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The reason a person acts or decides to behave in a certain way is usually down to motivation. Motivation itself is not visible. It is an internal process. Motivation is the driving force behind human actions that initiates, guides and maintains goal-oriented behaviours.

With over 18 million references to motivation on Google it is easy to become lost in the complexities of motivation. So what do you need to know about motivation at work?

The future is intrinsic motivation.

Work is an activity which someone undertakes to gain a benefit or achieve a purpose. Years ago, the majority of work consisted of tasks which needed to be undertaken (often physical e.g. ploughing).

Workers would be skilled in their task (e.g. a farrier) and this would become their profession. Workers would often get promoted to the role of manager or supervisor. Their task would be to ensure that all workers completed their tasks on time, on budget and to the required quality.

Think about a task you have completed at work recently. Did you feel a sense of accomplishment when you’d finished? Did you lose track of time as you were completing it? Or did you rush to complete it focusing on when you would be paid? Were you bored or uninterested when you completed the task? Depending on your responses will depend on whether you were intrinsically or extrinsically motivated.

Motivation is complex and many tasks fit into both extrinsic and intrinsic – if you would like to discuss motivation book a free 30-minute consultation here.

This image shows the two sides to motivation - extrinsic and intrinsic.

Everyone has basic needs.

Abraham Maslow designed the Hierarchy of Needs to explain motivation in the 1940’s and it is still helpful today – especially when at work. Think Organisation often works with clients to utilise individual, team and organisational hierarchy of need models to revolutionise employee engagement and productivity as part of our culture transformation projects. Have a look at the model below and ask yourself what are your needs at each of the different levels?

So often organisations focus on the higher needs, such as providing development opportunities, especially when the basic needs of a salary commensurate with the role are not being delivered. The other challenge is this model is unique for every employee, and employees will only share their true thoughts, feelings and motivations if they feel psychologically safe in their team.

Psychological Safety is key.

When an employee feels, and thinks, they are psychologically safe then they will share their true thoughts, ideas, feelings, concerns and suggestions. Psychological safety is multi-faceted and arises as a result of the experiences, reactions and behaviours of others. It is not something you can tell people to be. To understand your perception of psychological safety in your organisation our free measure.

Think about when someone at work, like your Manager, has asked you to explain what you think, or what you need. Have you felt safe being open and honest? Or have you said what you thought you should say? What fitted in with the expectations of what you should say? Humans need to feel like they belong so will often say things to help this, avoiding confrontation and conflict.

Authentic environment.

The environment is the conditions and surroundings in which a person lives or operates. It has a huge impact on how humans behave. Have you ever tried to tell someone to be motivated? The surroundings we find ourselves in impact our motivation. At times, our environment is a product of our motivations, effort and talents. Linked to the first few levels of the hierarchy of needs, humans have physical requirements such as warmth, shelter and somewhere to work effectively. At work, the environment needs to be authentic, stable and safe.

When this is not the case people’s motivations focus on creating a safe, stable environment they can influence or control. This often leads to negative behaviours as a result of the environment being inauthentic. Ken Blanchard (2013) designed a model where trust is created when people demonstrate competence (are able), act with integrity (are believable), care about others (are connected) and behave reliably (are dependable). In many ways, this applies to environments as well.

Clear purpose.

Many organisations focus on their purpose, investing significant sums in purpose identification, strategies and marketing communication plans to communicate it effectively. This builds on the need for an environment to be authentic. Without this focusing on purpose can be detrimental to businesses. History is plagued with scandals where people’s actions and behaviours have been misaligned to the publicly professed purpose of an organisation. People will know if there is any degree of misalignment and the depth and breadth of this can significantly impact the motivation of all employees.

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How does intrinsic motivation play a critical role in enhancing employee engagement and productivity at work, compared to extrinsic motivation?

Intrinsic motivation is pivotal in enhancing employee engagement and productivity because it stems from within the individual, driven by personal interest, enjoyment, and a sense of accomplishment in the work itself. Unlike extrinsic motivation, which relies on external rewards such as money, promotions, or recognition, intrinsic motivation fosters a deeper commitment to the task.

Employees who are intrinsically motivated are more likely to experience job satisfaction, exhibit creativity, and persist in the face of challenges. This internal drive encourages a more meaningful connection to their work, leading to sustained effort and higher-quality performance. In contrast, extrinsic motivators can sometimes undermine intrinsic interest, especially if overemphasised, potentially leading to reduced motivation once the external rewards are removed (e.g. bonuses).

What strategies can organisations implement to ensure psychological safety among employees, fostering an environment where they feel comfortable sharing their true thoughts and ideas?

Organisations can ensure psychological safety by implementing several key strategies that promote openness and trust. First, leaders should role model inclusive behaviour, actively listening to and valuing all employees’ input without judgement. Establishing clear communication channels and regular feedback loops allows employees to voice concerns and suggestions safely.

Experiential programmes on active listening and empathy can equip managers with the skills needed to foster a supportive atmosphere. Additionally, recognising and rewarding vulnerability and honest communication can reinforce a culture where employees feel safe to express their true thoughts. Creating diverse and inclusive teams also contributes to psychological safety, encouraging different perspectives. Addressing any instances of behaviour which are detrimental to psychological safety need to be dealt with swiftly and transparently. This helps maintain a respectful and trusting workplace environment.

How can organisations align their stated purpose and values with their employees’ experiences and the overall work environment to avoid misalignment and maintain high levels of motivation and trust?

Organisations can align their stated purpose and values with employees’ experiences by ensuring that their actions consistently reflect their professed ideals. This alignment starts with transparent and authentic leadership that exemplifies the company’s values in everyday decisions and interactions. Regularly communicating the organisation’s purpose and demonstrating how it translates into concrete policies and practices helps reinforce this alignment.

Involving employees in the development and refinement of the organisation’s mission can also foster a sense of ownership and connection and ensure authenticity. Once basic needs are met, opportunities for professional growth, recognising achievements that align with the individual’s values, and creating a supportive and inclusive work environment are crucial. By maintaining this alignment, organisations can build trust and help employees be motivated. In time, as employees see that their work contributes to a greater, consistent purpose, this enhances overall engagement and loyalty fourfold.

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