How to Effectively Motivate Your Employees?
Managing Employee Motivation
Among the important elements that influence the proper functioning of an employee is the issue of motivation. At its simplest, it is the behavioural keystone that, within a complex process, influences the deployment of efforts towards the achievement of a goal. As a supervisor, do you want a subordinate to perform a task in a specific way or to stop a problematic behaviour? Would you like your employees to be more engaged in their work and give 110%? In many cases, this is a motivational issue! In other words, it is motivation that allows an individual to channel their knowledge, know-how and potential in the broadest sense of the word, which is why it is so important for the employer or supervisor who wishes to assign tasks and responsibilities to an employee.
Getting an employee to “be motivated” can be accomplished in many ways that will have different effects on the quality of the motivation in question (Olafsen & Deci, 2020). Deci, Olafsen, and Ryan (2017) point out that there are two types of motivation that are generally recognized and used in the workplace and elsewhere: intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation. On this subject, several literature journals show a consensus as to the superiority of this so-called intrinsic motivation based on the theory of self-determination, mainly by associating it with better results in terms of employee performance and well-being (i.e., Deci et al., 2017; Forest and Mageau, 2008; Olafsen and Deci, 2020).
It is for these reasons that in management contexts, we often talk about the importance of fostering intrinsic motivation in many ways as opposed to extrinsic motivation, especially when it comes to leadership or performance management. Considering that intrinsic motivation represents “those activities that are a reward in themselves” (Deci et al., 2017, p.21), however, it becomes utopian to believe that an employee can continually operate under this type of motivation in the course of their work. This is because, in this theoretical definition, intrinsic motivation is deeply rooted in what the individual naturally values and external actors, among which are supervisors, can only exert limited influence on them. In this sense, the ideal scenario is to assign employees tasks that correspond to them in such a way that they find real intrinsic motivation when it is possible to do so… but this is far from being always possible!
Motivating the Adoption or Abandonment of a Behaviour
Since it includes all situations where “an activity is performed with the goal of obtaining an outcome that is not the activity itself, whether or not that goal is tangible” (Deci et al., 2017, p.21), this extrinsic motivation is much more attainable in the work context. Fortunately for caring supervisors and managers, extrinsic motivation is not equal in all forms or even necessarily bad. According to this theory of self-determination, motivations that are more autonomous, meaning that they come more from the employee themselves and less from external constraints, can produce results that are closer to those of intrinsic motivation.
But how do you use “better” forms of motivation in the day-to-day supervision of your employees? The answer can be found in how you get the employee to adopt (or stop) the targeted behaviours by choosing approaches that involve the employee’s values rather than more external means. So while the “carrot and stick” strategy may seem easy to apply in almost any situation, it is also a trap that will have long-term implications for the well-being and performance of the employee and the organization. The same is true of those approaches that rely on employees’ need for supervisor approval to satisfy ego or self-esteem needs. One can think of those supervisors who will impose a great deal of pressure to perform and who will adopt a seemingly positive and hyper-productive exemplary role to obtain better results from their employees. While these approaches may be effective in the short term to see the emergence or abandonment of specific behaviours, they may later lead to resentment that is detrimental to well-being and performance and may even be toxic to the organizational climate and lead to resignations.
Figure 1: The various types of extrinsic motivations at work.
To overcome these different approaches that rely on coercion, on the manipulation of others through contingent rewards and on authoritarianism in general, which are considered harmful by Forest and Mageau (2008), it is necessary to really get to know one’s employees. Without expecting to obtain a truly intrinsic motivation at work, it is possible to act so that employees recognize themselves more within the tasks that are assigned to them. In this way, the supervisor could revise the assignment of tasks within their team and lead the employee to see a link between the targeted behaviours and certain values or qualities that are important to them or even related to their identity in general. In doing so, the notion of constraints becomes blurred: the employee, even if they are acting in a subordinate capacity, learns to appreciate and value the work entrusted to them and to consider its accomplishment as desirable. Each person is different, however, and it takes a good deal of emotional intelligence and empathy to identify the right individual approaches.
