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Do you feel like your employees are lacking motivation? What can you do to improve motivation in your organization?
Companies are only as good as their employees. Your company can’t grow and improve unless your employees are motivated to go above and beyond. Thus, to keep growing and maintain your company’s success, leaders must keep their employees’ motivation juices flowing.
Keep reading to learn about the psychology of motivation, why financial incentives only go so far in motivating employees, and a few employee motivation strategies to consider.
Why Financial Incentives Only Go So Far in Motivating Employees
According to Daniel Pink, the author of Drive, financial incentives only go so far in motivating employees. Sufficient compensation serves as a “baseline reward” or a “hygiene factor”—if it’s not there, employees cannot focus. They’ll obsess over how unfair their situation is and be anxious about their financial problems. So, high enough financial rewards are necessary for a baseline of motivation.
However, in the long term, financial incentives actually decrease motivation. This idea may sound counterintuitive—if you enjoy something when you do it for free, then wouldn’t adding money only make it better?
According to Pink, extrinsic rewards require people to forfeit some autonomy—if a person is doing something by herself, she’s fully in control of her behavior. But once she starts doing it for money, someone else is pulling her lever, and she no longer feels fully in control of their lives.
Extrinsic rewards also quash the cognitive dissonance that comes with unrewarded work. Cognitive dissonance works like this—when volunteering, a person subconsciously reasons, “well I’m not getting paid for this work, so if I’m working hard, I must enjoy it.” Once a person starts getting paid, she instead reasons, “well, I don’t really enjoy the work, but it’s fine since I’m getting paid.”
In addition to impinging on autonomy, extrinsic rewards can narrow people’s focus to short-term effects, ignoring long-term benefits. If employees get rewards for achieving short-term targets, they may focus more on the short-term reward and less on how to improve the company’s long-term performance.
AUTHOR: Daniel H. Pink
Improving Employee Motivation
According to Abraham Maslow, people are motivated by the desire to satisfy their needs. Once a need is met, motivation ceases. Therefore, to create motivation, you need to create a climate in which some of your employees’ needs are constantly unsatisfied.
Here are the needs, in order of lowest to highest:
- Survival, which is the need for basic necessities such as food, clothing, and shelter.
- Safety, which is the need for things that allow access to basic necessities.
- Belonging, which is the need to be part of a group of like-minded members and the need for love and relationships.
- Status, which is the need for recognition or esteem, or to keep up with others. Often, this recognition is only valuable to the person seeking it.
- “Self-actualization,” which is the need to achieve your personal best or a higher purpose. There are two drivers of this need:
- Competence. This is the drive to become a master of a particular skill. The majority of people are competence-driven.
- Achievement. This is the need to be good at everything you do.
The first three needs inspire employees to get a job and report for work. All three of them are possible to satisfy, so when they’re met, motivation declines. For example, at an Intel plant in the Caribbean, many people only worked until they had made a certain amount of money. Once they had as much as they thought they needed to satisfy their needs, they quit.
The last two needs encourage high performance. Status is satisfiable, so motivation will eventually cease once an employee reaches a certain level of success, but self-actualization is limitless because there’s no concrete goal attached to it. Therefore, as a leader, you need to provide your employees with opportunities for self-actualization to keep them motivated.
In his book High Output Management, former CEO of Intel Andrew Grove outlines several employee motivation strategies centered around self-actualization:
1. Assess where people fall in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. One way to do this is to look at how they view money and raises. If a subordinate gets a raise and she’s concerned with the absolute value, then she’s working at the survival or security level. If she’s concerned with the relative value (how her raise compares to her coworkers’), then she’s likely after status or self-actualization and is using money as a measure of achievement.
For example, a venture capitalist motivated to make $10 million who already has $10 million doesn’t need money to meet survival, security, or social needs. Additionally, more money probably won’t give her more status because venture capitalists don’t usually announce their success. Therefore, for her, money is a record of how much she’s achieved.
