What Really Motivates Today's Employees?

What Really Motivates Today's Employees?

Richard Shotton, one of the country’s top behavioural scientists, has partnered with Monster recruitment to give business leaders insight into the science behind employee motivation

By Richard Shotton

Motivating staff has never been so important. With many people now working from home and juggling childcare, it’s easy for employees to feel disconnected from the working world. In fact, according to the latest research, keeping employees engaged and motivated is one of the top concerns for nearly two thirds of business leaders.

But what is it that actually motivates staff? It’s a vital part of business operations, yet psychological studies suggest that employers may hold a flawed set of assumptions about what genuinely motivates people. Most believe that their employees are driven by extrinsic factors, such as money. But the evidence shows that intrinsic motivations – such as the enjoyment of the role or intellectual appeal of the job – are far more important.  

Richard Shotton, one of the country’s top behavioural scientists, has partnered with recruitment platform, Monster, to give business leaders valuable insights into what motivates employees. In this article, written exclusively for Fleximize, he reveals how research into human behaviour can be used to inform tactics that will truly resonate with your staff for improved job satisfaction and productivity.   

Money and motivation

There is a prevailing assumption that employees are primarily motivated by money but, as behavioural science has shown, this is rarely the case.

In 1995, a study by the Kaplan Educational Centre asked 500 trainee lawyers why their peers were joining the profession. While the majority assumed money was the key driver, when asked why they themselves had joined the profession, most were motivated by intellectual appeal.

In another ongoing study, the University of Chicago regularly asks people to rank the five most important aspects of their job. The majority choose important work with a feeling of accomplishment’ as their top priority. When asked how they felt other people might rank each one, two thirds of respondents thought that others would not take on additional responsibilities without extra pay.

This clearly demonstrates a misplaced understanding of what motivates others, believing it to be extrinsic factors, even though these are rarely the driver of our own career choices. This is what’s known as the ‘extrinsic motivational bias’.

Extrinsic motivation bias: the risks

By assuming that job seeking candidates and staff are motivated by extrinsic factors, employers risk the following:

To be as attractive as possible to potential high calibre staff and to keep people motivated, employers need to put more emphasis on the intrinsic benefits of the job. It's vital to remember that positive emotions drive people, rather than just external rewards. For example, think about fostering an environment that's conducive to:

Implementing intrinsic rewards within your business

So, how can you implement intrinsic motivational tactics within your business in practice? Here are five simple ways to get started:

1. Show employees that their work is valued

A simple way to instil a sense of purpose is to expose workers to the end beneficiaries of the company’s work. This is called ‘outsourcing inspiration’. Use customer testimonials not only to encourage new customers, but also to remind the workforce that what they are doing is genuinely appreciated.

2. Measure purpose, not just profit

Switch how you measure success within the business to include achievements that hold more value to wider society. Rather than solely focusing on profit and growth, bring meaning to the work of the company by measuring value and purpose. By recognising how the business is adding value to the lives of others, you will build a workforce of engaged employees who carry out their roles with pride.  

Profit and growth are considered the drivers for most shareholders, but ethical investment strategies also show non-intrinsic motivations can apply here too.

3. Set aside time for recognition and feedback

Recognition for a job done well is one of the most powerful intrinsic rewards. Praise good work publicly whenever possible and actively look for opportunities to do this. Follow the rule of ‘praise in public, correct in private’ and never coach or correct mistakes in front of other employees as this has a negative effect on morale and job satisfaction.  

4. Give employees autonomy

Include employees in the decision-making process, especially before making any changes to operations and processes. Involve them in discussions to demonstrate that you value their opinion and want them to be part of the business' growth plans.

A strong management team will also allow their workforce to make independent decisions for themselves wherever possible. Outline expectations of the role, but then allow them to decide exactly how the work is done.

5. Take a holistic approach

It's important to take an approach which fits your overall company culture and that your employees respond to. Take a well-rounded approach to motivating your workforce by combining multiple motivation strategies that include both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards. By using both extrinsic rewards and a system based on achievements and values, you will motivate your workforce on a variety of levels.

About the Author

Richard Shotton, author of The Choice Factory, is one of the country’s top behavioural science experts. He has partnered with Monster, the leading recruitment platform, to offer insights for business leaders on how to successfully connect with the best candidates, increase campaign response, and motivate existing employees using a deeper understanding of human behaviour.