Understanding Individual Employee Performance: Ability, Motivation, and Beyond

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Successful organizations depend on their employees’ attitudes and performance, so the subject “Understanding Individual Employee Performance:  Ability, Motivation, and Beyond” was selected in order to investigate the human resource manger’s role in promoting healthy work environments. Metaphorically, it is the workers that make the motor turn. However, it seems as though a lot of companies want to hire employees for less pay, so they can increase their revenue and profits. In addition, many employees speculate that large organizations fail to show significant appreciation for their workers. Perhaps, smaller organizations do not often have this problem because its community is relatively tight-knit. Then again, it depends on the workplace attitude. Thus, if employees have little interest in professional development and lack motivation, they become robotic and only work because they have to. While organizations have different goals depending on their services, human resource managers are able to develop effective programs that motivate employees to be productive and healthy workers. With the right ideologies, human resource managers are in a position to alleviate employees’ stress within work and stimulate their motivation and performance with incentives. 

As an example, some organizations offer paid vacation time, but it does not seem to be a valuable tool for motivation. While one or two weeks paid vacation is nice, it requires employees to struggle through the time period that it takes to achieve this incentive. On the other hand, sometimes small incentives are valuable too. I recall in a former workplace my manager would leave free snacks and drinks in the break room. It was a small gesture, but it made me feel as though he was concerned for his employees. Also, the snacks and drinks provided us with the energy to fulfill the day’s tasks. Ultimately, I feel this topic is important because as a future human resource manager, it is my goal to promote a positive atmosphere, so employees and clients will feed off that energy and continue to work or seek business services within the organization. While we work for our paychecks, I can also institute a positive work environment, so employees will want to come to work instead of dreading the beginning of their workweek.  

Typically, human resource managers want to understand how to evaluate individual employee performance in order to gauge ability and determine means of motivation. The current trend suggests positive reinforcement is monetary. In other words, many believe that monetary incentives are the only way to encourage employees. However, the economy does not always allow that. Imbermen (2012) has implied “employees expect "‘extra’ rewards for any ‘extra’ efforts asked of them. Fulfilling these expectations is critical to the long-term success of any new initiative for boosting productivity and eliminating waste. [However], If the ‘extra’ is absent, employee cooperation is short-lived” (p. 23). On the other hand, Shuck and Wollard (2008) have noted there is also a positive trend in workplace motivation. Especially, “Great managers ignite their employees. They bring out the best and inspire their staff to be more than just workers; and there is a noticeable human element in their style (Shuck & Wollard, 2008, p. 49). Thus, in order to develop long-term cooperation, human resource managers are in the position to promote career growth, professional development, and recognition for work well done as long as they understand how to access employee ability and performance and motivate with incentives.

Ability and Performance

In order to assess employee ability, Jorfi, Yaccob, and Shah (2011) suggested human resource managers, employers, and employees understand the tools to teach stress management. Stress management is a significant factor when human resource managers gauge employees’ abilities. When employees experience stress on the job, they are unable to concentrate and have subpar performance. Jorfi et al. (2011) have noted “application of emotional intelligence supports the managers and employees to recognize and understand emotions and using emotional intelligence to manage oneself and his/her relationship with others (pg. 1). In other words, much as students develop their mental intelligence through homework, employees can exercise the emotional intelligence that allows them to work well with others in their organization and diminish their workplace stress. 

Emotional intelligence determines a person’s ability to cope in the workplace because he or she demonstrates self-awareness. Ultimately, those who are aware of their actions and behaviors will exercise accountability and responsibility. In a particularly stressful workday, the emotionally intelligent employee will understand that while some situations are out of his or her control, he/she realizes that the only obligation is to perform duties to the best of his/her ability.

