An understanding of what motivates people in the workplace is essential for managing performance at work, as is awareness of the factors which are likely to contribute to people feeling demotivated
Motivation at work is about a person’s capacity and willingness to perform and the extent to which they feel supported to do so.
For motivation to be optimal, managers must develop an appreciation of the complex interplay of the factors which fuel or inhibit individual motivation. They should also assemble a range of strategies for proactively dealing with the factors. It is a far more productive use of management time to take proactive steps to understand and deal with motivating factors than to be faced with a demotivated workforce and the prospect of developing reactive strategies under pressure.
The diagram below shows the relationship between motivation and performance and the links with staff satisfaction. It also reflects how staff capacity, willingness to perform and organisational support fuel motivation at work.
Motivation and staff capacity
In order to feel motivated to achieve their goals at work staff must feel competent to do so. The implication for management is the need to think about alignment between the responsibilities delegated to staff and associated performance goals on the one hand and staff members’ capacity to meet expectations. Whilst ‘stretch’ goals can be motivating they can trigger adverse consequences if skill gaps are not addressed through training or other professional development strategies.
A senior manager delegated responsibility for managing a small team to a newly appointed team leader highly qualified in her specialist technical field but without any formal management training. By the end of her first year in the role the team leader had achieved all her performance goals but a staff climate survey revealed that morale in the team was at an all-time low. The risk to the team’s motivation to continue performing well was starkly in evidence. Clearly some remedial coaching and professional development for the manager was now called for but a more proactive approach would have been to deal with this shortfall in management competencies from the outset.
Capacity also refers to staff workload. A manageable workload can be motivating and an overwhelming workload can be stressful and demotivating.
Motivation and willingness
A person may be highly capable in all the competencies necessary for a particular role but to feel motivated to perform they also need to be willing to expend the work effort necessary to perform at the required level. Willingness is influenced by a wide range of factors including the value a person attaches to the outcomes they are expected to achieve.
A talented nursing team faced with the challenge of implementing a new model of integrated care encountered significant resistance in colleagues from other healthcare disciplines whose cooperation was needed for the model to work. They also encountered resistance in themselves. The team leader arranged for time out to permit the team to reflect on its diminished motivation to implement the model. Involved staff came to realise that their unwillingness to invest their usual level of energy into implementing the new model was founded on concerns about the potential adverse effects on patients in their care.
Reward and recognition too are significant factors influencing a person’s willingness to work optimally. When a person values the rewards and recognition available to them they are more willing to expend the effort needed to achieve them. For the health professionals in the example above pay was a necessity (they all needed an income) but they all attached significant value to patient wellbeing.
Other factors influencing willingness are working environment organisational climate and the interplay with psychological type. When a small engineering company moved offices to be closer to the city staff found themselves accommodated in an ‘open-plan’ setting. This suited the extroverts in the team who found the close proximity of colleagues and the informal interaction afforded by open-plan motivating. The more introverted types however found the new setting highly challenging and their work performance suffered.
Willingness to work resides with individual staff but there is much that managers can do to engender it.
Motivation and organisational support
Whilst motivation comes from within each individual managers can influence people’s motivation through the ways in which they support staff to perform optimally. Position descriptions incorporating clear statements about staff members’ responsibilities accountabilities and levels of authority effective performance management processes – both formal and informal – as well as opportunities for advancement all contribute to staff satisfaction which in turn fuels motivation.
In addition to the organisational support provided for each staff member managers also need to pay attention to organisational constraints or barriers which inhibit high levels of motivation and therefore performance.
The manager of a team of web designers was satisfied with individual team members’ performance and with progress of the team as a whole towards its goals. However he was aware of a growing tension between this team and the marketing team. The tension manifested in disagreements between web design and marketing team members. The web design manager came to realise that in focusing as sharply as he had on his own team’s performance he had neglected important relationship building with the new marketing manager. By recognising this omission and taking proactive steps to redress the balance he averted a potentially demotivating situation for his staff.
The motivational challenge for managers is to create organisations where opportunities to perform are maximised and the impediments are minimised to avoid the negative consequences which ensue from the frustration staff feel when they are unable to achieve their goals.
There is much to fuel demotivation in contemporary workplaces; expectations of workers that they should ‘do more with less’ downsizing and restructuring creating an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty and the globalisation of businesses which can leave staff feeling disempowered and disenchanted.
These world-wide trends in business mean that it is has become more important than ever for managers to invest professional development effort into learning about the psychological processes involved in motivation and then applying their understanding to everyday management and leadership practice.
Looking for more ideas?
For readers with an interest in extending their reading about the topics covered in this article the following articles are available on the Professionals Australia website:
About the Author
Janet Fitzell is an independent organisational consultant and facilitator specialising in organisational development and change through FourLeaf Consulting (www.fourleaf.com.au). She facilitates team planning and development undertakes organisational reviews using a collaborative action learning approach coaches individuals and teams and generally helps organisations to build sustainable futures.
” 17 15