Have you ever used a babysitter? This is when you have someone else assume your responsibilities while you take a break and focus on something else. The babysitter stands in for you, becomes you during the period of your absence. Someone else does your job.
Typically we think of babysitting when there’s actually a dependent child involved, but it’s not uncommon for ineffective managers in the workplace to use the same concept when dealing with their employees. These managers seek to use the pay that their employees receive as a surrogate for leadership – for keeping those workers complacent, retained and generally “in line.”
The practice of manipulating rewards presumes that the employee will chase the money and will be happy with their lot, while at the same time not requiring much in the way of supervision, periodic direction or even meaningful conversation. The thinking here is that, if provided with enough rewards, an employee will act as desired in order to not jeopardize those rewards. The goal is to place the employee’s attitude and performance on automatic pilot while the manager is engaged elsewhere.
So far, so good. Not necessarily a problem, right? The red flag goes up when you ask whether these monies are warranted by either performance or business need, or are they simply bribes?
What are we talking about?
Scenarios where pay is used in lieu of actual management are easy to spot.
What’s the cause of this behavior? Managers typically receive inadequate training (if any) on how to use their company’s pay programs, so many use pay as a crutch instead. Spending the company’s money effectively and efficiently isn’t on the radar screen. They use employee pay like a club to get an employee’s attention. And once they have that attention, the manager is off doing something else – with the presumption that pay will substitute as supervision and motivation while the manager is absent – kind of like a babysitter.
Weak and ineffectual managers don’t actually manage their employees when it comes to things like performance direction, leadership, setting good examples and decision-making. Instead, they want to be liked. They want to avoid conflict and they don’t want anyone to quit. They want employees to get along, and to help foster a friendly team atmosphere they try to manipulate pay in support of their efforts.
It’s really kind of a bribe.
So what is “managing” to these people? It’s not about making hard decisions. Too often it’s trying to get the most for their employees, deserved or otherwise, whether the organization gains in the process or not. The manager is focused on their own interests, and is using someone else’s money in the doing.
Why it doesn’t work
Relying on pay as a replacement for management has a short term effective life cycle, at best.
For managers who need a crutch to help motivate and retain their employees, to help them do their jobs, the above cautions likely won’t make a difference. Their goal is not to manage, but to get-by, to be liked by their employees and to avoid disruptions to their routine. This is not leadership.
But for those managers who wish to make a difference, who understand that managing employees is a challenging and rewarding role, abrogating responsibility through babysitting is not an option. They recognize it as the opposite of management, a damaging practice that will not enhance anyone’s long-term career prospects.
Chuck Csizmar is the Founder & Principal of CMC Compensation Group,an independent global compensation consulting firm whose expertise lies in helping companies manage the effective and efficient utilization of financial rewards for their employees. He also maintains a popular blog on compensation at his website www.cmccompensationgroup.com.