What Is Employee Motivation?

How Does an Employer Encourage Motivation?

Businesswomen working in office
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Want to encourage and inspire motivation? You need to know what motivation is - really.

Motivation is an employee's intrinsic enthusiasm about and drive to accomplish activities related to work. Motivation is that internal drive that causes an individual to decide to take action.

An individual's motivation is influenced by biological, intellectual, social and emotional factors. As such, motivation is a complex, not easily defined, intrinsic driving force that can also be influenced by external factors.

Every person is motivated. Every employee has activities, events, people, and goals in his or her life that he or she finds motivating. So, motivation about some aspect of life exists in each person's consciousness and actions.

How to Encourage Motivation at Work

The trick for employers is to figure out how to inspire employee motivation at work. To create a work environment in which an employee is motivated about work involves both intrinsically satisfying and extrinsically encouraging factors.

Employee motivation is the combination of fulfilling the employee's needs and expectations from work and the workplace factors that enable employee motivation - or not. These variables make motivating employees challenging.

Employers understand that they need to provide a work environment that creates motivation in people. But, many employers fail to understand the significance of motivation in accomplishing their mission and vision.

Even when they understand the importance of motivation, they lack the skill and knowledge to provide a work environment that fosters employee motivation.

Too often, organizations fail to pay attention to the employee relations, communication, recognition, and involvement issues that are most important to people.

Here are thoughts about encouraging and inspiring employee motivation at work.

10 Factors to Encourage Motivation

These are some of the factors that are present in a work environment that many employees find motivating. Following, I'll cover two of the ideas in depth: minimize rules and policies and employee involvement.

Minimize Rules and Policies for Employee Motivation

The first step in creating a motivating work environment is to stop taking actions that are guaranteed to demotivate people.

Identify and take the actions that will motivate people. It’s a balancing act.

Employers walk a fine line between meeting the needs of the organization and its customers and meeting the needs of its internal staff. Do both well and thrive.

An attention-getting Gallup Poll about disengaged employees was highlighted in the Wall Street Journal. Gallup found 19% of 1,000 people interviewed actively disengaged at work. These workers complain that they don't have the tools they need to do their jobs. They don't know what is expected of them. Their bosses don't listen to them.

Based on these interviews and survey data from its consulting practice, Gallup says actively disengaged workers cost employers $292 billion to $355 billion a year. Furthermore, Gallup concluded that disengaged workers miss more days of work and are less loyal to employers. With this in mind, let’s look at a couple of areas in which balance is critically needed for employee motivation in organizations today.

Rules and Policies

Want to be a cop? That’s how some supervisors feel in organizations that operate on the assumption that people are untrustworthy. You’ve seen the company handbooks that list pages and pages of rules. Step out of line?

Fifty-seven potential infractions, with resultant punishment, are listed on page 74. Need time off for your grandma’s funeral? You get three paid days off to travel 600 miles. Have a question? We have answers. In fact, we’ve got policies that answer almost every question.

Supervisory discretion? What’s that? We’ve got employees who, left to their own devices, will choose to do bad things. You can’t trust supervisors to treat employees fairly and consistently either.

John in accounting is a softy. People who work for him get away with anything, everything. If you work for Beth in  sales, however, you can count on the rulebook guiding every decision.

Sound familiar? I‘ve heard these reasons and many more to justify the need for hundreds of rules and policies in organizations.

Guidelines for a Motivating Work Environment

Helpful Hints for Employee Motivation about Policies

  • Solicit employee feedback on potential policies, areas in which policies are needed, and so on. (Do not, as one company did recently, announce a new attendance policy by posting it on a bulletin board.)
  • If you decide to adhere to and hold employees accountable for an existing policy, don’t ambush your company members. If you have not enforced the policy in the past, meet with employees and explain the policy, the intent of the policy, why the policy is necessary, and why it was not enforced in the past. Then, tell everyone that following the meeting, everyone is accountable for adherence to the policy.
  • You’ll be surprised how much support for legitimate policies and rules you'll receive from the people in your organization. People like a well-organized workplace in which expectations are clear. People thrive in a workplace in which all employees live by the same rules.

If you create an environment that is viewed as fair and consistent, you give people little to push against. You open up a space in which people are focused on contribution and productive activities rather than gossip, unrest, and unhappiness. Which workplace would you choose?

