A new look at employee motivation

Motivating employees seems easy – in theory. But while the concept of motivation may be straightforward, motivating employees in real-life situations is far more challenging. This Harvard Business Review article explains why Carrots & Sticks do not work.

As leaders, what can we do then to motivate individuals in our teams? In this respect, it is important to respond to the expectations of employees. And they change.

Employee’s expectations shifted in three ways

1. Company purpose
More and more, employees expect more from their jobs. Especially millennials find purpose important. An organization’s purpose defines how company strengths interact with societal needs.

2. Emotional connection
Employees increasingly connect via digital technologies. At the same time, opportunities for face-to-face interactions with colleagues and customers diminish. But connections are crucial for commitment, for the bond employees experience with their organisation and each other.

3. Directional clarity
Employees face never-ending transformations. VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity) has become a trendy acronym. You often hear people say “Hey, it’s crazy out here”. New technologies, competitors or market opportunities. Change has become standard. Hence the need for people to have a clear guidance, all pulling in the same direction.

Combine motivators

The shift in employee’s expectations makes it even more difficult to motivate them.

I’d like to suggest a new view motivation that speaks not only to the head, but also the heart of employees. One that keeps extrinsic motivators and focuses more on intrinsic factors.

Ideally you combine different motivators for optimal engagement. Combine extrinsic and intrinsic motivation: people work best when meaning and reward go hand in hand. Appeal to rational elements that guide behaviour but don’t forget emotional needs.

How to do it in practice?

A peer recognition program makes it easy to tick three of the four boxes above. When one’s work or effort is singled out for praise by colleagues or a boss, we feel strongly connected and affirmed. These emotional motivators are very strong. The rational, extrinsic motivators are triggered as well. When we can save for a team treat or experience for instance, we feel truly rewarded.

Do you know how to foster motivation at work?

Koen Schreurs
Helping HR & Management to boost company culture & engagement