account for individuality, or hire the person whose personality is the best fit for the job.

…but fairly
Equal pay for equal work is critical. “Employees are constantly on the lookout for somebody who is getting a better deal than they are, and if they find one it drives them nuts,” says Management Professor Mike Crant. Employees are more likely than ever to discover discrepancies. Crant mentions websites such as, which reveals salaries for specific jobs at specific companies. The data comes from users of the site, who are presumably outing their own salaries. The posts are anonymous, however, so who knows?

Hire lovers
Pay has been shown to be a poor motivator—especially compared to love. Bob Bretz, Mendoza’s Joe and Jane Giovanini Professor of Management, uses the analogy of changing diapers. People will change their own children’s diapers happily (more or less) because they care about their child. But if you offered them money to do this for their children, they would probably take the money—what young parent couldn’t use a little extra cash—but it wouldn’t have any effect on the way they cared for their child. “When the work we’re doing really matters, attempts to monetize are just as likely to alienate as they are to motivate,” he says. “On the other hand, without the bond between parent and child, there’s no way to make this task intrinsically pleasing, so you’ll have to pay whatever the market demands, and if you want it done really well you’ll probably even have to pay a market premium.” The lesson: If you can find someone who truly loves a job, they’ll not only be happy to do it, but the quality and quantity of work will likely exceed expectations.

Don’t overreact to performance changes
Just as people have a happiness “set point”—a mood level to which they inevitably return after any experience—people have a normal level of work performance, Bretz says. Most managers don’t understand this. When they see an employee’s performance fall, their inclination is to scold. The performance of the scolded improves—which it was going to anyway because of the law of regression to the mean. Likewise, when a manager sees an employee perform abnormally well, the manager rewards the behavior, only to see performance fall back, as it must, to the normal level. Bretz says the unenlightened manager will wrongly conclude: “Praise makes performances go down, scolding makes it go up. From now on I’m only going to scold.” Lasting performance improvement is possible, he says, but only through learning new competencies.

Make happiness a frequent experience
Experiencing many small moments of joy produces more happiness than the rare grand gesture, Crant says. This means that handing out a big bonus once a year may produce less happiness than if employees are afforded many small perks and kindnesses throughout the year.

Tally people’s blessings
Help people see how much more they’re getting from their job than just a salary. Total Compensation Statements put a dollar figure on things like employer contributions to health insurance premiums and the value of other benefits such as 401k contribution matching.

Show them they’re thought of as more than cogs
Matt Bloom recommends that managers express care and concern for their employees as people, not just in terms of what they contribute to the organization. Bretz hates the term “human resources” because “a resource is something that can be depleted to accomplish something. People who work for us are not human resources—they are human beings who expect and deserve the same level of dignity and respect that their bosses do.”