Employee Motivation Isn’t Rocket Science

Think back to a time when you truly felt a sense of eager excitement and motivation at work. What was it that motivated you? More than likely, you were doing something that was truly meaningful to the betterment of your organization, and you were given personal freedom to tackle your work in the way you saw fit. You were probably working hard to impress a leader who made you feel understood and respected.

Employee motivation is a topic that is the focus of countless books, articles, workshops and training programs. Millions of dollars have been made by self-proclaimed motivational experts who promise to enlighten leaders on the art of motivation. However, employee motivation is not rocket science. There isn’t as much mystery involved like some might lead you to believe. If you are a leader who is reading this article, you’ve already demonstrated the most crucial step towards effectively motivating your employees: wanting to do so.

So, what do employees really want? It’s as simple as A, B, C and 1, 2, 3.

1. A – Autonomy Your employees are not robots or pieces of machinery. They are unique individuals who desire a sense of independence and freedom in how they perform their work. Many managers falsely believe they must tell their employees exactly what to do and how to do it; not very motivating. Stick to giving your employees company goals and project deadlines. Then, trust them to use their distinctive talents and creativity to figure out how to get it done.

(Affirmation) Encouraging and affirming words of a job well done will deepen a sense of appreciation and belonging in your employees. It will also significantly increase the chances of them wanting to repeat the positive behavior you are recognizing in hopes of earning more of your respect. In order for this to work, it is crucial to avoid making the common mistake of giving general words of praise such as, “Good job.” This is meaningless because it doesn’t let them know what was good about their performance. Instead, be specific about what you are recognizing them for. For example, you might say, “I was really impressed at how well you did ______ when working within such a tight deadline.”

2. B – Belonging Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a well-known psychological theory of human motivation. This theory suggests one of the most basic needs of all people: the need to feel a sense of belonging and acceptance. When employees do not feel like an accepted part of your organization, they will leave. A 2012 study published in the Harvard Business Review confirmed that top performers with great school and work credentials are leaving their employers after an average of 28 months. The biggest reason for leaving as stated by these top employees was a sense of not being a valuable part of their organization. Challenge yourself to find ways to give your employees a sense of belonging feeling like a part of a team, being welcomed and “fitting in” at your organization. Make it a priority to make your employees feel more at home.

3. C – Contribution If employees feel like they are contributing to a clear vision in a meaningful way, they are much more likely to stick around. Employees who feel leadership doesn’t know where it’s headed and who sense their work contributions are not a valued part of the bigger picture will leave. As a leader, you can inspire your employees to become passionate about their work and exhibit a strong sense of personal and professional pride in the services they provide. How? Demonstrate and encourage a positive workplace where employees are openly recognized for their individual talents and contributions. Take the time to develop good working relationships with your employees and encourage the rest of your management team to do the same. Your employees will approach their work with enthusiasm and pride if you can show them how they are uniquely contributing to your organization’s success. Of course, this is not possible if you don’t take the time to truly know your employees as individuals.

So, there you have it. Employee motivation is not about complex formulas and complicated management theories. It is as simple as taking the time to understand, appreciate and recognize your employees as individuals. Now go ahead and give it a try.

Elizabeth P. Cipolla is a business communications professional specializing in the areas of leadership training, creative recruitment strategies, professional development and executive coaching for more than 13 years. She brings leadership experience from various industries including marketing, mass media, apparel, education, manufacturing, non-profit agencies and insurance. To contact Elizabeth, email her at changeagentsee@gmail.com or visit her website at changeagentsee.com