Employers often get the most out of their employees at the very beginning of their tenure, when the employee is keen to impress, eager to make a good impression, and excited to learn new things. But the honeymoon period doesn’t last particularly long, with most people becoming comfortable enough to rest on their laurels and ‘coast’ within a matter of months.
So what can companies do to create enduring workplace performance and sustainable motivation from their employees? Because in recent studies, it has been found that 13% of employees worldwide identify as being engaged at work – and how can you be motivated if you aren’t even engaged?
For the answer, I turn to Dan Pink, one of the world’s leading business thinkers and the author of five best-selling books about work, management, and behavioral science. Dan introduced us to the three essential elements or ‘pillars’ of sustainable motivation, which combine to result in enduring workplace performance – and are more pertinent today than ever.
Autonomy in the workplace satiates our desire to direct our own lives. The key difference between someone who is working autonomously and one who is being told what to do is where they derive their motivation and inspiration from. An employee who thinks and works autonomously is much more likely to be intrinsically motivated – motivation that stems from within – than motivated by external triggers or ‘carrots’ like money.
Intrinsic motivation creates much more holistic outcomes, including higher engagement overall, with employees who are intrinsically motivated being three times more engaged than employees who are extrinsically motivated such as money.
Create autonomy in the workplace by creating leadership and development programs, and by encouraging autonomy. Set the cultural precedent early in an employee’s tenure so that they are empowered to make their own decisions. And then do not scold them for doing so.
Humans have a deep desire for progress, and when they don’t feel like they are progressing, they get frustrated. This is as true in the workplace as anywhere else.
One of the main reasons that people leave their jobs is because they no longer feel as though they are learning – in fact, 10% of all employee departures are due to boredom and a lack of learning. This is why mastery is such an important element of sustainable motivation; it ensures that people are continuously learning new things and satisfying their innate need for progress.
Providing employees with learning and development channels including core subject matter training as well as general skill development does more than improve their theoretical and practical skills, it provides employees with increased motivation to continue to improve.
And finally, employees need to feel as though they have a purpose. Not every company can be solving climate change or helping eradicate world hunger, but there is probably some underlying purpose for the company’s existence that people can attach themselves too. Working towards being acquired is a purpose – but you have to divulge that purpose to your people in order for them to align their own vision to it.
And if you still can’t instil a corporate sense of purpose – then provide employees with a personal purpose. Help them feel like they are making a difference to the organisation; give them feedback about the inputs they do make; and empower them to progress at the company and in their careers. Instilling this sense of purpose provides employees with the ‘why’ they go to work – which is always at the heart of any form of motivation.
The bottom line
The most important aspect of the three pillars of motivation is understanding that they are at the heart of sustainable motivation and enduring workplace performance. You can create temporary solutions to permanent and very expensive problems by creating ‘incentive trips’ and ‘bonuses’, but these carrots are exactly that – temporary.
Low engagement, poor motivation, and high turnover are costing companies billions of dollars per year, and yet they continue to pursue the same tactics that have resulted in these exact problems.
Addressing the three pillars isn’t always easy. It requires strategy, conscious effort, and a more detailed approach to your people. But it pays huge dividends.
If you can create a company which grounds its employees via the three pillars, you will have created an environment which fosters sustainable motivation; an environment which ensures you continue to get the most out of employees well beyond the honeymoon period.
About the author
Lance Hodgson is a marketer and mentoring evangelist at Mentorloop, the mentoring software platform that helps organisations run better mentoring programs. Lance has helped scale start-ups and established corporations in both the U.S. and Australia – and is currently enjoying making mentoring more mainstream.
See also: “Companies underestimate the demand for it internally”: former Adage MD on mentoring