Think about the last time you procrastinated. Think about the last time you failed to accomplish a task or goal. It could be something like preparing your tax returns or starting to practice meditation. Would you say you didn’t do it because you decided it was not important anymore? Probably not. Most people would recognize that they failed to start or complete the task because they didn’t feel motivated at the time.
It is easy to believe that motivation is a feeling that shows up when we need to perform, leaving us waiting for that magical sensation to appear. When it doesn’t, we’re left to blame all of our missed deadlines or wishes for the lack of it.
So what is motivation?
What is motivation?
Motivation is the driving force that propels us toward something we need or care about. It could be as small as a dry throat motivating you to get a glass of water to calm your thirst. It could be as big as a commitment to a friend to do an Ironman together motivating you to swim in the bay before dawn every day. In this way, motivation is a force that spurs us to action and to see things through to completion.
Motivation is how we get things done when we have an objective we care about. That sounds logical and easy, except that we are also exceptionally good at losing motivation, even when we know we need something.
Types of motivation
Though there are many types of motivation, they generally fall under one of two categories: intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation.
Also known as “carrot and stick” motivation, extrinsic motivators are external. They can be rewards such as money, or avoiding negative impact such as losing your job. With extrinsic motivation, we have little to no control over the positive or negative consequences themselves. But we are motivated to manage the areas we do have control over to either gain or avoid these consequences.
When we are intrinsically motivated, we complete a task for the enjoyment or feeling of satisfaction we get from doing so. Unlike extrinsic motivators, this type of motivation is not rewarded by external factors. Benefits of employing intrinsic motivation in the workplace include higher levels of employee satisfaction and lower turnover rates.
Why is motivation important in the workplace?
On the surface, the impact of a well-motivated workforce is clear. Motivated employees are more productive. As we mentioned above, though, it goes further than that. Aside from the effectiveness of your teams, motivation is also shown to drive retention and improve company culture.
Let’s break down the ways a motivated workplace benefits both employees and the business.
How motivation benefits the organization
- Meet and exceed the company’s goals. Without a motivated workplace, companies could struggle to deliver on promises to customers, fail to execute daily operations, and let opportunities for the future slip away–talent will avoid demotivated workplaces.
- Higher productivity. Happy employees experience 31 percent higher productivity. Improved employee satisfaction which can lead toward a positive growth for the company.
- Championship. Motivated employees are often emotionally connected to their companies. Emotionally connected employees are 3 times more likely to become brand ambassadors.
- Delighted customers. Workers put in extra effort leading to more output and better solutions.
- Quality. Quality improves as staff take a greater pride in their work.
- Committed, experienced employees. A motivated workplace leads to higher level of staff retention and reduced turnover.
How motivation benefits the individual
- Self-efficacy and confidence in one’s ability to succeed at challenging work tasks
- Increased proactivity and creativity
- Optimism and positive attributions about the future of one’s career or company
- Hope and redirecting paths to work goals in the face of obstacles
- Resilience in the workplace and bouncing back from adverse situation
How meaning impacts motivation
Motivation is all the factors that encourage individuals to be committed to and interested in doing something over time. The feeling of intense interest and desire to act can be momentary. It lets you know you are going in the right direction, but the different aspects that drove you to feel that way are the ones that will maintain your actions.
These factors can be different from one person to another. Find them by answering these questions:
- What do I value?
- Why do I value it?
- What makes me feel vital?
- What makes me feel committed?
- What makes what I am doing purposeful?
In coaching, I have come across many people who didn’t feel motivated at work. The first symptom was a sense of loss of meaning. So when we face demotivation in the workplace, we need to start by asking what is the value behind the task.
Motivation is highly related to the meaning we assign to what we are doing. Many times that meaning is not related to the immediate results of our work or to the specific task. We assign meaning based on a larger outcome or bigger purpose we see in the work.
For example, you can feel passionate about building your own business but also dislike the marketing activities. You might be highly motivated to do unpleasant marketing tasks because you know how much your business growth will depend on them. Connecting the task of promoting your business to your goal of growing it, and reminding yourself of that connection, can keep you going with better energy and attitude.
When employees don’t feel as committed or connected to part of something important, when they can’t relate to the mission of the company or simply can’t see the importance of their role at a bigger scale, they often lose motivation.
Most common causes of workplace demotivation
Some of the most common demotivators at work are fairly mundane and even trivial. They seem addressable but the degree to which they are experienced is symptomatic of a larger disconnect in purpose, meaning, and values.
- Lack of progress or growth opportunities
- Job insecurity
- No confidence in company leadership
- Poor communication
- Unpleasant coworkers
Although all of these factors are huge motivation killers, they are likely to affect us less when the person feels a deeper connection to what they do.
Notice also what isn’t on the list of demotivators: “difficult projects,” “ambiguity and uncertainty,” “long hours,” and “high expectations.” Although these factors can create stress for the individual, it is the type of stress that facilitates growth and learning. As long as the work or outcome is somewhat interesting or important to the individual, challenges, complexity, and stretch assignments tend to be far more motivating than easy or predefined work.
Tapping into individual motivation through curiosity, desire to make more impact, and inclination to connect with others on something larger than themselves creates a vitality that benefits both the organization and the individual.
