Motivation is crucial for the successful existence of the business and the overall happiness of the team. It is a foundation for high employee engagement, staff retention, strengthens the reputation of the business and helps to attract better calibre employees.
But what is the exact recipe for motivation and how much of it is the responsibility of the management, and how much is of it depends on employees themselves?
First of all, it is important to realise, that some employees are already highly self-motivated individuals before they even enter the business, and ideally, we would want to recruit more of such individuals. This intrinsic motivation doesn’t come from external things, as those individuals know what they want and they are motivated just by the process of working towards it. They apply for the job because it is in line with their values, they enjoy and believe in what they do, and therefore will do their best even when no one is watching.
The other group of individuals might be motivated by other, external rewards, and therefore their motivation is extrinsic. They might be there only for money, certain bonuses or even for the flexibility that the workplace provides for them to do some other things outside of work that are more important.
As a manager, you cannot always control what kind of motivation an employee brings into the business, but it is important to distinguish those two categories because the behaviour of individuals will be very different. They will also have a very different expectation of what will happen (or won’t happen) when they do their job well.
With intrinsically motivated individuals, they enjoy what they do and believe in it – they want to be trusted, will take full ownership of their job role, will take on additional responsibilities and project even without being asked and will happily deal with challenges, naturally supervising others in the process. But they will also often expect to be noticed and appreciated for their efforts, so make sure it doesn’t go overlooked. Remember, those individuals are already highly motivated themselves, and research shows that by rewarding them with material gifts or financial incentives might do more harm than good. In this case, the more beneficial appreciation could be demonstrating to them the scale of the positive effect that their actions have on the overall business results, public recognition, or simply an honest thank you.
Rewarding highly-motivated individuals with material gifts or financial incentives can do more harm than good.
In contrast, extrinsically motivated individuals will need more supervision, and most likely they are not so driven by career prospects as the job serves them very different purpose. This doesn’t mean that they are NOT motivated, as it’s often interpreted by others – they are simply motivated by different things. If you want those members of your team to perform well, they must be rewarded when they do so and reprimanded when they don’t. Most likely they will need closer supervision and monitoring of the quality of standards, reminded of laws, policies and procedures and other regulatory requirements as well as the consequences for the organisation if they don’t follow the rules. However, given the right environment, they will happily be told what to do and follow guidance and specific instructions with great diligence, for as long as they understand the importance of doing things in a specific way.
Some leaders believe that in order to create a successful team, they must transform all externally motivated employees into highly driven, intrinsically motivated individuals. I disagree. Extrinsically motivated members of the team can be the most diligent, loyal, long-term employees, and will only become the problem if the organisation is not providing them with the right environment to fulfil their basic needs. In the same way, even intrinsically motivated individuals can very quickly leave the business to search for the new opportunities elsewhere, if their efforts and enthusiasm is not appreciated. If every employee is highly motivated, driven, taking full responsibility, and always wanting more, who’s going to do the necessary, basic tasks? Who is going to maintain the stability of the organisation if everyone is doing extra, or is in training for their next role? Hence the healthy balance of both is needed.
So how do we ensure that perfect balance and make sure that regardless of how the person is motivated, the workplace will provide for their needs?
From the evolutionary point of view, our brains are wired for certain needs in life. Those are:
1. Security, stability and safety
2. Search for novelty, excitement and growth
3. Social interactions and connections.
So let’s explore each of them.
As for safety, that’s our basic need for survival, and we need to have a certain level of predictability and familiarity to feel safe. That’s why too much change can often feel stressful. At work, it is important that the person is clear what is expected of them, have clear standards to follow, regular working patterns, and familiar working environment. When we recognise patterns around us, we feel in control, and therefore safe. This need also involves having a certain level of autonomy, the right to make decisions and be able to make choices in life.
In contrast, there is another part of us that is curious to learn, eager to grow and explore, is in search of some excitement, looking for new discoveries, explorations, surprises and challenges. However, this comes secondary to safety, and therefore any change must be expected and planned to a degree, or at least a surprise of it should not be too big to threaten the overall stability and predictability of the future.
It is this inner drive and curiosity that pushed humans to explore new territories and make discoveries throughout history, in search of new resources to ensure greater future security.
And finally, we are social beings wired to connect and belong. The relationships and bonds we create in the workplace are crucial for our wellbeing and happiness at work, as it can help regulate distress, handle bigger challenges and cope with changes. This drive pushes people to follow certain processes and behaviours because everyone else does, and therefore the culture of the organisation is crucial in establishing those expected ways of working and providing a stable base for successful long-term cooperation.
In order to ensure team engagement and individual motivation, leaders must explore if their organisation provides employees with these three basic needs. Every simple interaction can be used to find out what drives them the most and used to make adjustments needed to fuel their motivation. What sort of questions you might ask your employee?
– are you happy with your working environment and working patterns?
– are you happy with the amount of responsibility and ownership that is given to you?
-are you clear what’s expected of you?
– would you like to learn something new?
– how can we have more fun as a team?
– do you get on well with your colleagues?
– do you have enough support and guidance from your line managers?
Remember to also explore not only their needs at work but also in their personal life. For example, they might want more challenge or change and might be driven by faster career progression because they have a stable family and established life routines. Or maybe the other way around – if their personal life is challenging and unpredictable, they will seek more stability and simplicity at work. It is important to remember that while we all need a certain level of personal growth, not everyone will be expecting it from their work – some individuals are happy with the same role because their growth is somewhere else, such as hobbies, spirituality, or other aspects of their personal journey. The need for social connection provides the right environment and balance between stability and change, and should not be compromised.
Our sense of belonging to the group is crucial for overall wellbeing, as for many years throughout the evolution we could not have possibly survived on our own, so any exclusion from the group can feel ‘life-threatening’.
If you create social activities and events to allow people to bond on a personal level, they will be much more willing to support each other at work too, creating a much more enjoyable environment. Different people might need to connect at different levels, and some, especially younger ones, will put their need for social interactions before their job responsibilities, while for others this might be less important if they have strong relationships and close family ties outside of work.
In summary, we all have basic human needs that need to be fulfilled in order for us to feel motivated in life and at work. If those needs are met outside of our job, at work we will be extrinsically motivated and will be happy for as long as the job provides the right conditions to satisfy our needs elsewhere. For intrinsically motivated individuals, some of our crucial needs for stability, status, novelty or interactions can be found at work, creating inner drive and motivation to do well in our career and perform to our full potential.
If applied correctly, the research of evolutionary neuroscience can help leaders to better understand hidden human drives and show simple ways to create better motivation, wellbeing, and sustainable success for the organisation.
with best wishes,
About the Author:
Evelina Dzimanaviciute is Leadership Development expert utilising the research of evolutionary neuroscience to create success for individuals and organisations, by utilising challenges and changes for positive learning and growth. Her unique, neuroscience research-based methods combine therapeutic approaches with best performance coaching tools to transform the ways of working and create better performance, efficiency, productivity and ensure long-term organisational sustainability and personal wellbeing.