Possessing the Means to Motivate

I’ll take the mid-range market salary, the pension, and the gold watch please.

Employee motivation and needs looked a lot different twenty or thirty years ago.  Many employees signed on with an organization simply for a fair wage and good benefits.  They may or may not have liked their boss.  There were probably a few semi-close friends at the office.  (I’m not sure I know you well enough to help you move; that’s a pretty big commitment.)  The work was tolerable, conditions acceptable, and the culture consistently inconsistent.  Short of the organization going bankrupt or relocating more than an hour away from its current location, many considered this a good situation in which to be a part. 

Fast forward to 2021.  Wage fairness is now heavily debated across gender and race.  The cost of benefits is surging.  Offices are designed for both collaboration and seclusion (i.e., meditation, mindfulness).  Other organizations have sold, downsized, or resisted the urge to buy/lease commercial property due to the push to work from home.  A significant number of employees are leaving organizations that don’t offer challenging or purposeful work.  And healthy cultures, including meaningful relationships with one’s boss, are essential to many employees. 

So where should an organization focus its efforts when it comes to motivation?  The shiny, new, energy-efficient building?  Purposeful work?  Creating powerful relationships between supervisors and employees?  Yes, yes, and yes.  The lesson here is not to determine which form of motivation is most prevalent, but rather to understand that today many more are present. 

Just as consumers require value, choice, and same-day, real-time satisfaction, leaders need to be aware that the same holds true when their organization earns someone’s employment.  Isn’t earn a little arrogant?  Not if you know where current turnover rates and costs stand, as well as how many jobs the average person will hold over his or her career.  (More than ten if you don’t feel like Googling it.) 

Suffice it to say, leaders won’t motivate or retain everyone.  This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.  While you may not be able to offer the highest salary in your market or the green building with the rooftop garden, you already possess many of the tools you need to motivate, and hopefully to engage and retain, your staff.  Let’s take a closer look at these tools. 

Newfound motivational awareness

If you are reading this article, you’re already ahead of the game.  Many leaders aren’t aware of the various forms of motivation outlined above.  They continue to operate in manner which fails to take into account evolutionary changes in employee motivation.  Throwing money at the problem is typically a short-term solution as more and more research is beginning to show that money is not the motivator it once was.  Furthermore, those employees who are motivated by money are less inclined to work as a team or simply engage with others.  Financial motivation can bring about a singular focus which puts the wants and needs of others or the organization far behind one’s own. 

Ability to make ongoing discussion a priority

While this article may not be able to pinpoint exactly how to motivate each and every one of your employees, this shouldn’t prevent you from holding conversations with them.  The more you learn about your employees through regular dialogue, the more their motivations should come to light.  Take notice when they do.  Not getting the insight you were looking for?  Ask for it.  It’s hard enough to motivate others; it’s twice as hard when you don’t know the source of that motivation. 

Outspoken employees

In the past, employees may have kept their opinions to themselves over fear of retribution or termination.  Today’s workforce, though, is more vocal than ever.  They aren’t shy in speaking up when a culture is toxic.  The internet has made it very easy for employees to determine their value based on education, experience, skill set, and tenure.  If an employee isn’t receiving the appropriate value for their work or creating value in their efforts, leaders will hear about it.  Yet, even though bad news still travels faster than good, a vocal workforce can also be an advocate or affirmation when positive, effective motivation takes place.

Diverse workforce

With one of the most diverse workforces in history, you can’t apply a one-size-fits-all approach to motivation.  Different values, cultures, and beliefs can all translate into different forms of motivation.  The good news is that while some employees may require a significant amount of time and energy to be motivated, others may need far less.  Despite a trend for real time feedback and coaching, some employees are still content operating under the no-news-is-good-news philosophy.  Leaders should learn the differences between their employees in order to maximize not only their time, but their effectiveness as well. 

Ability to praise and recognize employees

One of the simplest and often ignored forms of motivation is praising employees and formally recognizing their work.  This doesn’t come at a great expenditure to the company or result in a significant loss of time, but it can be one of the most powerful motivators today.  Research has pinpointed a shift from more extrinsic motivation such as salary and benefits to more intrinsic motivation like increasing self-efficacy and performing meaningful/purposeful work.  Leaders are fully equipped to help employees see their worth through practices such as appropriate goal setting, continuous learning, and recognition.  Additionally, celebrating the achievement of goals can go a long way to ensure the performance continues. 

Motivation among today’s employees is as diverse as the workforce in which they belong.  Some are motivated financially, possibly to pay off student loan debt or support a family.  Others have decided it’s not about the money and want to be a part of something special and purposeful.  For them, it’s the people they serve and the difference they help to create.  Others still may simply want to know they are doing quality work and meeting expectations; that someone is watching – not with a critical, big-brother eye, but with interest and care.  The sooner a leader learns what motivates their employees, the sooner he or she can exact a plan for how to motivate them. 

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