Involve People to Inspire Employee Motivation

In one university department, a committee of ten people met for several months and then recommended space use to their dean. He had formed the committee, provided guidelines, and requested their feedback.

Talking to a  committee member several months after they submitted their recommendations, I was informed they had never received any feedback about their work.

They had repeatedly asked for feedback and decisions but received none. They felt as if their recommendations had gone into a dark hole, never to be seen again. Demotivated? You bet. These staff members are loath to volunteer for another committee in the future, as well. Fool me once, poor me; fool me twice …

Most people want involvement in decisions that affect their work. Some may not want the final accountability. Ask why. Have people been punished for decisions they made in the past?

Have organization leaders provided the time, tools, and information needed to make good decisions? Or have people made decisions that were over-ridden by their managers?

Does the clear expectation for employee involvement exist in your workplace? Are the people who make decisions and contribute ideas rewarded and recognized? These are critical questions if you want involved, motivated employees.

Make Employee Involvement a Plus in Employee Motivation

Too often employee involvement is a bad word. People think of employee involvement as something that is done aside from their real work in your organization. The best employee involvement does not require teams, special committees, and suggestion boxes.

It is the expectation that people are competent to make decisions about their work every single day on the job. Teams and committees allow broad participation from all people who may own a particular work process or procedure. They are not the backbone of employee involvement in your organization.

Use these tips to create a work environment that emphasizes employee motivation through employee involvement.

  • Express the expectation that people make decisions that will improve their work.
  • Reward and recognize the people who make decisions about and improvements in their work as heroes.
  • Make certain employees know and understand your organization's mission, vision, values, goals, and guidelines so they can funnel their involvement in appropriate directions. Education, communication, measurement feedback and coaching keep employee involvement from becoming a free-for-all.
  • Never punish a thoughtful decision. You can coach and counsel and provide training and information following the decision. Don’t undermine the employee’s confidence that you are truly supportive of her involvement.
  • If you are a supervisor and people come to you continually to ask permission and receive instructions about their work, ask yourself this question. What am I doing that makes people believe they must come to me for each decision or permission? You are probably communicating a mixed message which confuses people about your real intentions.

    When an employee comes to you, ask him what he thinks he should do in the situation. Assuming his response is reasonable, tell him his approach sounds fine and that he doesn’t need to consult with you about this type of decision in the future.

    If you can assist the employee to find a better answer, act as a consultant without taking the monkey onto your own shoulders. You will reinforce his belief in his own decision making ability. You also reinforce his belief that you are telling the truth about trusting his competency.
  • If you see an employee embark on a course of action you know will fail or cause a problem for a customer, intervene as a coach. Ask good questions that help the individual find a better approach. Never allow a person to fail to teach her a lesson.

Helpful Hints

  • If you already know what you will do in a particular situation, don’t solicit ideas and feedback. You insult your employees, create an atmosphere of distrust, and guarantee unrest, unhappiness, and low motivation in your workplace.

    If you are genuinely open to ideas and feedback, your employees will know. It is not so much what you say as what you do that communicates your wishes and intentions to them.
  • If you are not open to feedback, step back and ask yourself, "Why?" Almost any decision is improved with feedback and input. Even more importantly, the people who have to live with or implement the decision will own the decision. This ownership creates motivation and channels energy in the directions that will help your organization succeed.
  • Examine your beliefs about people. The majority of people do not get up in the morning and come to work with the intention of causing problems. How many people do you know who want to go home at the end of a work day feeling as if they failed all day? Not many, if any.

    When you experience a problem at work, ask yourself the Dr. W. Edwards Deming-attributed question, “What about the work system caused this person to fail?” You'll be happy you took this approach when employees solve problems rather than pointing fingers and placing blame.

I’ve covered two critical aspects of creating a work environment in which people will choose to contribute and succeed. Workplaces that are successful in fostering employee motivation strike a balance between needed policies and rule overkill.

They create the expectation for employee involvement. They give employees control over decisions that affect their work without turning the workplace into a free-for-all.

These work environments are perceived as fair and structured just enough for perceived emotional safety. At the same time, your more courageous employees feel unfettered and encouraged in their efforts to make a difference. Set them free.

Remove the barriers that discourage workplace motivation. Consequent actions and motivation displayed by ordinary people will amaze and gratify you. Can it get any better than this?

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