Worker Mentoring and Incentive Programs - What Really Works

Posted by on in Careers

While many studies on retaining older workers focus on the needs for flexible work arrangements and phased retirement, what many older workers want is a workplace that is open, collegial and supportive of learning, according to a recent study from the Society for Human Resource Management. 

 Older workers often fear getting shut out of informal communications around the water-cooler, being blocked from challenging jobs, or having their comments in meetings or discussions met with a yawn, the study says.  More employers are adopting reverse mentoring programs to avoid such problems.

Mentoring programs in general are on the rise.  An additional 3% of employers surveyed said they are considering offering mentoring programs, in addition to the 20% that already do. More than 9 in ten employers say it's important to retain older workers because of their talent and skills.

Efforts such as mentoring programs are often needed to uproot hidden obstacles.  Older workers who believe they are stereotyped by co-workers are less able or committed because of their age, are likely to become tense or depressed on the job, and more likely to quit.  


According to Ian Larkin of Harvard Business School and Lamar Pierce and Timothy Gubler of Washington University more than 80% of companies dole out work-related awards like "employee of the month" or "top salesperson."  Managers often view these awards as inexpensive ways to improve worker performance; many believe that when employees bask in the glow of corporate praise, they may even feel motivated to work harder over the long term.

But new research suggests that some awards may actually have the opposite effect. Incentives can demotivate employees. An incentive system aimed at curbing tardiness at a commercial-laundry plant ended up decreasing productivity. A 1.4% decrease in productivity was reported, costing the plant nearly $1,500 a month. 

Researchers involved in the Dirty Laundry of Employee Award Programs:  Evidence From the Field study suggested that the program, under which employees with perfect attendance were eligible for drawings to win gift cards, squelched workers' intrinsic motivation to behave well, and the monetary aspect of the rewards may have encouraged employees to game the system.

Just a few things to keep in mind when seeking new ways to motive your IT staff. Best to practice solid leadership methods to achieve the goals you seek.

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Bill has been a member of the technology and publishing industries for more than 25 years and brings extensive expertise to the roles of CEO, CIO, and Executive Editor. Most recently, Bill was COO and Co-Founder of and the parent company PSN Inc. Previously, Bill held the position of CTO of both Wiseads New Media and


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