Resources – Working World Articles
By Barbara Bowes
Employee motivation — an individual’s internal drive to achieve a goal — is now one of the most studied areas of human resource management. Over the years, multiple theories have been put forward.
For instance, Maslow’s popular hierarchy of needs theory suggests that employees are motivated to first look after their physical needs, then their safety and social needs and finally, they are motivated to seek satisfaction for their own ego and self-gratification.
The Skinner theory, on the other hand, suggests that if an employee’s behaviour is positively reinforced, then this will lead to ongoing positive outcomes.
One of the older and common motivational strategies has been to reward employees by giving them money. In this case, employers would typically give bonuses for good work as well as increasing wages annually as much as the economy allowed. However, it is also well known that while employee motivation does initially increase, in most cases, the motivation is short lived. One reason for this might be that employees simply forget what their bonus was for and their motivation quietly slips away.
In my view, this type of financial reward system has simply taught employees to continually look for money as their only work reward. If an employee sees money, wealth and possessions as the driving values in life, then I doubt that any employer could ever make them happy.
However, most employers cannot afford to continue giving bonuses or increasing salaries if the economic situation in their industry sector cannot support it.
As well, if an organization has a well-structured compensation system, there are established salary scales set for each job based on the value of the job to the organization and the market rate for their industry and geography. To arbitrarily increase these salaries based on desires of employees rather than the value to the organization would create chaos. In this case, if salary doesn’t meet an individual’s needs, the employee should move on.
So, if money is not considered to be a lasting motivator, what alternative strategies are perceived to be effective for motivating today’s employee? Some of the following strategies have proven effective and can be given consideration for your organization.
A sense of achievement – Most employees are motivated by the desire to work in a goal-oriented organization where the work is challenging and employees can gain a sense of achievement by seeing concrete results.
Identity and purpose – As social beings, employees typically want to work for an organization where they feel a sense of belonging and can identify with the values of the organization. This is also known as cultural fit.
Interesting work – Employees want to be involved in interesting work that provides some variety rather than a job that quickly becomes too routine. Most employees seek work that involves their minds and requires thinking and personal involvement.
Team collaboration and reward – Employees enjoy a combination of team-based rewards where a portion of the individual reward is contingent on the group performance. Research suggests this appears to contribute to high employee performance as well as job satisfaction.
Making a difference – No matter what the nature of a job, most employees are motivated by the opportunity to make a difference and then sharing in the success when a goal is accomplished.
Effective leadership – Employees typically want to do their best and are motivated by leaders who support and back their workers and encourage them to do their best.
Goals and objectives – Employees will be motivated when they are fully aware of the goals and objectives of the organization and how their own job goals and objectives fit into the overall goals. The closer the connection, the more motivation the employee will demonstrate.
Input and involvement – Our work world is no longer the “do as I told you” environment. In fact, employees want their voices heard, especially if they have an idea for improving work processes and making their work more effective. Employee involvement and employee engagement is the key to success.
Opportunity for learning and advancement – Most employees look forward to learning new things and are motivated by having the opportunity to engage in professional development, especially if it represents an opportunity for advancement.
Balanced workload – A workload that is out of balance will soon burn your employees out. They will be stressed and overworked and will not only lose their motivation, they may very well quit. Pay attention to life/work balance.
Praise, praise, praise – Most employees don’t expect praise, but rewarding employees by praising employee contributions individually and collectively goes a long way toward helping employees stay motivated.
Tactful discipline – While it is inevitable that employees may make mistakes in their work, how the supervisor handles it will make a critical difference to sustaining employee motivation. Being tactful, sensitive and using a coaching, teaching model to correct work deficiencies is much more likely to increase motivation.
Positive interpersonal work relationships – Creating and sustaining a harmonious work environment where team relationships are positive and where conflict is minimal goes a long way toward maintaining employee motivation.
Job security – While I always say the only job security is one’s own skills, I know that employees continue to be motivated by working for an organization where they see that job security has potential. Once their physical security is looked after, employees can start focusing on other things. Thus, it’s important to introduce change slowly and carefully to avoid creating fear about job security.
Job enlargement/rotation – Increasing the variety of tasks in a job can also increase employee motivation. Adding new challenges creates new enthusiasm and renews interest. Cross training among employees is a good way to do this.
As you can see from the variety of motivational techniques described, there is simply no secret formula that will meet each individual’s personal needs. In fact, employee motivation is far from an exact science, yet I truly believe that employers should stay away from focusing on simply giving money as their only motivational technique. In my opinion, those employees whose prime motivation is money will never be loyal to your organization and will soon move on to the next highest paying job.
Barbara J. Bowes, FCHRP, CMC is president of Legacy Bowes Group. She is also host of the weekly Bowes Knows radio show and is the author of Resume Rescue and Taming the Workplace Tigers. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Learn more at www.barbarabowes.com.