Motivation in the Workplace - Solving the Age-Old Problem of Engagement (Part 1)

Let's take a deep-dive into what researchers believe workplace motivation is and how to achieve it from a management perspective.

Motivation in the Workplace - Solving the Age-Old Problem of Engagement (Part 1)

The ultimate success of any business depends on the ability of leadership, management, and employees to create a motivating environment in which people are willing to put forth their best effort. However, it is often a challenge for the leadership to keep employees motivated and satisfied.

Understanding that all people are motivated differently is key to ensuring that techniques of sustaining or increasing motivation need to be varied. There is no one-size-fits-all. Moreover, a combination of approaches is needed to supplement each other and continue the momentum of workforce motivation.

Motivating an entire workforce is not easy. It is not for the faint of heart. It requires lots of effort every day, even when your own motivation is lacking. But, if you are persistent, if you keep the goal in sight and keep moving forward, you will inspire those around you and drive the entire organization to become its absolute best possible version of itself… which is really the pinnacle achievement of business.

Why Motivation?

What is motivation and why is it important? Simply put, *motivation is the combination of variables that lead someone to act on a situation and 'get the job done'. The more motivated an employee is, the more likely they are to have organizational commitment and identify themselves with the underlying goals of the organization.* Commitment towards goals, of course, equals better performance on tasks at all levels.

The more we strive and push ourselves towards success, the more easily motivation and its resulting successes become. It is a circular effect: Motivation, hard work, inspiration of others, success, repeat.

The goal of this series is to look into the key drivers of motivation in order to understand what we can do as leaders to influence the best possible outcome for our people and for our organizations.

Theories on Motivation

As a topic, motivation has long been studied in many forms by psychologists, coaches, health care professionals, business leaders and governments. Understanding how to get people to willingly and quickly accomplish the goals set for them comes down to more than just leadership. Sure, at the end of the day, the leaders are responsible for driving outcomes… but even great leaders will be hard pressed to accomplish this if employees are dragging their feet. So, let's look at a few theories:

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

In this pyramid-shaped theory, Maslow suggests that everyone has needs that must be met before other needs can be met, starting from basic needs and continuing on to professional development.

Motivation in the Workplace - Solving the Age-Old Problem of Engagement (Part 1)

  • Stage 1 - Physiological needs. These are the basic needs that are to be met in order to survive, including food, water, clothing, sleep, and shelter. In the workplace, this still applies. Tired, hungry employees are not going to be performing at 100%. While everyone is an adult and responsible for eating well, sleeping, etc. keep in mind that the workplace also has a major impact on these areas.
  • Stage 2 - Security. There is stability and safety from danger in the surroundings. Note: in the workplace, this includes basic insurance packages, retirement pension, and so on. Your employees will not be highly motivated if they do not have (at a minimum) basic health, family, and retirement needs covered.
  • Stage 3 -  Affiliation. The need to feel a sense of connectedness and belonging (even love). In the workplace, this refers ensuring that there is a foundation of teamwork. If people do not feel like they fit in with their team, there will be conflicts and severe lack of motivation.
  • Stage 4 -  Esteem. This is how we view ourselves and believe we are viewed by the outside world, including co-workers. This stage includes feelings of self worth and also the need for respect from others. This is deifintely management territory, so be sure to recognize achievements, celebrate success and thank your people for their contributions to successful performance.
  • Stage 5 - Self actualization. At this level, the person's talents are being completely utilized. Maslow believes that we can always continue to improve. In the workplace, be sure to encourage self development in as many ways as possible. Continuous learning and continuous improvement are the keys to having highly motivated employees.

Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation

Generally speaking, motivation either comes from within the person themselves (intrinsic) or as some outside incentive (extrinsic). In the workplace, it's very important to have a combination of both, although research proves that intrinsic (the desire to succeed because I want to) is most important. However, both motivations are fueled by each other.

Motivation in the Workplace - Solving the Age-Old Problem of Engagement (Part 1)

  • Extrinsic Motivation - Some outward reward, benefit or incentive is involved. This includes money and cash bonuses, gifts, time off, awards, and more. Generally, it is anything you can do to influence the motivation of another person.

