Happy and engaged workers can support the success of a company and motivating employees is a key tenet of engagement. Yet, motivation is also a murky area and hard to gauge. Advice often runs the gamut of compensation to mentoring. While these are basic truths of human psychology, let’s dig a little deeper into the less obvious ways people are motivated.
A Sense of Ownership
Instilling a sense of ownership in their role and in the company can motivate. Traditional advice in this sphere often advocates for a compensation package tied to performance, yet studies have found that psychological ownership, a feeling of ownership, might be more important than financial motivation. How to achieve this feeling of ownership? An article on Forbes.com focused on two characteristics: autonomy and task ownership. With autonomy, employees use their own judgment to make decisions without input from above. In addition, managers who employ autonomy involve workers in decisions that directly affect their work life. Essentially, “autonomy” is the avoidance of the dreaded micro-management style. Trust employees and give them leeway to succeed. In task ownership, employees are involved in all aspects of a project or task – they are not simply performing one portion and not seeing the larger picture.
Defining an employee’s role and giving it context in the larger organization are other motivating factors. People like to know why they are doing something, and how the sometimes mundane parts of their job still matter in the grand scheme of things. Moreover, finding meaning and seeing progress in work are also essential components in motivating employees. In this TED talk, Duke psychology professor Dan Ariely talks about an experiment he did where he had participants build LEGO figures. Some of the participants were told their figures would be broken down later; other participants watched the figures broken down in front of them. The first group produced more figures than the second – it was more demoralizing to have their work literally broken down in front of them. Seeing that your work has an impact and acknowledging that impact is not only key to happier employees, but productive ones. In addition, a mentality of “we” and “together” can smooth the rough edges for workers who are struggling. Rather than something “you” or “I” have to fix, the method of collaboration can be extremely helpful in reenergizing a flagging morale.
Ultimately, all of these things amount to internal factors within the individual. The feeling of personal growth may be the most important part of motivation. From an article in Fast Company: “Motivation is much less about external prodding or stimulation, and much more about what’s inside of you and inside of your work.” According to Frederick Herzberg’s Theory of Motivation, people who find work interesting and challenging are more satisfied and have more incentive to achieve. Inspiring motivation among employees is complex and as unique as each individual. Yet, the striking similarity in human psychology is that we all want to be recognized, fulfilled, and inspired by our work.