Employee Motivation

Employee motivation is a close relative of employee engagement. To make the most of your workforce’s skills and energy, you’ll need to optimize both. But even though they are similar, motivation and engagement require different approaches. 

What Is Employee Motivation?

Employee motivation is the drive that propels employees to put energy and thought into their tasks. A motivated employee has the willpower to work hard and remain dedicated. There are two types of motivation:

Intrinsic motivation

Intrinsic motivation is based on a “can-do” mentality. An employee with intrinsic motivation has a goal that they want to achieve, often regardless of external factors. For instance, an employee who runs a volunteer program at work simply because it gives them a sense of accomplishment is showing intrinsic motivation. Other reasons for intrinsic motivation include:

  • A desire to be part of the team
  • Enjoyment of being competitive
  • Identification with the culture and mission of the company
  • A strong work ethic  

Extrinsic motivation

Extrinsic motivation occurs when an employee is reaching for something that has been offered to them for good performance (positive motivation), or threatened in case of bad performance (negative motivation). The most common form of extrinsic motivation in the workplace is a desire to maintain or achieve good pay and conditions. Other types of extrinsic motivation include:

  • Recognition and rewards
  • Fear of punishment (e.g. criticism from the boss)
  • Leadership roles

Positive extrinsic motivation is only effective in the short term. For instance, you might give an employee a raise today, but in a few years, they will want another one. The use of negative extrinsic motivation is similarly practical only for limited periods of time. For example, threatening an employee with being fired if they don’t show a certain performance level can work for a while. But if that employee receives constant threats, they are likely to quit. 

Motivation vs. Engagement

In a phrase, engagement is what leads to motivation. Engagement can be defined as “the emotional connection between workers and their job, coworkers, and organization.” When an employee feels a strong connection to the workplace, they tend to develop the kinds of enthusiasm that characterize motivation. 

It can be the case that an employee shows up to work fully motivated, but they can lose that motivation if they don’t feel engaged. An employee on their first day of work might be very enthusiastic, even before they have any idea of how engaging their job is. But, if they have a negative experience, they will lose motivation rapidly.  

Enhancing Motivation

The strong link between motivation and engagement means that many of the initiatives that are meant to increase engagement will also apply to motivation. 

However, as described, internal motivation is generated by a certain mentality. This is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, if HR wants to maintain the internal motivation of employees, they simply need to meet the expectations that inspired their dedication in the first place. But on the other hand, especially in the case of unmotivated employees, discovering the factors behind their motivation can be a challenge because it is often a very personal issue.

To this end, HR can take various steps:

In-Depth Interviews and Relationships

Figuring out what really drives an individual employee borders on taking the role of a psychologist. But for a worker who is already motivated, you are actually discussing something that is positive about their attitude. 

The more difficult case is interviewing an employee who shows low motivation, especially when standard engagement programs don’t seem effective. Talking about what motivates them in their personal lives and/or previous jobs can help.

Another approach is to use the managers and leaders in the organization to do some digging. Managers often establish strong relationships with employees, and they might have ideas about the factors behind their staff’s behavior. 

Presentations and Role Modeling

In a way that is similar to reverse mentoring, highly motivated employees can be nominated to explain what makes them productive. This can be accomplished, for example, through presentations to coworkers, mention in a company newsletter, or after receiving an award. The goal here is to inspire other employees to model their attitudes and behavior after their motivated peers. 

Side Projects

A few major companies are famous for their practice of allowing employees to work on their own initiatives while getting paid for them. Google in particular is known for “20% time”, in which employees can spend one day a week developing their own professional ideas. For creative workers, this can be an excellent way to increase motivation and benefit the firm by inviting employees to present their concepts to a board of selection. 

The Big Picture   

Awareness of how an organization benefits society, or else does its job without harming society, is a powerful motivator for some. This is reflected, for example, in the high engagement rates of non-profit employees. Explaining a company’s mission – assuming it is based on a meaningful goal – can result in more employees feeling inspired and dedicated.  

Growthspace and Motivation

Dedicated employees have the drive to succeed, but do they have the skills? One way to defeat a motivated employee is to give them training that doesn’t match their professional needs. Without the right L&D courses, even top workers become frustrated because they aren’t being enabled by the very organization for which they are putting in so much effort. 

Growthspace is a platform that automates customized learning and development programs. It matches leading L&D specialists with employees who need an exact type of training, and not a one size fits all approach. With Growthspace, organizations of any scale can provide the skills that employees need to succeed and stay motivated.

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