Here are some examples of effective extrinsic motivators in the workplace: cash rewards, personalized gifts, individual awards such as plaques or certificates, team awards such as a group outing or team trophy, time off for personal use (whether a few hours or whole day, everyone appreciates time off), and of course personal recognition such as a pat on the back or simple 'thank you' really goes a long way.

  • Intrinsic motivation - Completing the task results in enjoyment or fun and sparks from an inner desire. This inner motivation usually comes from one of several sources: a clearly defined purpose, autonomy to make meaningful choices with direct outcomes, competence to become more effective at mastering tasks, and connection to others which provides feedback and support loops from peers.

Intrinsic motivation is usually considered the most powerful for of motivation, since it rises from internal desire to succeed rather than from the desire to receive a reward. However, this is clearly difficult since many people work a job in order to put food on the table. Admittedly, we all wish we were fulfilling our inner childhood desire, chasing our biggest dreams and only making money as a side benefit… but that's not always the case.

However, by stimulating a person's motivations for personal development, income, fun atmosphere and strong work culture, it is absolutely possible to build intrinsic motivation towards a job over time (I love my colleagues and have fun at work, therefore I become emotionally committed to my workplace and team).

Everyone is motivated differently and taking the time to get on a personal level to understand the motivations of each person within your team is a key component of building trust, confidence, and motivation.

Self-Determination Theory

Self-Determination Theory (SDT) primarily looks at the intrinsic motivators that lead people to strive for success. Specifically, it attempts to shed light on why people are driven by a need to grow and gain fulfilment. In other words, what is it that drives us as a human species continuously forward in the pursuit of new endeavours?

Within SDT, there are 3 core areas that lead to psychological growth. When each of these are fulfilled, people begin to gain interest and as a result of that interest perform at higher levels of proficiency with more motivation. The 3 core areas are: Competence, Connection or Relatedness, and Autonomy.

Motivation in the Workplace - Solving the Age-Old Problem of Engagement (Part 1)

As a reminder, motivation does not become instant or automatic once these are fulfilled. Rather, a constant pursuit of each is necessary. Specifically, psychologists Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, who developed the theory, find that 'offering unexpected positive encouragement and feedback on a person's performance on a task can increase intrinsic motivation. Why? Because such feedback helps people to feel more competent, one of the key needs for personal growth.'

  • Competence - Similarly referred to as 'mastery', this refers to the level of ability at which someone can complete a task. The more proficient you are at something, the more likely you are to enjoy doing it. Humans have an innate desire to master skills; we are never content with 'average', especially when it comes to the things we enjoy doing. Ultimately, a high degree of competence allows us to achieve a state of 'flow', in which we breeze through tasks easily due to repetition.

  • Connection - How well we connect with those around us has a great impact on how interested we are in completing a task. The shared sense of purpose or teamwork drives a commitment between us to achieve goals. Similarly, support from peers and positive feedback allows us to develop our self-identity and gain confidence in the way that we view ourselves and the way that we believe we are viewed by the outside world. Therefore, we drive much of our meaning from connectedness.

  • Autonomy - The ability to complete tasks in our own way is very important to taking on a sense of ownership. That sense of ownership is, of course, in turn directly correlated to the amount of effort we put into the project. Micromangement is often cited as a core cause of workplace demotivation. Instead, hire people whom you trust and allow them to use their own creative spark to get the job done. Self-direction is the best method for increasing engagement, creativity (innovation) and thus motivation.

For a deeper look into Self-Determination Theory and Motivational techniques, check this awesome video from Daniel Pink's talk at the RSA:

Our latest blog posts

Go to Blog overview
Go to Blog overview

Get the Latest Sales Trends
Delivered to Your Inbox Every week!

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

This is the closer. If you’re not convinced yet, no coffee for us.

Give us some details, not too much, not too little, just enough to talk to you about our results, company and what we believe in.

Reviewed Favorably By Industry Experts

Leader - Winter 2023
Most Implementable - Winter 2023
High Performer - Winter 2023