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How to Keep Employees Motivated

Posted on March 2, 2021

How to Keep Employees Motivated

Figuring out how to motivate employees is one of the biggest challenges a manager can face.  Still, it is only complicated by the fact that motivation, but its very nature, is not a one-time deal. Instead, managers must constantly find new, more innovative, or more effective ways to inspire their team and reach company goals.

Motivation is also not a static endeavour. This means that as situations change and evolve, a team will require more or less persuasion to do their jobs. In best-case scenarios, for instance, the task itself is motivational.  In worst-case scenarios, a manager might need to motivate a team that is exhausted, frustrated, or overworked.

Perhaps a big job needs to be redone. Perhaps a team member is out sick, and others have to pick up the slack. No matter the situation, achieving motivational success will almost never involve the same strategy twice.

All Motivations Big and Small

Motivation is contextual to the point of being annoying. For instance, students who might avoid reading assignments like the plague may spend hours reading young adult fiction. Alternatively, a worker who can’t concentrate on their duties might spend days planning the perfect party for a retiring coworker.

Motivation, after all, can be defined as the processes that account for an individual’s intensity, direction, and persistence toward a goal.[1]G. P. Latham and C. C. Pinder, “Work Motivation Theory and Research at the Dawn of the Twenty-First Century,” Annual Review of Psychology 56 (2005): 485–516. … Continue reading That first word, ‘intensity,’ relates to how hard a person tries at any given time. Intensity is always a goal of people who seek to motivate. However, without ‘direction,’ an employee might focus that intensity on a task that is not particularly in line with company goals.

Then there’s ‘persistence.’ This measures how long an individual or team can keep up their intensity and direction. The lower this factor is, the more often the manager will need to go ‘back to the drawing board’ on motivation.

It is these three factors that form all motivation. This means that they are what must be manipulated if you want to encourage and inspire your teams. Of course, it takes practice and insight to know which factor needs to be manipulated, when, and by how much.

Motivation: Methods and Models

Some of the biggest brains in history have tasked themselves with developing new methodologies for motivation. After all, the economic, financial, and civil repercussions of proper motivation are nearly immeasurable. What is a business without a motivated workforce that generates products, goods, and services? Moreover, what is a society without people ready and willing to do jobs that benefit the rest of us?

Below, we’ll list some of the most well-established theories on motivation. From the old-fashioned to the ultra-modern, each of these represents another tool in a manager’s motivation playbook.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

American Psychologist Abraham Maslow posited that every human operates to satisfy a specific hierarchy of needs.[2]R. J. Taormina and J. H. Gao, “Maslow and the Motivation Hierarchy: Measuring Satisfaction of the Needs,” American Journal of Psychology 126, no. 2 (2013): 155–57. … Continue reading  As each category o need is satisfied, the next one becomes more dominant. In order, they are Physiological, Safety-Security, Belongingness, Esteem, and Self-Actualization.

Basically,  once our basic physical needs (hunger, thirst, shelter) are met, we seek to become safer from harm. We next seek out friendship and belonging, then self-respect and achievement. Lastly, once all other factors are safely in place, we can focus on achieving our true potential through self-actualization.

Managers have followed Maslow’s theories for decades, as they allow them to better empathize with and understand members of their team. And by knowing which part of the hierarchy they are on, they can best figure out strategies for motivating them.

The Two-Factor Theory

Frederick Herzberg was perhaps the first person to wonder, ‘what is it people want from their jobs?’ Through his experiments, he determined that factors that lead to job satisfaction are different from those that lead to job dissatisfaction.[3]K. Lee and J.-G. Choi, “Testing the Applicability of the Herzberg’s Motivation-Hygiene Theory to the Hotel Industry,” Korean Journal of Business Administration (2012): 2091–111. Therefore, in removing factors that contribute to the latter, managers can create a less stressful environment, but not necessarily a motivating one. But by emphasizing factors that nurture satisfaction, they can create a very positive force for persuasion.

McClelland’s Theory of Needs

David McClelland and his team were less focused on survival, as Maslow was, and instead looked at the factors that influence success. The first and most important of the three was the Need for Achievement, which describes our need to excel.[4]H. van Emmerick, W. L. Gardner, H. Wendt, et al., “Associations of Culture and Personality with McClelland’s Motives: A Cross-Cultural Study of Managers in 24 Countries,” Group and Organization … Continue reading

They discovered that high achievers perform best when the probability of success is around 50-50. [5]H. van Emmerick, W. L. Gardner, H. Wendt, et al., “Associations of Culture and Personality with McClelland’s Motives: A Cross-Cultural Study of Managers in 24 Countries,” Group and Organization … Continue reading When the odds are too low, they don’t recognize the task as a challenge. When they are too high, they see their success as deriving merely from chance.

For years now, managers in many industries have been using McClelland’s theory to influence job performance. Since jobs that have a high degree of personal responsibility and a median amount of risk are best for keeping high achievers motivated, managers tend to structure their assignments and job duties to nurture this sort of response.

Self-Determination Theory

This more-modern motivational theory states that people are happier when they feel that they are in control of their actions. Were a volunteer to suddenly be hired full-time for the same job, for instance, the fact that their tasks are now an obligation might actually make them enjoy them less.[6]R. Ryan and E. Deci, “Self-Determination Theory and the Facilitation of Intrinsic Motivation, Social Development, and Well-Being,” American Psychologist 55, no. 1 (2000): 68–78. … Continue reading

When employing this theory in practice, managers typically do so with regards to how they use rewards as motivators. For example, employees respond much better to intrinsic rewards (growth, recognition, self-esteem ) than extrinsic ones (bonuses, free lunches). The latter make their tasks feel coerced. In short: they make work too much like work.

