The Science of Motivation

May 22, 2019 | Blog

What makes your employees tick? How can you facilitate their best work? And how you can best inspire them to flourish in their roles? It all comes down to one thing — motivation.

Motivated employees are valuable employees. When effectively motivated, not only will they feel a greater sense of fulfilment and recognition in their roles, but you will also benefit, likely seeing an increase in performance. In fact, Gartner reports “70% of business leaders agree that employee engagement is critical to achieving business results” and the Harvard Business Review has found that “generally, happiness raises business productivity by 31% and sales by 37%”. It really is a win-win situation, isn’t it?

You will quickly learn that there’s an abundance of information out there on the best techniques to motivate your team and it can indeed be overwhelming. Fortunately for you, we at Unipos are passionate about employee engagement so we’ve already done the work for you by extensively researching the science of motivation. That’s right, this is indeed a science, based on decades of research into the psychology of what spurs humans to act and excel.

Armed with the knowledge of how you can positively influence employee motivation, you’ll be on the fast-track to creating a cultural climate of high engagement and high performance. So, let’s uncover what really motivates us.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

First things first, what do humans need? According to Abraham Maslow’s 1943 paper “A Theory of Human Motivation”, at our core our needs can be clearly divided into a pyramid of five fundamental sections: physiological needs, safety, social needs, esteem, and self-actualisation. This pyramid is often referred to as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs:

First, our base-level needs (food, shelter, sleep, etc.) must be met before we can move up to the next tier and then the next and so on. The ultimate goal? ‘Self-actualisation’ or the pursuit of happiness, fulfilment and realisation of one’s potential.

In the modern world we live in, you can quite safely assume that your workplace is already set up to fulfil your employees’ base two tiers of needs. Yes, despite cries for extra biscuits in the tea room, the physiological and security needs of your staff are largely already met. We at Unipos have identified that the next two layers of the hierarchy represent the sweet spot for leadership teams to focus their efforts. As managers, you can generate the most impact by motivating your employees specifically through enhancing their psychological needs of belonging and esteem.

Let’s look at these in depth…

Belonging represents the need all humans have to feel a part of a tribe, family or group. Humans are social creatures requiring intimacy, trust, support and connection through friends, family and intimate relationships. We spend so much time at work that if we don’t have meaningful relationships or feel a sense of belonging within our team, we quickly become demotivated.

Esteem needs relate to the nurturing of one’s ego, essentially the part of us that takes pride in ourselves. Whether it’s self-esteem or esteem generated from the respect of others, humans have a deep need to feel valued and worthy. Positivity, recognition, praise for our performance, status, or a sense of accomplishment are all examples of the things we seek that boost our sense of self worth. When our self-esteem plummets, we lose confidence, fulfilment and ultimately, motivation.

When these needs are being met, it fosters one’s sense of self and ignites their energy, sending them well on their way to self-actualisation. By understanding what your employees need on this deep level, you can truly understand how to best motivate them.

Extrinsic VS Intrinsic Motivation

There are two key types of motivation, characterised as extrinsic and intrinsic motivators.

Extrinsic motivation refers to external motivating factors, coming from outside the employee. Examples include top down pressure from management, bonus structures and quotas to reward good performances, and penalties or punishments to deter negative performance.

On the flip side, intrinsic motivation refers to propulsion or drive coming from within the employee. It’s when employees perform actions or tasks because they feel compelled to internally.

Both extrinsic and intrinsic motivators have their respective places within your employee motivation program, but the likelihood is that many workplaces still rely solely on extrinsic motivators. Additionally, whilst external motivators can work for menial tasks, they are not as successful when it comes to longer term tasks with broader scope, creative projects, or complex problem solving challenges. This is where intrinsic motivators can be highly successful.

Let’s go a little deeper and explore how you can rally your staff through tapping into what internally matters to them.

