A numb form of attention on the task at hand, a loss of commitment to the outcome, and a reduced effort and a drop in productivity. Does this sound familiar?

These are just a few of the characteristics of amotivation – a place where neither internal nor external drivers can push our actions towards reaching a goal. If you or your employees have experienced amotivation or a milder version, you will know that the impact of this can be detrimental to company outcomes and employee well-being.

Poor employee motivation has been associated with reduced productivity, poor outcomes and an increased risk of psychological dysfunction and job dissatisfaction. However, the workplace is a challenging environment for maintaining motivation, as many managers will know.

Having a clearer understanding of the types of motivation, their benefits, and the ways in which to build it, could be just what you need to shape the healthy, happy and successful team and business that you are looking for.

Unpacking Motivation: Why Money is Not Enough

The workplace is a complex environment and it’s not always easy to understand human motivation. The main reason for this is that there are two types of motivation:

  • Controlled Motivation: this is when our behaviours are performed because of external pressures. This can be positive – for recognition and reward, or negative-for meeting demands, fear of rejection or being fired.
  • Autonomous Motivation: this is when our behaviours are driven from our own volition, either for the pure joy of the activity or for the perceived value that activity provides us.

In the workplace, there is an inherent understanding that work is done for remuneration. Employees are paid for their time, efforts and outcomes, which implies that the motivation behind working is inherently external. This becomes complicated when managers see motivation dwindle, and want to provide another form of financial incentive to get motivation back in their employees. The truth however is that humans require much more than money to be motivated, engaged and satisfied.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (1943) proposed that we have basic needs which require satisfaction before we can experience physical and psychological health. This reputed thinking was built into the Self-Determination Theory (SDT), a comprehensive theory of human motivation. When it comes to motivation, SDT proposes three basic needs which drive our behaviour:

  • Autonomy: our desire to be independent and have control of our circumstances
  • Competence: our desire for mastery and skill development
  • Relatedness: the need to feel connected and belong to a social group

It is therefore clear to see why money alone cannot satisfy our basic psychological needs and provide the motivation necessary to build an engaged team of employees.

The Benefits of Autonomous versus Controlled Motivation

In order for employees to be, and stay, engaged and committed to their work, they require motivation. In the workplace, there are inherent external drivers which guide people to perform, and it is common practice for many managers to further feed into controlled motivation through creating incentives, rewards and mitigating demands. However, research shows that when there is a greater ratio of autonomous motivation to controlled motivation, employees are more persistent, have increased performance and show greater creativity and innovation.

Other benefits of autonomous motivation include:

  • Increased psychological well-being
  • Increased job satisfaction
  • Increased work engagement
  • Increased organisational commitment

But how can you increase autonomous motivation while still reaching the end goal and meeting deadlines?

The truth is that once employees feel that they are progressing in their career (Competence), are supported to make decisions for which they can take ownership (Autonomy), and feel that they belong to the team (Relatedness), they will feel driven about their work, and will experience satisfaction while reaching the goals of the organisation.

Five ways to increase autonomous employee motivation

Motivation can be a difficult challenge for managers, especially when employee productivity is low. However, with these approaches, managers can begin to build autonomous motivation rather than creating greater controls and external pressures for employees in the hopes of reaching outcomes.

  • Be an example

As the manager, you are an example of the company’s culture and systems. If you choose to take a more transformational leadership approach to get your employees motivated, you will notice the same shift in yourself. Find what it is that drives your passion and perseverance in your work, take ownership of what you would like to happen and run with it. And lastly, allow your employees to build an emotional relationship with you – when you belong so will they.

  • Inspire

Offer positive stories of your own or others’ success. Be clear and communicate the values and mission of the company, thus building inspiration and bringing alignment of your employees’ values to the company as a whole. When people are in concordance with the values of the company, they will automatically gain a greater sense of commitment and become more intrinsically motivated to reach the strategic outcomes of the company.

  • Reward efforts not outcomes

This approach can be challenging in the workplace as success is driven by outputs. However, taking a mastery over performance stance when looking at employee productivity can help to develop a greater sense of competence. In turn, building employees to feel a sense of mastery before the task is even completed. This will increase autonomous motivation as the task is being performed for the joy of it rather than the perceived consequences of delivery.

  • Intellectually Stimulate

Despite what you may believe, people like challenges. Everyone enjoys a walk in the park, but the greater desire to learn and master new skills will eventually outweigh ease. Being a manager comes with a great responsibility to mediate job demands to get the “sweet spot” for your staff. This is an ongoing process; however, if there is the opportunity for employees to learn, develop and master new skills, they will not only satisfy their need for competence, but will feel a greater sense of commitment to the future of the job.

  • Support Collective Enthusiasm

There are two main areas which affect an employee’s sense of job satisfaction – job demands and job resources. As the manager, however, there can be little flexibility in mitigating the job demands, and therefore a shift in perceived job resources can be a vital role to play for your employees. It is basic physics – resources need to outweigh demands in order for success to be enabled. When employees feel supported, individually as well as part of a team, their psychological resources for success increase which reduces the impact of job demands on energy and well-being.

In Closing

People spend at least 33% of the week at work, doing what they were hired to do. If employees are demotivated this can become a draining exercise, for the individual, the team and company. While motivation in the grander sense is important, when we begin to unpack it, we see that having autonomous, intrinsic motivation serves us greater than that of controlled, extrinsic motivation. Therefore, if improved, sustainable motivation is needed in your team, autonomous motivation is highly necessary and can be developed.

The five approaches offered above provide a springboard to start driving success and satisfaction in your team. Where will you start?