In the United States, the cost of supplementary benefits to employees in industry has risen to over forty percent by 2004 according to a study by the United States Chamber of Commerce.

There is a lot of money paid out to cover what, in terms of motivational theory, are work satisfiers, not motivators. To explain, let me tell what I have been told is a true story.

The story begins in the factory of the Hughes Aircraft Company when it was quite small; a few hundred employees.

Howard Hughes owned the company outright. One Christmas he gave every employee a Christmas Turkey. It was a big surprise, the employees were delighted. They all said nice things about Mr Hughes and his company.

When the next Christmas approached, what do you think the employees began to wonder and think about? “Are we going to get a turkey again?” The grapevine carried the word that the turkey would be forthcoming and Hughes did not want to disappoint them. So they got a turkey.

The next Christmas it was a foregone conclusion. The cry went up, “Where’s my turkey?” So they got a turkey that Christmas and every Christmas thereafter.

The company some twenty years later had grown to 20,000 employees. The logistics with the turkeys was already becoming a problem. The turkeys were stacked in a hopper in the factory parking area. People came by in their lunch period, picked up a turkey and then returned to their work stations.

Were the employees any more satisfied? Satisfied that they had a turkey? Yes. More motivated, more loyal or more grateful? No. Did they remain satisfied? No.

Because the turkey packer printed the weight of the turkey on the boxes in which they came, the employees began comparing weights. If their turkey weighed two hundred grams less than another one, then suddenly they had a grievance and were dissatisfied.

By now, the turkey was included in the labour agreements and was subject to collective bargaining. Soon there was a choice between a turkey and a ham.

Hughes Aircraft Company at Christmas time now had turkeys in the parking lot and hams and if someone thought a ham smelt off, the grapevine would set to work. Hams were sniffed all over the plant. People imagined that their hams were off.

That year there was a lot of dissatisfaction. So much that they made an arrangement with the local supermarket to keep the turkeys and hams under refrigeration. Then they gave employees a cash card and said, “Take this card along to the supermarket and pick up a turkey or ham”.

Then they said, “Of course you can pick up anything else like meat or potatoes instead of the turkey”, which of course, people did.

It is not to say that the employees of Hughes Aircraft factory were not satisfied with their cash card. It is just that the card was not doing what Hughes set out to do all those years ago when he began giving out turkeys.

All that was clear was that he could not stop giving out turkeys, or its substitute, because it was by now built into their expectations.

Someone raised the question “Why did he ever give them the turkey to begin with?” His defenders said, “Because he is a nice guy and he wanted to let them know he was concerned for their welfare.”

An argument can be made that the turkeys were, in fact, a manifestation of paternalism that may have been better paid as an increase in salary. What is clear is that they were not a reward that acted as a motivator of performance.

According to Herzberg’s motivation theory, certain factors truly motivate (‘motivators’), whereas others tend to lead to dissatisfaction (‘hygiene factors’).

Herzberg’s research proved that people will strive to achieve hygiene needs because they are unhappy without them. However, once satisfied the effect soon wears off; satisfaction is temporary.

Examples of hygiene needs in the workplace are policy, relationship with supervisor, work conditions, salary, company car, status, security, relationship with subordinates, personal life.

True motivators were found to be other completely different factors including achievement, recognition, work itself, responsibility, advancement and personal growth.

The turkey may have seemed to be a motivator but in reality was and soon became all too evident to be, a hygiene factor.

Being given the responsibility, the competence and tools to do a job well and the recognition of your peers, subordinates and superiors when the job is done well are the rewards by which most people are motivated.

Rewards which grow the individual or the team and recognition in the form of a public “thank you” that specifically details what the employee is being thanked for is a more powerful motivator than a truck load of turkeys.