Motivation in the Workplace | Gagen MacDonald

Insights & Events / Blog

Motivation in the Workplace

Jan 17, 2014

As our business environment continues to rapidly change, our methods of motivating employees must evolve as well. Management techniques invented to operate in the 19th century won’t meet the needs of a 21st century workforce.

As behavioral psychology taught us, we have the ability to influence other human beings’ behavior through conditioning. Methods of conditioning include both reward and punishment. Eventually, even the promise of reward or the fear of punishment in the future can provide the necessary motivation for the desired behaviors.

These beliefs about human nature easily translated to the business world as companies hired employees to perform and deliver on certain roles, tasks, and expectations. Organizations of the past succeeded in promising money, benefits, and titles when things were going well, and threatening demotion or firing when an employee wasn’t performing. However, as Dan Pink explained in his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, although those external motivators are easy to rely on and may work in the short-term, they have many flaws:

  • They can smother the opportunity to tap into intrinsic motivation, limiting motivation in the workplace to “the carrot or the stick”
  • They can diminish performance and limit the desire to go “above and beyond”
  • They can crush creativity as employees will want to take the most direct route to the reward or avoidance of punishment
  • They can encourage cheating, shortcuts, and unethical behavior
  • They can become addictive, narrowing an employee’s focus to only those activities that will get them a reward
  • They can foster short-term thinking

Dan suggests a new and better way of developing motivation in the workplace, which leads to higher satisfaction and happiness. Organizations must understand how to tap into employees’ intrinsic motivation. There are three key factors that feed intrinsic motivation:

  • Autonomy – Desire to direct your own life (can be in the form of what you work on, when you work, how you complete your work, or who you work with)
  • Mastery – Urge to get better and better at something that matters
  • Purpose – Yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves (a company that focuses more on profit will never achieve the same level of long-term employee engagement than a company that focuses more on purpose)

Learning to understand and address these factors of intrinsic motivation could unlock new levels of performance in any organization. It is also critically important to consider when developing an Employee Value Proposition. As Dan so eloquently stated, “repairing the mismatch and bringing our understanding of motivation into the 21st century is more than an essential move for business. It’s an affirmation of our humanity.”

Listen to Dan talk in more depth about his research on motivation in the workplace during a private interview with Maril MacDonald on our leadership community, Let Go & Lead. You’ll also find a complimentary facilitation guide which will enable you to not only share the videos with your team or organization, but also open a productive dialogue on the topic of motivation.

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