Posted on July 7, 2015 by KC Gonzalez

Matthew McCarter

Matthew McCarter

It seems to be the questions managers are often pondering: How do you keep employees motivated? How do you keep them happy? How do you get them to work harder? UTSA’s Matthew McCarter has arrived at some of that insight. He’s just released a co-authored study in the Human Resource Management Journal that suggests that choice in health plans plays a big role in employee motivation and happiness.

Most people already have health insurance. But McCarter, an assistant professor in the College of Business’s Department of Management, discovered that when employees are able to choose from a concise list of health care providers, rather than having to grapple with an endless array of options, they are not only happier with their employer, but feel as if they’ve had some say in how their lives play out at work.

“Having choice over benefits gives employees the perception of procedural justice or fairness,” McCarter said. “The first thing we found is that you don’t have to have your employees design the entire plan. It’s not about design. It about being able to choose what happens.”

As a result, employees perceive the procedures as more fair, see their managers as more trustworthy and are motivated to work harder.

“The picking is what motivates them,” McCarter said. “It’s having choice at work rather than having choice of work that motivates people.”

McCarter admits there is something of an illusion of power in the process, in that ultimately the employee only perceives he or she has some kind of voice or say.

“Employee empowerment research rests often on this idea that employees need to have a say in how incentives are designed,” he said. “There’s some jobs where workers can’t have that much discretion, like surgeons. And there some organizations where it is impractical to give each employee full reign over how their job or benefits package is designed, like firms with thousands of employees. We wondered if giving employees choice is enough to keep them happy and motivated.”

McCarter said he hopes the study will help bridge the disconnect between what managers think works well and what their employees actually think and show them how to give control away strategically.

“You have to be sure to know what your employees like,” he said. “The options have to be favorable in the eyes of the employee, but you can motivate people through this idea of procedural justice.”

— KC Gonzalez