Motivating employees is an art and a science that causes despair for leaders. Motivating a person to commit and complete a task because they want to as opposed to because they have to, brings about completely different performance results. Different motivation theories have been developed that provide us with some insight as to what motivates people. The scope is wide and varies from fulfilling a need, achieving a goal, being recognised, receiving more responsibility, acquiring financial rewards, and strengthening one’s self-efficacy.

Reading through the list, one might want them all. That’s where it starts to become complex, because each of the things require different behaviours from both the leader and the organisation to stimulate motivation. In addition, we have primary motivation drivers such as receiving feedback and recognition, and secondary motivators like building self-efficacy. The secondary motivators are nice-to-haves, but not must-haves. Each employee has a different motivation make-up and leaders must remember and stimulate these all the time. Not an easy job!

We often focus solely on the individual employee when speaking about motivation, but the organisation as a whole also plays a significant role. People value fairness, equality and justice, and breaking these is very often a key demotivating factor that is overlooked. Inequality causes employees’ extreme dissatisfaction and emotional tension which has a link to motivation and performance. Inequality is a psychological state that arises when employees compare themselves to others. Comparison is a natural human behaviour that we engage in all the time, or more than is good for us. On the other hand, fairness relates to the distribution of rewards and the procedure by which rewards are allocated. A discrepancy, even if not intended, creeps in when reward policies or employee performances are not transparent or fairly substantiated. For example, employees with salary structures are not equally aligned because of tenure, but the same level of skill and qualification or benefits that were present at the time of employment have subsequently fallen away.

A clear case of distribution injustice is experienced by the employee, and is fuelled by inequality when comparing themselves to others. The demotivation that arises is based on a negative rewards experience that might be labelled as purposeful or intentional. If the situation is not addressed, the employee’s behaviour will change to either:

  1. Increasing input contribution with the aim of increasing productivity value and reward
  2. Changing output by seeking additional rewards from the work
  3. Withdrawing by being late or absent
  4. Permanently leaving the organisation

All forms of injustice and inequality have a direct impact on job satisfaction, job performance, engagement, and employee motivation. Organisations as a whole can support and assist leaders to manage employee motivation in an inspiring way.