Doctor and activist

Motivation and Money

25 September 2021

Some years ago, I won a Public Service Fellowship to study workplace absence and had what the Americans call a boondoggle, with a world trip to look at why people attend or do not attend work.

One outcome from that was that I stopped using the word ‘Absenteeism’ as that is a valued judgement suggesting a worker disease, and used the term ‘workplace absence’ which, as the progressive journals at the time insisted meant that an employee considered that they had a better reason not to be at work.

Unsurprisingly people who had more interesting work or control over their work were less likely to be absent, while those in boring production lines were more likely.  The US car industry had absence rates of around 10% and handled this by simply rostering on excess people in the assumption that people were not going to turn up.  A union OHS academic there said that the rates of what we called RSI were very high, but I did not get to examine workers and naturally no figures were available.  

People who needed to be away from work also were more often absent, particularly women with families whose incomes were lower than their partners.  Later I looked at age groups and health as these were measureable and confirmed the general conclusion that health did not correlate with absence.  People who had a chronic illness were less likely to take sick days as they might need them later, whereas young healthy males wanted to go surfing. 

The Swedish car industry let workers have quite a lot of autonomy, but this had led to the workers trying to finish early and giving themselves RSI, but the Swedes were not keen to talk about this, as they had been studied by too many itinerants like me, (and one suspected that they did not like what we had found).

The Japanese worked very long hours, and had token payments systems which kept a peer pressure to gain this respect, but the last  part of their long working hours tended to be not very productive, because the peer pressure was merely not to be the first to leave.  Again, this insight came from US academics; not the Japanese.

One of sillier things that I noted in some management training that I had was that some still seem to think that the only thing that motivates people is money.  This seemed so simplistic to me as to almost absurd, but it was still taught.

So I was interested to see an article today by Malcolm Knox  in the SMH about the motivation of the Melbourne Storm Rugby League players, who are favoured to beat Penrith in the second preliminary final this afternoon.  Some of their players are paid much less than they would be if they changed clubs, but they stay there because of their respect for the coach, and for the fact that the team wins.  Young fullback Ryan Papenhausen is quoted as saying that he stays while Bellamy is coach because he thinks he will improve most while coached by this man.  So despite salary caps, which are designed to even up the quality of players between clubs, Melbourne have more than their share of stars.

I have not been a huge fan of Rugby League over the years as it seemed to merely have people bump into each other and lacked the subtlety  and variety of Rugby Union, particularly the innovative movements of the All Blacks.  But their variety and flair is improving, particularly with the work of Nathan Cleary at Penrith, which is now being watched and copied to the level that other teams have been beating them.

We can watch Melbourne Storm v. Penrith from 4pm, but I will also be thinking that if Melbourne wins, it will say something about motivation and money.

Arthur Chesterfield-Evans

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