Professional employees are more difficult to motivate


Professional employees are different than your average employee. And they’re more difficult to motivate. Why? Because professionals don’t respond to the same stimuli that nonprofessionals do.

Professionals like engineers, accountants, lawyers, nurses, and software designers are different from non-professionals. They have a strong and long-term commitment to their field of expertise. Their loyalty is more often to their profession than to their employer. And typical rewards, like money and promotions, are rarely effective in encouraging professionals to exert high levels of effort.

Professionals see their allegiance to their profession, not to the organization that employs them. A nurse, for instance, may work for Mercy Hospital but she reads nursing journals, belongs to nursing associations, attends nursing conferences, and hangs around with other nurses during her breaks at work. When asked what she does for a living, she’s more apt to respond. “I’m a registered nurse� than “I work at Mercy Hospital.�

Money and promotions are typically low on the professional’s propriety list. Why? They are well paid and they enjoy what they do. For instance, professionals are not typically anxious to give up their work to take on managerial responsibilities. They’ve invested a great deal of time and effort in developing their professional skills. They’ve typically gone to professional school for several years and undergone specialized training to build their proficiencies. They also invest regularly—in terms of reading, taking courses, attending conferences, and the like—to keep their skills current. Moving into management often means cutting off their profession, losing touch with the latest advances in their field, and having to let the skills that they’ve spent years developing become obsolete.

This loyalty to the profession and less interest in typical organizational rewards makes motivating professionals more challenging and complex. They don’t respond to traditional rewards. And because they tend to give their primary allegiance to their profession rather than to their employer, they’re more likely to quit if they’re dissatisfied. An employer might be justified in deciding not to exert the effort to develop and keep professionals because they’re unlikely to reciprocate loyalty efforts.

Even if it is accepted that professionals are different from non-professionals, these differences may make it easier to motivate professionals. For a large proportion of professionals, their work is their life. They rarely define their workweek in terms of 8 to 5 and five days a week. Working 60 hours a week or more is often common. They love what they do and often prefer to- be working rather than doing anything else. So as long as they enjoy their work, they’re likely to be self-motivated.

How to motivate professionals? Provide them with ongoing challenging projects. Give them autonomy to follow their interest and allow them to structure their work in ways that they find productive. Provide them with lateral moves that allow them to broaden their experience. Reward them with educational opportunities training, workshops, attending conferences that allow them to keep up with the current developments in their fields. In addition, reward them with recognition and consider creating alternative career paths that allow them to earn more money and status. At Merck, IBM, and AT&T, for instance, the best scientist, engineers, and researchers gain titles such as fellow and senior scientist. They carry pay and prestige comparable to those of managers but without the corresponding authority or responsibility.

This will enable the professionals to concentrate exclusively on their work which may result in some new developments, innovations or cost saving techniques. They should be considered as pure R & D personnel with very high skills. This is partially followed by many leading companies.

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