Goal-Setting Theory

Developed by Edwin Locke, Goal-Setting theory assumes that both the specificity of goals and their difficulty drastically affect the employee’s end performance. Even this great performance can be enhanced, however, with proper feedback. [7]E. A. Locke and G. P. Latham, “New Directions in Goal-Setting Theory,” Current Directions in Psychological Science 15, no. 5 (2006):265–68. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8721.2006.00449.x

Ultimately, when someone is entrusted with a specific task with specific metrics, they will always perform better than someone assigned the same task who is told to merely ‘do their best.’ This is true regardless of the difficulty of the job, and – when combined with detailed feedback – can result in dramatically-extended motivation.

What This All Means for Managers

The theories outlined above represent just a few of the motivational concepts being utilized in the modern workplace. Though none of these is a ‘silver bullet’ for motivating either individuals or teams, they all help empower managers to make smarter, more employee-centric decisions when doing so.

A good example of how these theories all come together is the Job Characteristics Model (JCM). Designed by Greg Oldham and J. Richard Hackman, the JCM takes an abstract view of jobs by describing them in five different dimensions. [8]C. B. Gibson, J. L. Gibbs, T. L. Stanko,P. Tesluk, and S. G. Cohen, “Including the ‘I’ in Virtuality and Modern Job Design: Extending the Job Characteristics Model to Include the Moderating … Continue reading These are:

  • Skill Variety – This is the degree to which a job requires multiple talents rather than just a single, repetitive ability.
  • Task Identity – This is the degree to which a job results in the completion of something identifiable and whole. For instance, it would be like the difference between building cars and only building wheels.
  • Task Significance – This is the degree to which a job affects the lives or work of others. In essence, it relates to how important the results are in the ‘grand scheme.’
  • Autonomy – This is the degree to which a job allows for worker freedom and independence. As it decreases, worker satisfaction often does as well.
  • Feedback – Lastly, this is the degree to which a worker receives clear feedback on their performance. When detailed feedback is provided, it nurtures motivation regardless of whether the employee did the job well or poorly. [9]C. B. Gibson, J. L. Gibbs, T. L. Stanko,P. Tesluk, and S. G. Cohen, “Including the ‘I’ in Virtuality and Modern Job Design: Extending the Job Characteristics Model to Include the Moderating … Continue reading

By understanding all of these factors and how they combine to create a motivational work environment, managers can help generate tasks and positions that have an intrinsic sense of value. When jobs have value of this kind, they are effectively self-motivating – which means they ultimately require far less supervision and encouragement from management.

Conclusion

The final word on keeping your employees motivated? Try to introduce a maximum amount of skill variety, task identity, task significance, autonomy, and feedback into their assignments and role. Doing this while also attempting to understand the psychological drives behind motivation itself is the only way to set your team, your employees, and your company up for long-term success.

Before you leave, I am a certified counsellor and coach based in Sydney, Australia. I offer workplace coaching and executive coaching services to help businesses create energising and productive working environments. I can organise different team-building activities, deliver speeches on various topics and facilitate conflict resolution. With 7+ years of formal education under my belt, I am sure that I can help you improve your workplace environment so that your employees can feel more motivated. Click here to find out more about my solutions for businesses.

References

References

References
1 G. P. Latham and C. C. Pinder, “Work Motivation Theory and Research at the Dawn of the Twenty-First Century,” Annual Review of Psychology 56 (2005): 485–516. http://dx.doi.org/10.1146/annurev.psych.55.090902.142105
2 R. J. Taormina and J. H. Gao, “Maslow and the Motivation Hierarchy: Measuring Satisfaction of the Needs,” American Journal of Psychology 126, no. 2 (2013): 155–57. https://doi.org/10.5406/amerjpsyc.126.2.0155
3 K. Lee and J.-G. Choi, “Testing the Applicability of the Herzberg’s Motivation-Hygiene Theory to the Hotel Industry,” Korean Journal of Business Administration (2012): 2091–111.
4, 5 H. van Emmerick, W. L. Gardner, H. Wendt, et al., “Associations of Culture and Personality with McClelland’s Motives: A Cross-Cultural Study of Managers in 24 Countries,” Group and Organization Management 35, no. 3 (2010): 329–67. https://doi.org/10.1177/1059601110370782
6 R. Ryan and E. Deci, “Self-Determination Theory and the Facilitation of Intrinsic Motivation, Social Development, and Well-Being,” American Psychologist 55, no. 1 (2000): 68–78. https://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.55.1.68
7 E. A. Locke and G. P. Latham, “New Directions in Goal-Setting Theory,” Current Directions in Psychological Science 15, no. 5 (2006):265–68. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8721.2006.00449.x
8, 9 C. B. Gibson, J. L. Gibbs, T. L. Stanko,P. Tesluk, and S. G. Cohen, “Including the ‘I’ in Virtuality and Modern Job Design: Extending the Job Characteristics Model to Include the Moderating Effect of Individual Experiences of Electronic Dependence and Copresence,” Organization Science 22, no. 6 (2011): 1481–99. https://doi.org/10.1287/orsc.1100.0586

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