Eric Spell, former president of, explains that employers can provide opportunity up to a certain point, but then it is up to the individual. He described the “XY Management Theory,” with two extreme perspectives. “X” management is structured, disciplined and controlling. Action is taken out of fear and decisions are top-down. On the other hand, “Y” management involves lots of praising and a lack of accountability. Employees hear the word “team” a lot, but it lacks control and discipline.

“Operating in the extremes is ineffective,” says Spell. The idea is to reach a point in the middle between X and Y that allows a company to function effectively. “If you want to motivate your staff, make sure your management style is in a neutral state,” he emphasizes. “In addition, make sure your staff has the tools, objectives and ability to do the job. If they don’t have these things, it’s management’s fault.”

Managers make a number of common mistakes, according to Spell, including:

  • Lack of transparency/honesty
  • Manage expectations with money
  • Forget what’s been promised
  • Lack of sensitivity regarding family/personal life
  • Lack of timeliness regarding recognition/positive feedback

Add to these factors the different expectations of each generational group, and you have a recipe for unhappy employees.

“Look at different ways to give people time off,” says Spell. Some companies plan mission trips for employees which can turn into team retreats. “There are needs all over and this kind of activity can help reduce generational gaps,” he notes.

Everyone wants to know they’re appreciated. Spell recommends employers send hand-written notes when someone has done a good job. “Employees crave appreciation, and it costs nothing,” he emphasizes.

Spell pointed out the importance of knowing your staff, and finding out what drives each individual. “Spend time with each person, talk about his/her career path and personal goals,” he says. Make sure performance evaluations are scheduled on a regular basis.

Most importantly, deal with conflict head-on, stresses Spell. The longer a manager fails to deal with difficult situations or conflicts, the longer they’ll fester and the more damage they’ll do to staff morale. As difficult as it might be, employers must take a leadership role when it comes to conflict resolution.

It all boils down to the Golden Rule, believes Spell. “Treat people the way you would like to be treated,” he urges. Following this basic fundamental will help managers and employees build a solid foundation for a meaningful and productive working relationship.