Can you manage motivation in the workplace?

In an increasingly difficult business environment, a motivated and enthusiastic workforce represents both a competitive advantage and a strategic asset for your business.  Staff who are driven and committed are more productive, more effective and take on more responsibility than those who aren’t.  It seems that the happiest employees are those that feel they work for something more than just money – they work for a sense of purpose and personal satisfaction.

Small businesses potentially provide an ideal atmosphere for an engaged workforce.  Employees are able to see the results of their individual contribution in a much more immediate way than in a larger organisation.  A smaller business also allows for a greater connection to goals and strategy as well as a personal investment in the business’ success.  Besides contributing to your competitiveness and bottom line, motivated and capable staff result in you being able to relinquish some control and concentrate on bigger picture goals.


Motivation basics


Workplace motivation is a complex subject but one which is important for managers and business owners to understand. In this context, motivation can be thought of as the level of energy, commitment and creativity that your staff apply to their jobs.

Where does motivation come from? Why do some people show boundless enthusiasm for their work while others seem to simply be working for their pay cheque?

Put simply, employee motivation develops in one of two ways. Intrinsic motivation comes from within and drives action based upon inner goals and ambitions. Extrinsic motivation comes from external sources and drives action based on incentives or tangible rewards. Motivation can be thought of as a continuum with both factors at opposite ends and the balance tipping depending on the degree to which a person’s basic needs are being met.

According to Self-Determination Theory (SDT) [Doci & Ryan 1985, 2000] these basic needs are autonomy, competence and relatedness. Some experts suggest that a fourth need, a sense of progress, should also be included. These four psychological needs determine the amount of self-determination and self-motivation we have for particular aspects of our lives, and in this case for our work life. The more we attain these basic needs, the more our behaviour becomes self-determined or self-managed.

The intrinsically motivated employee – More value is placed on outcomes that are intangible and emotionally based such as; feeling capable, enjoying a challenge, boosting self-esteem, satisfaction with accomplishments, being appreciated, realising potential, being helpful and belonging.

The extrinsically motivated employee – Motivation is due to external and tangible rewards which may include; salary or what it might buy, fringe benefits, promotions and status, a nicer office or work environment, pay rises, performance bonuses, performance measures such as KPIs, fear of failure or punishment.


Can you manage motivation in the workplace?


According to SDT, yes you can and businesses that do reap the rewards of a high engagement culture. The main reasons people leave their jobs are disengagement, demotivation and lack of opportunity for advancement. Building an intrinsic rewards culture can improve staff turnover and make for a happier, more productive work place.

Intrinsic rewards therefore create a win-win effect for both employee and organisation. Despite these benefits, extrinsic and monetary rewards are widely thought of as the best method for engaging and retaining employees.

While many of us are quick to recognise the role of intrinsic motivation in our own behaviour, we sometimes underestimate this tendency in other people. Developing a high engagement culture begins with recognising how much intrinsic rewards are valued by your staff and adopting management techniques to cultivate and build on these behaviours.


Tips for creating a motivating workplace –


Recognition – (as opposed to rewards) is a great motivator and rarely used to maximum effect.


Feedback – employees who know where they stand feel more control over the stability of their jobs and the quality of their work. Taking the time to give regular feedback and constructive criticism creates an environment where employees feel they are able to improve their performance.


The sandwich approach – is a positive way of giving corrective feedback. Begin by mentioning something the employee is doing correctly (first slice of the bread) then offer a solution to change the behaviour that needs to change (filling) and then finish with a general positive comment (second slice of bread). The sandwich approach is a great communication tool because you let people know what they need to do, rather than telling them what not to do, and it creates an atmosphere of positivity.


Challenging work – employees who are challenged in a positive way become intrinsically motivated to push themselves to do their best.


Make it meaningful – feeling like the work is worth the time and energy spent doing it gives a strong sense of purpose and direction. Creating meaning can be as simple as contributing to a growing business, providing exceptional customer service or a fantastic product. Communicate your strategic plan to your employees, or better still, get them involved in developing it.


Empowerment – giving employees more responsibility and decision-making authority increases their realm of control over the tasks for which they are held responsible and better equips them to carry out those tasks.


Development – employees who are given the opportunity to expand their knowledge through professional development, training and seminars feel an increased sense of worth and confidence in their ability.


Show some love – feeling valued leads to increased levels of belonging and community. Employees who feel valued will correspondingly value their work.


Further help:

We often come across under-performing businesses where one of the biggest contributing factors is an under-performing team. Making your company a great place to work needn’t be learned the hard way – it can be built in small ways, every day.

Contact Marsh & Partners to find out how our business improvement consultants can help you to build a positive company culture – 07 3023 4800 or

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