How to increase self-motivation at work
Motivation needs to be refreshed, sometimes daily. When we don’t get an immediate reward, or experience pleasure by avoiding a tedious task, it is important to remind ourselves why what we are doing is relevant or contributes to something more relevant. How? Take it to the next level and always find the bigger purpose.
Focus on quality
2. Be aware of the value of your work and what it reflects about you
Take pride in your craftsmanship, even when the situation prioritizes quantity–make your work the best it can be in the circumstances. Many times, we set countable goals, such as finishing 20 invoices. When we do so, we focus only on reaching the number and are less likely to pay attention to what we are doing and enjoying the process.
3. Let role models inspire you
Having someone we look up to can be a powerful way to get motivated. However, it can also be frustrating if we only focus on what they accomplished and forget the HOW. Don’t envy the person; don’t idealize. Learn more about what took them where they are and let them inspire you. Whether they are a co-worker or a famous CEO, learn their stories.
4. Organize your goals
It may seem obvious, but sometimes we forget to break down our goals into manageable actions. Smaller, frequent wins can create momentum, as long as they are meaningful, clearly pointing toward the longer term objective. Especially when we have too much on our plate, we tend to lose focus of what and why exactly we were doing things. To stay connected to your goal, you must have a clear vision of how every step you take is taking you closer.
How to motivate employees
Keeping yourself motivated is its own challenge. Trying to motivate employees and teams is quite another. It takes a specific skillset and the ability to leverage a variety of leadership skills. Here are eight tips for motivating your team through both uncertain and more predictable landscapes.
1. Demonstrate interest
Ask, listen and deliver. If you want to motivate a team member, ask him or her what they care about? What do they need to feel included? In order for your employees to feel heard it is not enough for you to make questions, but to actually listen, provide feedback and demonstrate with actions that you take them into account.
2. Coach and support
When employees don’t need to worry about controlling perceptions of managers and colleagues, they are more likely to openly ask for feedback and provide feedback. The energy of freely working together without politics or maneuvering is incredibly rewarding and motivating. Coaching leadership and context support, promote psychological safety in the workplace. This allows you to create a trust based relationship with your employees, thus increased satisfaction and motivation for both sides.
3. Value individual and team contributions at a broader level
Raise awareness of the impact each team member has at a bigger level by talking about how their work influenced the management goals, for example. How is every role related to accomplishing the company’s mission? Ask them questions that generate reflection and facilitate a broader view of how their actions impact and contribute to the global operation of the company.
4. Build a positive work environment
Both motivation and demotivation can be contagious, which one will it be? Create a positive environment by setting the example. Say hello to everyone, ask them about their families, make jokes, bring appetizers to the meetings, and be vigilant about maintaining your own, authentic, enthusiasm and motivation. It is okay to dip or be discouraged occasionally but model for your team how you continue to find your own motivation.
5. Be aware of your employees and their well-being within the company
Encourage your team members to work together and support each other. Help them see how they can benefit from learning from their colleagues and coaching each other, with healthy competition.
6. Empower your employees
Trust them and motivate them to take some initiative. Allow them to bring ideas and give them freedom to make decisions without having to consult you, leaving always the door open for questions and coaching. Invite them into the planning and goal-setting process.
7. Address employees’ quality of life
Support work-life balance by knowing your employees and letting them put their family and health as a priority. If someone asks to arrive late to attend their daughter’s recital or to attend a medical appointment, say yes. Thankful employees are more likely to overachieve. On the other hand, make sure that the demands are challenging enough to avoid boredom, but feasible enough to allow your employees to have a life after work.
Make every step meaningful. Whether to learn or to apply for a promotion, your employee should feel that everything they are doing will translate into growth, experience, and mobility. Make sure you have talked to them about their future and to coach them into turning work into a learning process that feels meaningful.
Am I motivating my employees enough?
One of the best ways to measure the effectiveness of your motivation techniques is by frequently asking yourself some questions about your team:
- Are they taking initiative?
- Are they united as a team?
- Do they provide feedback?
- Do they show interest and engagement during meetings?
Other, more traditional, ways to measure motivation can be informative but are often lagging measures. By the time you see them, it’s too late. However, they can still provide insight that helps you understand the full picture.
How to measure work motivation
These formal ways to understand and shape motivation include:
- Performance reviews. They will not only allow you to measure performance, but to motivate them by going though the details of what is working for them and what isn’t. they are also a great opportunity to talk about the impact of their work and understand what they value and makes them feel motivated.
- Employee motivation and engagement surveys. When anonymously answered, they tend to be a great reflect of the workplace environment. Combining a quantitative questionnaire and some open questions will allow you to pick up a good sample of what your employees motivation and engagement stand at.
- Employee turnover and absenteeism. Are you having a high rate of employee turnover or absenteeism? These two important metrics raise flags that reflect the motivation and satisfaction of our workforce.
Sustaining workplace motivation
Measuring your employee motivation and your own level of drive at work is the first step. Once you have a baseline, you can put some of these initiatives into practice to embrace a culture of motivation. Though workplace motivation is not a constant –– everyone has tough days –– being mindful and proactive in your approach will set you and your team up for long-term success.