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EMPLOYEE MOTIVATION: Four Key Factors to Motivate /Re-engage Staff In a Recession

One mistake that we make as managers and leaders is to believe that people are not motivated. People are always motivated, just not necessarily in the manner we want them to be. Take, for instance, the person who does just enough on the job to get by. We might look at the behavior and think this person is NOT motivated. Now, let’s add the twist:  this person does just enough because he/she has realized that everyone gets the same pay raise regardless of the quantity of the work. The person is motivated to do “just enough.”  Or what about the person who does less, but who is striving for perfection which requires a slower pace and lower output? Again, the person is motivated to go slow.

So, what are some of the things we need to know about motivation? Every time I train on motivation, I ask people to write on one side of an index card the things that motivate them on the job and on the opposite side the things that de-motivate them. Then I ask them if the lists are different or just opposites. No, they suggest, the lists are different. Precisely. The things that motivate us on the job are different from the things that de-motivate us. Frederick Herzberg’s work on motivation suggested that the motivators (what he called growth factors) are predominantly associated with job content or achievement, such as challenging work, feeling valued, the satisfaction from completing difficult tasks, being given responsibility and the freedom to do the job as one sees best. On the other hand, the de-motivators (hygiene factors) are associated with the job environment:  difficulties with supervisor/manager, stressful interpersonal relations, limited choice, lack of salary/rewards, repetitive work, and job insecurity, upset over company policy. The importance of this insight must not be missed. Eliminating or reducing the de-motivators will not motivate someone; it will simply reduce the person’s degree of de-motivation. It brings that person back to ground zero — it doesn’t actually propel them to succeed. What does motivate people are their job content and/or job achievement opportunities. When Herzberg explained the reasoning behind this insight, he suggested that improvement in the de-motivators does not excite people (motivate them) because they believe the factor should have been there all along. Think about it. Don’t we all believe we should work for reasonable, effective supervisors, get paid what we’re worth and not have to deal with a co-worker who is being obnoxious? 

All of this leads to the question:  “What can we do as leaders and managers to create an environment where people are motivated?” Again, let’s turn to Herzberg. He suggested four key factors that motivate. First is competence: the importance of the person knowing how to do the job well. The second is choice: does the person have the freedom or autonomy to do the job and make decisions as he/she sees best? The third is meaningfulness: does the person see why doing the job is important and how it fits into the bigger picture? This factor is critical when people have repetitive work that requires a high degree of accuracy. And the final factor is progress: do we feel like we’re getting somewhere? If we complete one mound of work, only to have it replaced with another mound of work, it feels like nothing ever gets accomplished.

Herzberg commented that if we were to spend time and energy developing these areas of people’s jobs, we would need to spend far less on the job environment factors (pay, physical space, equipment) that really don’t serve to motivate.

During this time of huge layoffs and job loss in the workplace, there are many de-motivating factors present: loss of co-workers, piles of additional work, tense environment and stressed-out managers. Is there something we can do that will help those who still have jobs but are feeling terrible? Focus — not on eliminating the de-motivators — but on building the motivators: competence, choice, meaningfulness and progress.

  • I have found the best thing to do is be human, be open to employees fears and concerns. Talk to them frankly about the business and what can be done to help. Be available and be approachable.

  • I have found that employees are motivated by getting them involved in a project, decision making, asking them to help develop training programs, etc. It is really enlightening to watch how they perform when they are asked to create something around the work that they do. You will find that they are very proud of their work and truly want to participate in whatever task you are involving them in. This really hits home with the 3rd item in Herzberg’s work which is meaningfulness. Employees begin to take a more active role when they see how meaningful their work truly is, especially when being asked to develop training content on their job, then they see just how important their role is in the organization. Here they also see a sense of accomplishment/progress when they see others learning.

  • I read the NDC blogger with interest as the undertone is one of optimism and empowerment. The tactics and tools are impactful! I appreciate this space for the reminder it serves to me to be emotionally intelligent while giving my ‘sensor producer style’ just the right amount of freedom to get things done well.

    Two independent thoughts come to mind upon reading the most recent blog.

    The first relates to building motivators. As I reflect on the motivators, especially in light of the changes many organizations are undergoing, it highlights for me that building the motivators is an ongoing process. For example, an individual’s competency level and degree of choice will evolve when placed in a new role, engaged in a new project, or takes on new responsibilities. During transition periods when organization strategy and priorities evolve, we may have to reiterate the meaning each person’s competencies and performance contribute to the new strategy. Take away: Time and energy spent in ongoing maintenance and building of motivators is well spent.

    The second thought that enters my mind upon reading the blog is relevant to choice. I feel our perception and response to level of choice is rooted in our personal values and philosophy. Our organization is currently undergoing Transformation. We do not yet know what changes will be coming but we do know that change is imminent. We will not been given the choice about what changes will occur but we do have the opportunity to choose how we will respond in advance, during and after the change. Perhaps as leaders we have the opportunity to help people recognize we all have choice – it just may not be the initial choice we were contemplating.

  • I really enjoyed this article and found it professional and helpful. It serves as a great reminder that “meaningfulness” is critical to motivation. As an executive coach and change implementation consultant, I find that the most motivating component of meaningfulness is facilitated at the individual level of personal values. While I agree that it is important to help someone connect their contribution to the importance of the business, I believe that the main mechanism for doing that is to help someone link what is important to them to the impact that they can have on the business results. In other words, by going one step deeper in working with the individual into the realm of uncovering and acknowledging their personal values (e.g., quality of work, integrity, collaboration, innovation, etc.), you can help someone connect to the business in a way that may never have occurred to them in the first place. I believe that in addition to the other three factors mentioned, that facilitating this aspect of meaningfulness is one of the most impactful catalysts for personal motivation.

  • Great thoughts here. Today I was thinking about motivation in relationship with conflict resolution. How do we help managers become more motivated to surface and resolve workplace conflicts. Too many just allow conflicts to fester. Thoughts?

  • Hi all, thanks so much for your comments. I really appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts. I really want to create a community of leaders that toss around ideas, strategies and thoughts. Thanks.

  • Great post! I’ll subscribe right now wth my feedreader software!

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