The Bar-On Emotional Quotient Inventory (EQ-I) measures a person’s emotional intelligence (Jorfi et al. 2011) and is highly intuitive. It is a self-reported measure that uses 133 items to assess an individual’s emotional quotient (Jorfi, et al., 2011). Jorfi et al. (2011) revealed that “Research points out that emotionally intelligent individuals manage more productively because they ‘accurately perceive and appraise their emotional states, know how and when to express their feelings, and can effectively regulate their moods’ states” (p. 2). Clearly, this ability is an asset in the workplace because the environment constantly fluctuates. For example, certain seasons may be busier than others may, so the stress intensifies; therefore, people who are able to adapt to the changes in the workplace will be able to handle stress. Ripley (2011) has agreed because research has indicated “as many as two-thirds to four-fifths of the causes of employee performance problems are attributable to the work environment, not the employees” (no pag.). Therefore, by using the Bar-On EQ-I to measure supervisors’ and regular workers’ emotional quotients could allow human resource managers to determine effective stress management classes or resources. Because it is a tool that is easy to administer, human resource managers would find it to be an effective gauge in order to determine what areas they should address the most. 

Successful stress management programs revolve around potential burnout in specific workplaces. Jorfi et al. (2011) explained:  “A foundation of stress on the job implicates the inadequate relationships between group members, including subordinates, colleagues, and employees. This is marked by little trust, little supportive, and little interest in listening and trying to deal with problems that comfort organizational members” (p. 2). 

Typically, management considers stress as the byproduct of an employee’s personal life; however, employees spend a great deal of time with co-workers, so the chance for stress within the workplace increases. In addition, employees may have little trust with one another due to the natural competition in the workplace. For example, employees in the same department may compete with one another for a raise or for a promotion. Clearly, only one employee will obtain the raise or promotion, and the employee who does not get it may develop a suspicious attitude towards the co-worker, or worse the employer. However, if employees and employers effectively communicate with one another, they may alleviate this type of stress. 

Moreover, the workplace often produces more stress than employees’ personal lives. Ripley (2009) emphasized, “It has been said that if we put good performers in bad systems, the systems will win every time” (How Can We Achieve Exceptional Employee Performance, para. 1). Specifically, the internal structure of an organization determines the employees’ satisfaction. As an illustration, if employers depend on their best employees to take on extra work, they are essentially punishing them because the weaker employees often end up having an easier time at work. In addition, exceptional employees may receive the same pay. Consequently, they have added stress on top of their normal work obligations, so the company bears responsibility for increased stress.

On the other hand, managing employees is often a stressful experience as well. Jorfi et al. (2011) suggested human resource management recognize that “communication effectiveness is an essential part of human interaction” (p. 2). Ultimately, if employers and employees are comfortable communicating with each other, they may reduce stress on both sides. While management has to utilize an element of power, they are still able to lead employees yet communicate with them in friendly and empathetic ways. Likewise, employees may feel that their employers care for them as individuals as well as workers. In addition, effective communication reduces the chances for misunderstandings that add to stress and may develop a worker’s emotional intelligence in regards to work. Thus, assessing employees’ abilities often concentrate on their emotional and mental health because those two elements predict how able an employee is to communicate with their colleagues.

Jorfi et al. (2011) researched the correlation between communication and stress management in order to provide further clarification for best practices. Essentially, effective communication will alleviate stress management and increase job satisfaction. Jorfi et al. (2011) focused their research on three constructs: stress management, communication effectiveness, and job satisfaction. Figure1 demonstrates Jorfi et al.’s (2011) Research Model.  

The researchers hypothesized that attributes of stress management such as stress tolerance and impulse control will have a significant relationship with job satisfaction depending on the communication effectiveness (Jorfi et al., 2011).  Stress tolerance reveals the “ability to withstand adverse events through positive and impulse control measures [the] ability to resist or delay an impulse, drive, or temptation to act” (Jorfi et al., 2011, p. 3). In other words, if one is tolerant of stress, he or she will recognize it is a normal reaction to certain actions or consequences, and he or she will understand that this emotion subsides. In addition, if an employee is able to control impulsive, and negative, reactions, he or she will use critical thinking instead of simply reacting. 

