A better understanding of motivation is the key to a happier, and more productive, workplace – FE News

Posted: April 16, 2020 at 6:52 am

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Professor Richard Ryan, one of the worlds leading researchers on human motivation and the co-developer of Self-Determination Theory (SDT), believes the secret to a happier and more engaged workforce lies in understanding what really motivates us.

Simply put, fostering a culture where employees have clear career goals - and are motivated to achieve those goals - is critical for any company to retain and attract great talent. Employees are holding their employers to a higher standard, and if they dont feel valued in their place of work or feel their career growth is being stunted, the outcome is predictable: they will leave.

Understanding what motivates people, what really inspires us to leap out of bed in the morning, is fundamental to building a productive culture that employees really want to be a part of and to bringing out peoples best work.

What motivates us at work is fundamentally the same as what motivates us in most every other realm of our lives. Science tells us that motivating ourselves or others through external factors such as the threat of punishment or even the promise of a reward (i.e. the old carrot and stick tactic) is rarely effective or long-lasting.

The idea of supporting such internal motivation is at the core of Self-Determination Theory (SDT).

SDT can really be broken down into three basic needs that drive our intrinsic motivation and sense of willingness to put our best into our work:

Competence essentially boils down to feeling good at what we do - I think its fair to say we all want to feel effective in our jobs. We like to use our skills to make a contribution that feels meaningful and valued.

Relatedness refers to our need to feel connected to others around us, but this is balanced with our desire for autonomy - having a sense of ownership and control over both our day-to-day activities and our long-term career path.

Especially as a cofounder of MotivationWorks Inc., a company that consults on fostering employee engagement, Ive had the opportunity to work with a lot of human resource managers, so I appreciate that creating a culture around the idea of intrinsic motivation can be dauntingand its certainly a big switch from management approaches of the past.


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But I think a good place to start is just with compassion. Good leaders will listen to their employees, understand their viewpoint and have faith that they will do a great job if theyre just given the right conditions to do so.

Of course, every company has certain targets it needs to hit, but its important to remember that people arent machineswe arent motivated by KPIs. We need to feel like were working towards something meaningful and to understand why what were doing actually matters.

Its about encouraging commitment, not forcing compliance. Thats why managers have a responsibility to maintain an open dialogue within their own team, ensuring that every individual understands why certain demands are being made of them, listening to concerns when they arise, and showing a willingness to compromise whenever possible. Employees should never feel like theyre just another cog lost in the corporate wheel.

It almost goes without saying that people want to be paid well and rewarded for the work theyre doing. But actually, when you examine the reason behind that, its often because we feel the amount that were paid is a direct indication of how much were valued by our employer.

If were paid well, it tells us that our work is being recognized and that we matter to the company. But many companies now also offer their employees perks and benefitslike a free gym membershipand those generally fall under that extrinsic motivation category. Am I saying companies shouldnt use incentive systems? Not at all, theyre still a part of motivational design. But they do need to be leveraged in the right way so theyre not undermining peoples intrinsic motivation and commitment.

Rewards can really become an issue when they are too outcome-focused. Thats when they stop feeling supportive and start being experienced as another form of external control. The most common example of this is performance-related bonuses offered to employees when they achieve certain KPIs.

These can actually be very corrupting in a company because it encourages people to only focus on what theyre getting rewarded for and can even lead people to cheat or cut corners just to reach that end goal as fast as possible. It can also create a pretty unhealthy environment within teams, particularly if these rewards appear to be inequitable.

One thing we have discovered, however, is that when employees are dissatisfied with their compensation, its not always about the money. Its often a reflection of frustrations of autonomy, competence or relatedness on the job. When they are liking their work, compensation becomes less of a focus.

Consider rewards that offer opportunities for greater intrinsic satisfaction.

Also, rewards work best when they are perceived as fair and commensurate with ones contributions. A sense of inequity can undermine loyalty. Finally, good compensation packages also consider the whole of a persons contributions (rather than just a narrow set of outcomes). They increase a persons sense of being truly valued and appreciated for all their efforts.

Dr. Richard Ryan is Professor Emeritus in Psychology at the University of Rochester,a Professor at the Institute for Positive Psychology & Education at the Australian Catholic University, and co-founder of MotivationWorks, Inc. He's also the co-developer of Self-Determination Theory, one of the leading theories of human motivation.

Find out more about SDT and different strategies and styles for better motivation by enrolling in Dr. Ryan's free online course available on Courserahere.

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A better understanding of motivation is the key to a happier, and more productive, workplace - FE News

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April 16th, 2020 at 6:52 am

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