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The more I think about it, the more I realize how many similarities there are between managing a classroom and managing a workplace. I would like to clarify that I am not equating an organization’s employees to a room full of students. However, I have noticed that many of the methods used in the classroom to increase participation and confidence of the students can be compared to how HR might try to boost performance and morale in the workplace, especially when money is not, or cannot, be a factor. (Since it should not be considered as a factor for students.)

During my time working as a teacher in South Korea, I had the opportunity to learn by experience and from my colleagues what techniques work as an effective motivator for students. I found that students respond most positively to different forms of recognition, appreciation, and praise. Here are a few examples of the methods I used to enforce and how they might relate to those used in the workplace:

Certificates for “Best/Most”

I used to teach themed summer and winter programs for the students during their school vacation. At the end of each week we would have a rewards ceremony, where each student would get a certificate and small prize for the work they had done, e.g. “Most Improved”, “Most Helpful”, “Best Speech”, etc. They loved it because I was recognizing and appreciating their individual strengths, and it made them look good in front of their friends.

Just like I took the time to know my students, I think it’s important to look for and recognize each employee’s strengths and what they are bringing to the table. When performance and morale are low, you might try to consider your own awards ceremony for your company. Let them know it’s coming up, what awards will be given, and what they can do to give them a leg up. Or don’t let them know and hand out certificates randomly for fun. Perhaps every time they get a certificate they can also receive a raffle ticket and your department can hold a raffle at the end of each month. And of course, never underestimate sincere praise.

Parties/Special Activity Days

Sometimes the students need a fun day to look forward to. Even the teacher does at times. When the students were working particularly hard for a few weeks, or when a holiday was coming up, I made sure to plan a fun activity or party to give them something to look forward to. If my students didn’t like the classes, their participation and effort was less than stellar, to say the least. A special day gave them a chance to relax, have fun, and get to know the teacher and their classmates in a more comfortable environment.

Just like the students, if employees never have anything to look forward to at work, their performance may suffer as a result. Even a small thing, like recognizing and celebrating a birthday or length of service could have a positive effect on morale. A team building field trip, a fun outing, or a holiday party could also reinforce a sense of belonging and friendship between co-workers, which in turn would boost morale and performance.

Level Up System

I noticed that students performance would increase if they thought they were going to acquire something. But when they kept acquiring the same prize, such as candy, again and again, they began to get bored and performance would drop. I decided to implement a “Level Up” system where if they collected ten stickers they got a chance to level up to a new title, such as “Captain, Colonel, Vice-President”, and get a prize. Not only that, but the higher the level, the better the prize would be. And some of the higher prizes were mysteries, which of course made them want them even more. This leveling up reward system was by far the most effective I’ve used to increase student performance and participation.

With some modification, I believe a level up system could also be used in the workplace. Maybe instead of the raffle I mentioned earlier, you could keep track of employees’ accomplishments or hand out tickets for a job well done or a “caught you having fun at work” idea. If they collect a certain amount, they could obtain a new “title” or small reward, such as a gift certificate. Or even both. In any event, it would give them a reason to perform well and would act as recognition not only from those organizing the system, but their co-workers and managers as well.

Personalized Rewards

Candy. Chocolate. Snacks. Many students responded very well to those kinds of rewards. But did all? Interestingly enough, some didn’t! In that case, in order to motivate everyone it’s important to know your students and know what kind of reward they will appreciate, because if they don’t want to the reward, why should they do the work to get it?

Just like the students, it’s important to reward your employees accordingly. Similar to how many organizations offer personalized benefits, rewards should be personalized as well. If you have no idea what they want, ask them for ideas. Maybe some would like a day off to spend time with their children. Maybe some would like to leave early on a Friday. Your workplace is made up of diverse people with different backgrounds from different generations. It would be presumptuous to assume the same reward would work for all.

Student/Teacher Outing

If there’s one thing students respond very well to, it’s positive attention from the teacher. One reward in my classroom was a teacher/student outing, where we would go to a movie together, or have a lunch together. I even did this during my elementary school days and absolutely loved it. It’s a good opportunity to build a better student/teacher relationship as well as give the student a chance to feel seen, rather than just another face in the crowd.

Why not try this at work, and organize a lunch with the boss for a small group of employees? Not only will it make the employees feel recognized and appreciated, but it would give the manager the chance to get to know his employees on a more personal level. The supervisor/employee relationship is one not to be taken for granted.

These are just my observations and ideas about the similarities between boosting participation and confidence in the classroom versus increasing performance and morale in the workplace. I hope to someday have the chance to transfer my skills acquired as a teacher to my future company as an HR professional.

What is your opinion about the correlations between the classroom and the workplace? What are your methods and techniques for boosting performance and morale?

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