Motivation at work

Motivation – or what makes us want to do things and keep doing things even when the going gets tough – has been well studied. What could be motivating you and how can you motivate others?

Business owners and managers realise that motivation is key to worker performance. It’s complex and various models have been suggested that may give us insights into how to motivate and how to feel motivated.

Maslow’s model is well quoted. He suggested that our basic needs have to be met first – so if we are thirsty because we have no water, we are very motivated to find some. Once those physiological needs are fulfilled, we progress up a hierarchy. So, next we need to feel safe and secure and at the next again level, we need love and social interaction. Thereafter, we need recognition and at the top of the pyramid we need to achieve self-actualisation (or the sense that we are reaching our own potential). So, you can praise someone as much as you like (recognition) but if they are not paid enough to eat (or don’t have time to eat) or are afraid at work, they are unlikely to feel motivated by your praise. It’s one reason why getting the basics like pay and safety right has to come first.

Herzberg divided work conditions into motivators – so respect, recognition and challenging work – and what he called hygiene factors. These hygiene factors are salary, status and benefits. Herzberg believed that people were not motivated by hygiene factors but they are demotivated if they are not present. In other words, if you get paid more, you won’t necessarily feel encouraged to work harder but if you are not paid enough you will be less likely to work hard as a result of reduced motivation. His view was that if people felt respected as an individual at work that would be motivating at any stage in their career.

More recently, Daniel Pink postulated that people’s motivations are largely influenced by mastery, autonomy and purpose. He suggests moving away from the carrot and stick approach of external rewards traditionally used by organisations and examining intrinsic motivations instead.  Mastery allows us to keep improving and helps us realise our potential is unlimited. Autonomy is about having control of what you do, when and with whom. Purpose is about how well we can relate to an organisation’s aims and objectives. If you find the work meaningful, you will work harder.

To put this into action Pink says we should be looking at collaboration and cross skilling in teams, having an open-door policy to discuss concerns without judgement and even allowing employees to spend 10% of their time working on a project of their own choice. His approach involves owners and managers releasing control and it therefore requires a real culture shift.

Perhaps there are some ideas here that you can relate to, that help you understand why you feel less motivated, or that you’d like to put into action with your team?

Motivation at Work