Several years ago, I spent the better part of a year involved in a team project that was filled with almost every flavor of poison you can imagine in a workplace. Gossip. Tension. Missed deadlines. Sucking up to supervisors. Secret meetings that only included some of the group.

To put it frankly, every single day in that environment was a nightmare. At the end, I was simply ready to quit – and I blew up. I walked out the door and went home, fully expecting to be fired for it.

Instead, I was given a raise. And it was the last thing on earth I wanted.

I did some soul searching and made myself go back the following Monday. If anything, the environment was worse, full of accusations and bitterness. I had more money, but I was still miserable – and I was still not truly productive.

Luckily, the project’s supervisor caught on and cleaned house, eliminating the poisonous personnel and going a long way to involve the remaining team in ensuring that this never happened again. He also sent me to San Diego for a week that involved almost no work at all – just time to calm down, chill out, and relax.

The first solution – throwing money at the personnel problem – never works. If there’s a conflict between people that’s keeping the work from being completed in a timely fashion, direct financial rewards will, at best, only make a tiny short term difference.

Never solve a people problem by giving a raise. It’s like trying to buy the love of a beautiful woman – you might turn her head, but you’ll never turn her heart.

Instead, start by asking questions – and listening. Spend the time to dig through the conflict and figure out what the source of it is, then address that source directly.

If you’re simply trying to raise general morale and are intending to spend to do it, give time instead of money. Give people some extra time off. Give them more flexibility in their hours – try adding some flexibility to the scheduling.

Beyond that, pair up people that work together well – people feel good when they do a good job. Offer up direct compliments when you witness good work – and occasionally single out people who do exceptional work in an exceptional way.

Your employees are already reasonably pleased with the income they make – if they’re not, they’ll ask for more. If you want to increase morale (and thus increase productivity), look for ways to improve the non-financial aspects of their working situation – their time, the people around them, and their environment. Don’t try to increase morale by throwing money at it – it’s like giving a dozen street-vendor roses to a florist.

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