Dos and Don’ts of Motivation- By Kristen Jennings, HR Innovator

    Paula Fulghum

    Motivation is a big issue in today’s workplaces. Employees end up in jobs that they are completely unmotivated to complete, leaving managers and supervisors struggling to maintain productivity. In motivational psychology, concepts of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation are examined. Extrinsic motivation comes from outside the individual: Rewards, incentives, and influences from the environment. Intrinsic motivation is the prime, all-star type of motivation. It is generated from within an individual. It is when an individual does some sort of behavior simply because they enjoy it or because it is meaningful to them. We see this a lot when artists or athletes go into a state where they lose track of time and become consumed in their work, because they love doing it. Not all jobs may be so consuming, so many managers may say, how do I get my employees to be motivated? The better question is: how do I create an environment where my employees will motivate themselves? Having employees that are motivated themselves will yield the most productivity! So how do you get your employees to feel intrinsically motivated? There is a lot of research on this.

    Research shows that people feel the most motivated when their psychological needs for competence and autonomy are met. So this means people are going to work best when they feel like they aren’t being controlled and feel they’re good at what they’re doing. Control verses autonomy is a major issue in some workplaces. For employees to feel self-motivated, they need to feel like they have some independence or control over their positions. Sometimes this isn’t possible to allow a lot of freedom in jobs, but anywhere choice can be given will benefit. Valuing employee’s input and giving choices makes them feel like they are more valued and have more independence. Anyone can think of a time where they simply did not want to do something because they felt very controlled. When your parents tell say you can’t do something “because I said so” or when you have a boss that seems to think you don’t have a mind of your own. It is incredibly frustrating to feel controlled, so trying to limit that as much as possible will be very motivating for employees. A real life example of the power of autonomy is with Google. They give their employees a certain amount of time each day to work on whatever projects they choose, and this is how Gmail came about. An employee being free to choose what they wanted to do, even for a short amount of time, led to significant accomplishments for this company!

    Making employees feel competent is another extremely important component of intrinsic motivation. It’s fairly simple to understand that when employees feel like they’re good at something, they will be more motivated towards such a task. This is where positive feedback becomes monumental. Giving employees unexpected, positive feedback is great for building intrinsic motivation. Making sure to let someone know that they’ve done a good job will satisfy their need for competence.  This can also make people feel more confident about their skills and more willing to step out of the box and be creative in their work. Rewards are another concept that is often relevant to competence. Rewards, unlike positive feedback, can be more risky. Rewards are great motivators, but are they the best type of motivators? No. Rewards, because they are external motivators, can undermine intrinsic motivation. People can start doing things simply for the rewards, like a pay check, and forget about the idea of doing something for the sheer enjoyment. For tasks that are naturally uninteresting, that are extraordinarily at odds for harnessing intrinsic motivation, rewards can be great. Of course, there is rarely a strong inner desire to do chores, file paperwork, or things of this nature. When there is no chance that someone is going to have this inner desire to do something because they enjoy it, rewards are very effective. So use pay increases, bonuses, and other such rewards for your employees, but be sure you’re not using such external motivators for tasks that could induce intrinsic motivation. When rewards are overused, or are the only motivator used, that’s when they become very risk.

    Something that can help encourage feelings of autonomy and competence is goal setting. Working with your employees to set specific goals of the optimal challenge is an excellent motivator. Well designed goals are good for building intrinsic motivation. But remember, they have to be good goals. By good, as mentioned earlier, goals have to be specific and of the optimal level of challenge. If goals are too broad they may be hard to really focus down on. If goals are too easy, where’s the challenge? It won’t be a motivator when someone feels the goals being set for them are easy, it undermines a person’s feelings of competence.  When goals are too hard, it is very easy for someone to get discouraged. So the optimal goal is challenging, but not too challenging. Goals also need to be suited to individuals. When goals are shaped to fit each individual and the individual is involved in setting their own goals, they feel more autonomous. Taking the time to work with individuals on goal-setting shows that you value their opinion and acknowledge their individual skills and characteristics.

    So all in all, motivation isn’t easy. However, taking steps to try to foster an environment that values individuality and acknowledges a job well done may very well lead to the happiest and most productive workers. When an environment encourages individuals to generate an inner joy in their work, employees start doing more work because they enjoy it instead of simply punching the clock to make a pay day.

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