Towards Overall Work Engagement
Beyond the adoption of simple behaviours, the accomplishment of specific tasks or disciplinary management, employee motivation can also be constructed and foster the emergence of a more positive general attitude towards work. Turning once again to the theory of self-determination, some authors suggest courses of action that make it possible to act in this direction, which are oriented around three specific needs (Deci, Olafsen and Ryan, 2017; Forest and Mageau, 2008; Olafsen and Deci, 2020; Slemp, Lee and Mossman, 2021). It discusses the concept of autonomy, which implies a feeling of having some control (or latitude) over one’s work and its execution, so that the employee takes ownership of and identifies with the job. It is also about the concept of competence, which translates into the opportunity for an employee to surpass himself, to be challenged and ultimately to feel competent in his work. Finally, there is the concept of social affiliation, according to which it is important to belong to a group that fosters a mutual sense of support, trust, appreciation and belonging. According to the theory of self-determination, it is through these three elements that an employee comes to develop a general motivation to work that is more autonomous, which generates better results both in terms of productivity and well-being at work.
Figure 2. The three universal needs that must be met to achieve more autonomous motivation.
Within organizations, meeting the employee needs associated with these three concepts can be accomplished in a variety of ways. In particular, it is essential to recognize the importance of the role of the immediate supervisor, who is the main point of contact between the employee and the decisions that are made about them. The immediate supervisor is called upon to guide the employee in their day-to-day work and in accordance with the decisions that may sometimes be made at higher levels. Here again, the supervisor who has a close relationship with their employee, gets to know their values, strengths, needs and aspirations, and then makes sure to help the employee understand and guide them in a caring way through the work using this relationship is on the right track compared to another supervisor who simply uses their position in the hierarchy. The same is true when it comes to taking the employee’s messages to the next level: the supervisor who makes the necessary effort to take the employee’s ideas, recommendations, needs or complaints to the next level and then explains the steps taken and the results obtained to the employee in question can only foster the employee’s feelings of autonomy, competence, and affiliation. Generally speaking, it is by showing genuine consideration for employees in terms of who they are and what they want that a supervisor can make a positive difference.
Certain elements related to the organization of work can also be mobilized to promote the emergence of this autonomous motivation, for example in relation to the description of the tasks to be performed and the way in which it is used. Promoting the emergence of feelings of autonomy and competence implies giving employees latitude in the performance of their work, including their work schedule, and recognizing that they may not always perform at their best. It also means accepting that they will sometimes make mistakes that serve as learning opportunities and providing them with the resources they need to do their job. While maintaining certain deliverables or strategic imperatives in relation to the organization’s activities, it is generally an approach of sustained and guided flexibility that should be adopted, so that the employee has the necessary latitude to take ownership of his work.
Conclusion: Motivation in Today’s Organizations
For today’s organization, which is evolving in a particularly competitive market characterized by a scarcity of competent workers and an increased propensity of employees to leave their jobs (Roy and Tessier, 2021), better motivating and engaging employees has never been more important. To see this, one need only look back at the benefits observed in multiple studies by Deci et al. (2017). There are several elements associated with creativity and quality of work done that come to influence overall organizational performance. On the employee experience side, we find the same thing: feelings of competence, autonomy and affiliation are very important for a positive work experience and ultimate engagement (Demers, 2021), with predictable benefits in terms of retention, attraction, and psychological health of the workforce.
Deci, E. L., Olafsen, A. H., & Ryan, R. M. (2017). Self-determination theory in work organizations: The state of a science. Annual review of organizational psychology and organizational behavior, 4, 19-43.
Demers, Anik. (2021). Pourquoi optimiser l’expérience-employé en misant sur leurs points forts? Epsi-Inc. https://epsi-inc.com/pourquoi-optimiser-lexperience-employe-en-misant-sur-leurs-points-forts/
Forest, J., & Mageau, G. A. (2008). La motivation au travail selon la théorie de l’autodétermination. Psychologie Québec, 25(5), 33-36.
Olafsen, A. H., & Deci, E. L. (2020). Self-determination theory and its relation to organizations. Dans Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Psychology.
Roy, Nicolas et Tessier, Sylvain. (2021). Le temps d’une pause… RH!. Epsi-Inc. https://open.spotify.com/episode/3jYkIXfOzhmMLDRBfP25ya
Slemp, G. R., Lee, M. A., & Mossman, L. H. (2021). Interventions to support autonomy, competence, and relatedness needs in organizations: A systematic review with recommendations for research and practice. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 94(2), 427-457.