There are seemingly countless varying and even contradicting methods and theories on how to achieve a solid and consistent state of employee motivation in the workplace. The real question we’re concerned with, however, goes beyond a simple view of base motivation, and into an in-depth analysis of the fundamental states and causes of one who is actively motivated.
Motivation itself is a result; we need to discern what underlies the surface to get at the causation. For instance, among the most desired results of a truly and consistently motivated employee — for both managers and executives alike — is increased productivity. How can this be achieved with any degree of consistency?
In this piece, we will discuss clashing paradigms of old and new business practices, the current models that receive the best regard, and older ones that are the most staunchly, and perhaps erroneously, defended.
The Direct View
According to a February 2017 Gallup study, just more than half of all U.S. employees are either actively searching for, or open to, new job opportunities. It’s safe to say this is a direct reflection on the current state of employee engagement within many workplaces. Some of the most common reasons cited for moving on are:
• Issue(s) with manager/management
• Looking for a better job fit
• Need for more desirable company culture
• Seeking better growth prospects (including salary and benefits)
From this unambiguous perspective, there is one question we must ask ourselves:
Is it possible that the vast majority of employees, at every level, are merely lazy or disproportionately unsatisfied? Instead, perhaps, management paradigms are in need of an overdue adjustment.
Either way, something, somewhere, is very wrong.
Now, under current models, we can easily acquire some immediate tips to somewhat improve the situation:
• Remember that an educated individual needs to be engaged at a level at least somewhere near his or her degree of intellect; a job that falls below this standard is inevitably going to produce boredom.
• Be aware that aggressive micromanagement is as hostile to the productive and happy employee as is a fox in a henhouse.
• A feeling of insecurity — of being expendable — is going to make for an alienated and discontent employee, at any level. Take steps to reassure people of their value and place.
The Culture Route
Under a direct, unambiguous approach (classically and colloquially known as the carrot-and-stick approach), the long-standing status quo has always been the following formula: incentive plus reward equals an increase in productivity. And certainly, why should it not? It makes perfectly grounded sense, even to the degree that this methodology was so fundamentally accepted and hardly questioned at all, nearly back to the inception of the Industrial era itself — perhaps, even beyond.
A slew of modern research, however, has cast a glaring and irrefutable contraindication upon this long-accepted paradigm.
Perhaps most well-known among them is the work of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce (RSA), which has a 260-years-and-counting mission statement that surrounds the enrichment of society through ideas and action. The RSA produced an exceptionally well-researched (yet intentionally easily assimilated) video expressing their conclusions in examining the essence of workplace motivation which, naturally, goes far deeper than is first apparent. The RSA research delves into aspects of sociology, psychology and economics — fundamentals which form and mold the aspects of an individual’s aspirations, performance, engagement, and all those vital tangents that combine to form motivation.
While an entire series of articles could be — and indeed have been — devoted to the research and conclusions of the RSA video in question, here’s a brief summary: The old paradigms are demonstrably and unequivocally wrong. They have led us astray into counterproductive habits and systems.
If we want the nearly 90% increase in production and value that an engaged employee produces, we have to decide to make some intentional changes.
Again and again, the research shows that employees want:
• To be treated as individuals
• For their work to have some measurable, positive impact on other’s lives
• The room and space to create and innovate
• To be respected and valued
It’s no under-sell to say that most companies within even the most progressive cities and markets fall into the structures that flatly don’t work. What is less easy is taking all of this and restructuring your business, its culture, its hierarchical systems, and its departmental structuring, into an environment that fosters genuine motivation.
It is never easy to determine a full-coverage solution in one sit-down session and it can be extremely challenging to plot the correct course forward for a particular company and its ethos. But what we do know is that few things are more important to begin working toward.
Fred Coon is Chief Executive Officer of Stewart, Cooper & Coon, and the author of several best-selling career books. He is also an official member of the Forbes Coaches Council, where this article was originally published.