BLUF: How can I earn the respect of unpaid employees if I don’t have the authority to offer them any rewards or career opportunities?

 Hi there,

This is my first time managing people – in this case, two unpaid staff (one an intern, another an employee seconded to us by a social welfare agency). Neither were the results of competitive selection processes – the intern was “suggested” to us by our HR Director (my boss’s boss), while the welfare guy was the only one the agency could provide – he’s smart, but he’s got about 20 years of work experience, to my 6.

Trouble is, both the intern and the social welfare guide pretty quickly figured out that while I have the authority to manage their task assignment, there’s little I can actually offer in terms of incentives. As I’m fairly junior as far as the organizational pecking order goes, they know I’m not the person to talk to if they are looking for career opportunities, as I’m not wielding enough influence to make things happen.

Yesterday, I caught the social welfare guide talking to my boss about a project that he is reporting to me on – an impromptu meeting that resulted in them making decisions on the project when I wasn’t even in the room. While I confronted him about it afterwards, it did get me thinking: what can I actually do to earn the respect of my staff, considering that they know full well I can’t offer them anything in terms of long-term career prospects? For example, the intern already figured out that he’ll need to take a meeting with the Director of HR (who was the one who recommended him for the position in the first place).

I would be very grateful for your thoughts. 

dan west's picture
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 There are at least two issues in your question that require 2 different answers. 

First, you boss and direct are making project level decisions without your involvement. I know there is a podcast for this (I don't remember the name). First and foremost, get your ego out of the picture. It's not ideal that this happened, but what's done is done. So focus on the future. Is ask the direct for context in the decision - what was decided and why. Also, don't hold it against your direct. You don't know how the conversation started or if it was the boss that initiated it. Either way, you need to look at what you're doing or not doing that is leading to this behavior. You could possibly have a conversation with your boss and ask that they redirect the employee to you. But I wouldn't do that unless you have a very good relationship with your boss. Go back to the cast as I'm sure there is more thorough advice there. I've been in that situation before and I hated it. If you can remove your pride and step back from the situation you will be better off. Use it to learn what you can be doing better and it won't happen again. 


Second, how do you motivate people who are not on the payroll?

My personal feeling is that money is NEVER the answer. My advice is to go back to the trinity. One on ones and feedback are the key here. Work the relationship first and most people come around. If not, start giving feedback. This is going to take some time, so be patient. More than anything, I urge you not to use role power. That may get them to do what you want while you are watching. However, the best managers get people to do what they want when they are not watching. To do that, you need solid relationships. And that starts with one on ones. 

Good luck,