Going by the researchers’ model, it seems apparent that effective communication directly affects stress management and job satisfaction; however, the model also suggests that it is a process. If human resource managers respond appropriately and implement effective stress management workshops or teach techniques, it will naturally develop employees’ communication skills and ultimately lead to job satisfaction. While Jorfi et al.’s (2011) study took place in Iran; human resource managers throughout the globe can emulate their ideas. Naturally, stress is universal. Therefore, when human resource managers attempt to assess their employees’ abilities, they will understand how employees’ natural reactions are not always an indicator of permanent behavior or skill level. 

Often companies assume personal factors contribute to poor performance, but in order to develop effective programs, companies should consider the workplace atmosphere first. Ripley (2011) asserted “Behaviors at work…are a function of the interaction of… employees (with their person factors) and the work environment (all the organizational systems factors). And it is behaviors that lead to performance” (How Can We Achieve Exceptional Employee Performance, para. 1). Likewise, Ripley (2009) has asserted that our former methods that included onboarding orientation and training were successful, but training is not enough because “We are looking at personal system factors outside of work as they impact employees, but still are not looking hard enough at the system factors at work” (Section “Today's Solution: Recognize Some of the System Factors as Well”). Factors outside of work such as family or personal problems do not always affect the employee. In addition, it may be difficult to offer help. Therefore, human resource management’s best option is to consider its internal atmosphere because they have more control over the workplace environment.  Alongside Bar-On EQ-I, Ripley (2009) has suggested Tom Gilberts’ Behavior Engineering Model (BEM) is an effective diagnostic tool because it considers: information, resources, incentives, skills and knowledge, capacity, and motivation (Section “Today's Solution: Recognize Some of the System Factors as Well”). Essentially, information, resources, and incentives specifically deal with the workplace, so human resource managers would confirm that there are no existing problems that would negatively affect employees.  

On the other hand, skills and knowledge, capacity, and motivation are personal factors within each employee. Ripley (2009) argued that “We need to ensure there are no problems in these areas before we rush to fix the employees” (Section: “Today's Solution: Recognize Some of the System Factors as Well”). An employee’s skills and knowledge depends on their ability to do his or her job correctly. However, Ripley (2009) emphasized human resource managers should offer employees positive feedback and constructive criticism in order to widen their knowledge base. Alongside employees’ skills and knowledge, human resource managers have to consider their capacities as well. Capacity does not imply commitment (Ripley, 2009), but it suggests how well a person is able to perform his or her job duties based on physical attributes such as strength or height. Lastly, while motivation depends on an employee’s attitudes, human resource managers can reinforce their enthusiasm.

Incentives and Motivation

When human resource managers provide positive goals that benefit workers, employees are happier to do their work, and maybe twice the work, but their job performance will improve and allow each job to produce better quality. Freifeld (2012) revealed, “research has found that the top three factors critical to employee engagement relate to recognition, career development, and the direct supervisor’s relationship with employees” (para. 3). Simply put, employees want to feel a connection to his/her job, understand he/she has the ability to develop skills or gain promotion and get along with his/her manager.  

While there are many examples for motivating employees, goals such as bonuses will entice employees to perform exceptionally. For example, often time money is one of the best motivators, and “executives have learned that short-term, transparent economic motivators paired with supporting communications efforts are most effective at persuading employees to boost productivity” (Imberman, p. 24, 2012). Indeed, monthly bonuses will make the eyes of the employees widen with excitement and motivate them to work harder the following month.

However, human resource managers must maintain that each employee is eligible for bonuses. For example, if one department uses bonuses as an incentive, that department may be the most productive. Thus, employees in other departments will realize that they are unable to benefit, so one department will have a boost of energy while the other departments stagnate. On the other hand, human resource managers can maintain that each department is crucial in the overall success, so in this sense, while one worker may receive a bonus, other workers should receive the recognition that they are vital to the team. Essentially, motivation with monthly rewards and showing everyday appreciation will leave the workers with more pride for their jobs. With more pride in their jobs, they will keep the work environment healthy and productive.