The RAMP Model of Intrinsic Motivators

After decades of research, the notion of intrinsic motivation came largely to prominence recently through the work of writer Daniel Pink, author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us and speaker in this viral TED-talk which has amassed more than 22 million views. Pink took his research from the “RAMP Model”, four key intrinsic motivators that have been identified to make up this framework, standing for:

  • R = Relationships. The desire to be respected and connected to others.
  • A = Autonomy. The desire to have freedom and discretion in one’s job.
  • M = Mastery. The desire to improve skills and develop expertise.
  • P = Purpose. The desire for meaningful work.

Washington State Human Resources

These four motivators cut to the core of what employees need in regular doses to feel deeply engaged at work. Whilst external motivating factors can lead to low-level motivation or ‘compliance’ at best, creating an organisational culture that activates these intrinsic motivators instead enables genuine employee engagement, bolstering output, performance and ensuring employee retention.

Research conducted by the Employee Engagement Index discovered that

“the following four employee survey statements have the biggest influence on employee engagement and commitment in Europe:

1) I feel that I fit in at my organisation

2) I feel that I am appreciated by my organisation

3) My manager motivates me in my work

4) The work of my team contributes to the success of the organisation”

Effectory Employee Engagement Index

Again, these are all examples of intrinsic motivators that fit under the RAMP framework and their impact should not be underestimated.

Going back to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, those two middle tiers we mentioned earlier – belonging and esteem – also tie in to this model of intrinsic motivation. Namely, these needs directly correlate with two of the principles in the RAMP Model: Relationships and Purpose.

Let’s explore these in more detail…

Relationships address the motivating, primal need we have as humans to belong. By providing opportunities for your employees to connect with each other and form strong relationships, you will establish inclusion within your workplace culture. We all intrinsically desire meaningful relationships that are built on trust, respect and mutual appreciation. Your employees will become increasingly motivated working within an environment that fosters teamwork, collaboration, fair treatment, and diversity.

Purpose is that intrinsic element of feeling like you are working towards something bigger than yourself, something meaningful and driven. This is a powerful motivating factor for many employees as it extends beyond just the personal to the macro level. Feeling like an impactful asset working towards a unified goal negates feeling like just another cog in the machine. As a leader, there are plenty of opportunities to arm your employees with a sense of purpose. You can double down on your company values and share these openly with your staff. Use these values as a guiding light for success and appreciation within your employees as well.

Additionally, promoting open communication and transparency at each level of the organisation will usher in a greater depth of understanding and buy-in from your team.

“Although there is no universal formula to engage employees, it is generally true that people will feel more enthusiastic about their jobs when they are empowered to achieve something meaningful beyond their expectations, feel connected to others, and when they work in an environment — and for someone — that is fair, ethical, and rewarding, as opposed to a constant source of stress.”

The Harvard Business Review

This represents that elusive sweet spot for leaders to harness in the science of motivation and employee engagement.

So, are you wondering how you can implement all of this newfound knowledge into actionable initiatives? We’ve got you covered.

Your One-Stop Motivation Platform

Informed by this staggering research into the science of motivation, we created Unipos as a tool to help businesses and leaders motivate their employees by providing a uniquely balanced amount of extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. Unipos is a positivity platform for recognising and celebrating employees and their daily wins by incentivising others to show recognition. The software provides a system where companies can empower employees to send each other a small monetary bonus (worth the same as a cup of coffee) along with a public message of positive feedback and appreciation. Fuelled on positivity, this easy-to-use workplace tool is radically transforming the cultural landscape in the office for the good.

Designed with a public timeline it features full transparency across the company. Certain limitations to the system (not being able to recognise yourself or not being able to clap on personal posts) maintains the authentic, humble nature of the platform. We’ve found that by creating a centralised framework for recognition and inclusion, employees have the space to build relationships across every level of the organisation whilst enhancing their sense of purpose. The small extrinsic reward acts as an effective motivator in reeling employees in to use the platform, then the intrinsic motivators keep them highly engaged in the long term.

As company culture curators, you are at the forefront of an exciting period in the worksphere. Companies worldwide are waking up to the fact that old school ‘carrot-vs-stick’ methods fall short when it comes to motivating employees. By promoting and introducing initiatives that balance both extrinsic and intrinsic motivation, you will unlock the secret to empowering your employees and are well on your way to creating sustainable employee engagement.

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