Three ways to engineer motivation in the workplace

As many business owners find, there’s no simple way to get motivated. Even though incentivising was once widely considered a magic productivity pill by managers everywhere — it’s not. Decades of research have consistently shown it has the opposite effect. So, what do we do instead?

What we know

In his talk on motivation, Career Analyst Dan Pink makes the case for intrinsic motivators:

  • Autonomy: the urge to direct our own lives.
  • Mastery: the desire to get better and better at something that matters.
  • Purpose: the yearning to do something larger than ourselves.

His recommendations are shaped by the research of Dan Ariely, a behavioural economist who has done extensive research on motivation. Based on his findings, employees are motivated when they feel connected to their work. Motivation tends to be associated with the pursuit of pleasure, but this notion is on the simplistic side. In a lot of cases, challenging but personally, meaningful work is what lights someone’s fire.

That said, the correlation between wage and productivity is not set in stone, and the research for it is ongoing. All things considered, here are three strategies business-owners and managers can implement to improve motivation in the workplace:

1. Encourage employees to pursue ideas

Atlassian popularised an event called “ShipIt Days” where employees can work on any company product they want within 24 hours. The activity fosters creativity, unexpected collaborations, friendly competition, and good ol’ fun. Not only does it encourage employees to pursue their own ideas, but it also gives them a safe space to make autonomous choices and develop their skills.

It’s evident that a company with this flexible work setup embodies a culture of trust and commitment — both of which are hinged on Atlassian’s bigger purpose of powering innovation in the workplace. Trust and commitment are sentiments that tend to be reciprocated with brilliant work, and without them, a ShipIt Day might not generate the same positive results.

2. Align growth strategies with persona values

When an employee’s personal values are aligned with their work, they have a personal stake in the growth of the business. Innovation has been known to spring from personal motivation.

To tap into this, managers can either hire a personal coach or actively listen for someone’s personal values (there’s even an app for analysing workplace motivations). For some, it could be as small as changing the way their task is framed or how approval is phrased. For others, it could mean granting a flexible schedule, or opening an internal job board and giving opportunities for workers to opt into other teams or projects.

Each worker has a different set of drivers and motivators; what’s compelling for one person may not be for another. Never underestimate the connection between personality and work, and the motivational power of personal growth.

3. Compensate fairly

Although there are arguments against cash incentives as motivators, it’s important to compensate someone fairly for the value they add to the company. Employees who don’t feel recognised tend to get demotivated — and handing out a raise is often interpreted as a monetary pat on the back. However, there’s also a sinister angle to wage hikes. The Harvard Business Review argues that lifting a salary rate above-market can be a compelling motivator because it increases the value of a job — making it attractive to job seekers. This triggers a sense of loss-aversion in employees who already hold the position, driving them to put in more work.

Ultimately, many factors contribute to motivation and it’s likely that what would work is a combination of all these three strategies. In fact, the question of motivation is something that we will probably be asking in many more years to come.

If you’re looking for motivated, young talents to join your team, Ribit connects savvy students to innovative companies. Click here to post a job for free!