2. Reassess hierarchy position from time to time. People can move both up and down Maslow’s hierarchy.
For example, when manufacturing employees at an Intel plant in California were working on their higher needs and there was an earthquake, they all regressed to meeting survival needs.
3. Base achievement recognition on output. Only attach status and self-actualization to achievements that are output-relevant. Otherwise, people will be motivated to work towards things that don’t benefit the company, such as competing for the nicest office chair.
For example, at Intel, knowledge for the sake of knowledge isn’t particularly recognized, but applying that knowledge to produce results is.
4. Consider the effects of fear. In the past, fear of punishment was the main employee motivation strategy. (If people didn’t work, they didn’t have the money to eat. Their only option would be to steal food, the punishment for which was hanging. Therefore, people were motivated to work to avoid the punishment of death.)
These days, the fear approach is being replaced by more humane employee motivation strategies. However, fear is still present in status and self-actualization, though it’s usually internally-generated fear of failure. Fear can be motivating—it encourages people to perform—but it can also become an obsession, which results in a reluctance to take risks because they come with the danger of failure.
5. Create opportunities for people to test themselves. People will produce greater output trying to achieve things that are just beyond their reach (self-actualization is always a little out of reach).
6. Make work mimic competitive sports. Competition is highly motivating, so if you can tap into this, you can increase performance.
7. Provide feedback. When striving to meet the need for self-actualization, motivation is generated by the drive to improve, and it’s impossible to improve without feedback. People provide their own internal feedback—for example, when a professional violinist is practicing and hears herself play a wrong note, she can go over the section again until she gets it right—but also require external feedback.
TITLE: High Output Management
AUTHOR: Andrew S. Grove
Motivation vs. Engagement
While helpful, employee motivation strategies can only go so far: Short-term changes in motivation are bound to happen in any organization. According to Paul Marciano, the author of Carrots and Sticks Don’t Work, engagement can help buffer against motivational slumps, like time pressure and equipment failures.
Engagement is an intrinsic, deep-rooted commitment to the job, organization, team, manager, and customer. Engaged employees work hard for the sake of the organization and because they feel fulfilled.To picture the difference between engagement and motivation, imagine that a team is working to meet a deadline. An equipment failure makes it impossible to meet the goal. Do they keep soldiering on trying to achieve the most, or do they give up? Engaged people do the first, motivated the second.
Surveys of engaged employees show these factors improve engagement in the workplace:
- Mutual respect with employer and supervisor
- Trust from supervisor and lack of micromanagement
- Feeling of impact within the company and outside
- Positive recognition for work and a sense that the company values their work
- Potential for growth
- Clear objectives
In contrast, these factors lower engagement in the workplace:
- A selfish, untrustworthy manager that takes credit for work
- Unrealistic expectations
- Lack of coaching and feedback
- Managers that don’t deserve respect
- Lack of value signaling, from not saying hello to compliments
- Doing work that doesn’t seem to add value
- Lack of vision of company direction
TITLE: Carrots and Sticks Don't Work
AUTHOR: Paul Marciano
The financial approach to motivation is only effective up to a point. Without sufficient financial incentives, people won’t treat their work seriously. To keep employees motivated, leaders must look past incentives and toward self–actualization.
If you enjoyed our article about employee motivation strategies, check out the following suggestions for further reading:
In this manifesto, author Cal Newport considers the question: What makes people love their work? Drawing on interviews with professionals, performance science, case studies, and experimentation with strategies in his own career, Newport discovered that the popular recommendation to follow your passion is very much not the path to loving your work.
In Nine Lies About Work, Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall argue that many of our workplace norms and practices are flawed. As a result, a majority of workers aren’t engaged at work and productivity growth is lagging. Thus, these typical practices prevent people and organizations from flourishing. To build thriving organizations, they assert that today’s leader should be a freethinking leader, one who questions established systems and beliefs and who values individuality over conformity.
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