In addition, compliments are free, and often complimenting employees’ work ethics or production is rewarding in itself. In turn, compliments help build confidence in one’s work. HRD practitioners can be the catalysts for creating work environments that value individual contributions while encouraging communication and fostering understanding. Reminding employees of their contribution to the success of the organization can be done, for example, through one-on-one communication or through organizational or departmental events focused on that purpose” (Shuck &Wollard, 2008, p. 51). 

As an illustration, an annual or biannual dinner with small tokens of appreciation will emphasize that employees are critical players in an organization. However, along with social gatherings, an important means of motivation depends on professional development opportunities. Enrst & Young’s Chief Learning and Development Officer Mike Hamilton revealed their “approach to development involves offering the learning, experiences, and coaching all its people need to enrich their careers and deliver the best results for clients, as well as offering additional programs for current and future leaders of the organization” (Freifeld, 2012). In this way, human resource managers show an interest in their employees and, in turn, employees feel as though they are a valuable part of the organization because the company provides resources to develop their skills. 

Another means of motivation may involve human resource managers and supervisors communicating with employees. As an example, human resource managers can provide opportunities for employees to present ideas that will benefit the company and give credit to the employees for their ideas. Freifeld (2012) reported, “Each year, Capital One Chairman and CEO Rich Fairbank hosts a series of full-day sessions to give associates an in-depth look at what has happened at the company over the last year and the strategy he wants them to focus on in the coming year” (no pag.). In this way, Fairbank motivates employees by proving they are essential assets and that their opinions are important. Ultimately, if an employee feels as though he or she has input or simply feels as though he or she is heard, it will make the employees feel as if they have more control over their work environment. Essentially, even if human resource managers decide that employees’ ideas may not be in the best interest of the company at the time, it still motivates the employees to create new ideas. Because motivating employees has shown success, it is a viable component for an organization. 

Human resource managers have a large role in their organizations, and as they recognize that their employees are human beings with creative ideas, strong skills, and critical components within the organization, they may reduce overall workplace stress because they have made employees feel valuable. In turn, the alleviated stress will allow employees to enjoy their jobs and motivate them to work harder. Ultimately, human resource managers are in a direct position to teach supervisors to show positive reactions towards their employees. After all, an outstanding manager will work side by side with the ones that work under him/her, so an effective human resource manager will demonstrate those abilities to all employees under their direct supervision. Approaching employees as human beings with feelings will promote well-being and offer an empathetic touch.  It is the long-term satisfaction that allows a company to grow or that allows them to remain successful. Offering career growth and professional development as rewards encourage long-time employees and future leaders. Most importantly, motivating workers will confirm that their supervisors consider them vital mechanisms of the work machine.  After all, happy employees are often the most productive. 


Freifeld, L. (2012, July/August). I want to work there! Training Magazine, 49(4). Retrieved from http://www.trainingmag.com/content/i-want-work-there

Imberman, W. (2012). Motivating employees: What works? what doesn't work? Foundry Management & Technology, 140(11), 23-26. Retrieved from foundrymag.com.

Jorfi, H., Yaccob, H. F., & Shah, I. M. (2011). Human resource management - emotional intelligence: Communication effectiveness mediates the relationship between stress management and job satisfaction. International Journal of Managing Information Technology, 3(4), 1-7. doi: 10.5121/ijmit.2011.3401

Ripley, D. (1999, May). Improving employee performance: Moving beyond traditional hrm responses [PDF]. Silver Spring: International Society for Performance Improvement.

Shuck, M., & Wollard, K. (2008). Employee engagement: Motivating and retaining tomorrow's workforce. New Horizons in Adult Education and Human Resource Development, 22(1), 48-53.