Motivation in the Workplace

motivation in the workplace
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Motivation: What Drives You?

Why do you do what you do? You have chosen business as a major focus and, no doubt, are planning your life around that choice, but why? When there are so many other options in the world, what drives you to focus on business? Human motivation is a complex phenomenon that helps explain why we choose the paths we take and what drives us to persist at certain goals.

Jessica is, by all accounts, a driven young woman. She works very hard, often putting in long hours. She has quickly moved up the corporate ladder at her job and relishes in the large paycheck she receives at the end of the work week. She enjoys competing for and winning each promotion. Jessica drives a nice car, she lives in a beautiful home and she enjoys her time off. When not at work, Jessica shrugs off the responsibilities of her job and disengages from the workplace.

Jorge is also driven, he eagerly accepts new assignments at his job and puts in long hours. Jorge enjoys solving problems and actively seeks new and efficient ways to complete difficult tasks. Jorge enjoys the work, and often has trouble leaving the office and mentally disengaging from his job. For Jorge, the check he earns is secondary to the thrill of figuring out a difficult problem. While the money he earns provides for a comfortable life, for Jorge, the real satisfaction comes from the work he does.

Jessica and Jorge are basic examples of two very different types of motivation. Jessica exemplifies extrinsic motivationshe is driven by factors outside of herself. For Jessica, the motivation to wake up and get out of bed every day takes the form of a paycheck, or the thrill of competition. The actual work is secondary, and while she excels at the task, she would happily switch focus for the same salary. Jorge, on the other hand, is driven by intrinsic rewards. He enjoys the task so much that he often has trouble turning off his brainat the end of the day. Jorge is naturally satisfied by the work.

Who would you want on your team? On the surface, there isnt much that differentiates Jessica and Jorge. They are both good employees who excel at their job. There is nothing wrong with being motivated by financial rewards. While it is true that intrinsic motivation, the drive that enables us to be engaged in something for it’s own satisfaction, results in increased task satisfaction. Extrinsic motivation, the drive that causes us to seek out rewards, is sometimes a very valuable resource. While there are people who are naturally curious about many things and engage in several pursuits, most of us fluctuate between being intrinsically and extrinsically motivated. Sometimes we just need the paycheck, and for that purpose, we are extrinsically motivated. Environments that support intrinsic motivation encourage autonomy, belongingness and competence in personnel. As such, it can be argued that individuals don’t motivate people, they create environments in which people are motivated.

If you want to create an environment that encourages intrinsic motivation consider the ABCs:

Autonomy, belongingness, and competence.

Autonomy in the workplace means having the authority to make decisions and to to exhibit independence. Employees who are able to make choices and to experience autonomy report greater job satisfaction and, in general, enjoy their work experience more. At 3M, employees were routinely given a little time per day to work on their own pursuits. Without this exercise in autonomy we may still be using paperclips excessively—that time led to the invention of the Post-It. While not every employer will have the luxury of allowing employees to focus on their own ideas, autonomy can be encouraged in other ways as well; allow employees to make choices within boundaries, expect and accept that sometimes mistakes will be made, and encourage employees to take ownership of their success (and, sometimes, failure).

Belongingness in the workplace means creating an environment in which people fit in and feel connected to the people around them. One of the most basic human needs is to feel as though there is somewhere we belong. The world is filled with smart, hard-working individuals. A qualified individual can just as easily work at Company A as she can Company X,Y, or Z. What keeps employees committed is a sense that s/he belongs and that her/his work is valued. Employers who support belongingness encourage office camaraderie within reason, they allow the kind of autonomy that helps employees find a purpose with their work, and they recognize the success of the team rather than focusing on the individual.

An environment supports competence when it focuses on the material rather than competition. When individuals are placed in a position where they must compete for rewards, the focus becomes less about the task at hand and more about trying to win (or at least avoid losing). For example, when sprinting towards a finish line, are you more concerned about your form or besting the person on your heels? It is believed that when competition and comparison are emphasized, motivation suffers. It is mentally exhausting to feel as though you are competing with your peers. Competition, by nature means that there is a victor and others who are not. While this is directly contrary to encouraging competence, it also affects belongingness. When forced to compete, people are less likely to work together and share ideas.

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, motivation is complex. Human motivation exists on a spectrum that allows us to sometimes focus on a task and sometimes focus on the rewards associated with a task. It is unrealistic for employers to assume that by encouraging one type of motivation over the other that they will get the most out of their employees. In the workplace, as in life, when both forms of motivation are present, individuals are driven to succeed.

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