Employee motivation from time has been a major managerial concern in organisations and with the unstable nature of the business environment organisations operate in, it will continue to be a challenge.
The changing nature of organisation and a more informed, mobile and discerning workforce continue to impact the dynamics of the ‘commitment contract’ between organisations and the employees forcing the question of how much would employees be willing to give to their organisations and what organisations must do to gain the commitment of the employees.
Implicitly, for organisations to create a high performance workplace, managers of people need to be aware of what motivation is to different employee and understand how job content, processes and context factors sharpen employee motivation or kill it.
The subject of employee motivation is being widely discussed in many management texts and there seems to be as much definitions as the number of text books. Nevertheless, most of the definitions have recognised the original meaning of the Latin source ‘movere’ which means ‘to move’. The following are some of the common definitions of employee motivation;
“Willingness to exert a high level of effort to reach organisational goals, conditioned by the effort and ability to satisfy some individual need”. Robbins (2005)
“A set of energetic forces that originate both within as well as beyond an individual’s being, to initiate work related behaviour, and to determine its form, direction, intensity and direction” Pinder 2008
“A psychological process that arises from the interaction between the individual and the environment”. Latham & Pinder (2005)
We can make the following important deductions from the definitions given above;
1. Employee motivation is a willing effort from the individual
2. While it is displayed by the individual, it is impacted both by individual and external factors which may be present in the work environment
3. As the psychological interaction between the individual and the work environment is taking place, individuals decide on how to direct their effort either towards achieving the organisational goals or withdrawing it, depending on the external stimuli and the individual need.
The implication of this is that individuals own their motivation and organisation practices impact how they release the motivation in the form of commitment or non-commitment, going an extra mile or not, being creative at work or not and in all other efforts that lead to the achievement of work goals.
In understanding employee motivation in organisation, several theoretical frameworks have been employed to offer explanations on how it works and how people managers can enhance a motivated workforce. Such theoretical frameworks range from the needs theory of Abraham Maslow hierarchy of needs; Herzberg’s two factor theory; Alderfer’s ERG theory to Vroom’s Expectancy theory, Adam’s Equity theory and the Goal Setting theory of Locke and Latham. These diverse perspectives to employee motivation teach one big lesson; there is no single approach to motivating employees. However, organisations over the years have tried to motivate employees mostly through the use of rewards (positive and negative), a thinking that is embedded in the Theory X approach to people management. The resultant effect of this is that we have too much compliance but too little engagement in our places of work.
This write up is not intended to provide an approach to employee motivation, but to stir us to look in a different direction on how we have been motivating our employees. The following are some basic truths to bear in mind in an attempt to promote a highly motivated workforce.
1. An organisation cannot motivate an employee; only an employee can motivate him/herself. It is not what organisations do that motivate employees but how what they do impact the employees, causing them to respond in certain ways. This implies that managers of people must think first of the impact of their actions, policies etc on the employees before they embark on it. A good practice is to involve employees in making decisions that affect how they work.
2. Intrinsic rather than extrinsic factors stimulate motivational behaviour. Researches have shown that extrinsic factors do not really motivate employees even though we cannot completely ignore them. They only prevent employees from being dissatisfied with their jobs. Daniel Pink challenged our traditional way of thinking about motivation when he came up with three elements of what motivates us; autonomy, mastery, and purpose. They do not have anything to do with external rewards but are all internally engendered by an individual. While they are the elements that stimulate motivational behaviour, organisational practices may however stiffen them when for instance the opportunity to be autonomous at work is not present.
3. Keeping employees motivated is not costly. It could actually be a fraction of what you are currently spending on keeping a highly productive workforce through financial rewards. The point where many organisations get it wrong is when they focus more on extrinsic motivating factors than the intrinsic.
4. Get your hiring decisions right. The opportunity cost for making a wrong hiring decision is a demotivated employee. People get committed to goals that align with their individual goals, and seek self-responsibility to achieve them. Right staffs for the job are already motivated to do the job, the concern will be not to kill the motivation by organisational practices, but wrong staffs on a job come with a level of demotivation which good organisational practices may not be able to correct, but further expose. I recommend a due diligence when hiring employees.