Opinion

Managers need to understand employee motivation and act on it before loyalty is lost

4 min read

05 January 2016

The psychological force of employee motivation will not only determine the direction of a person's behaviour in an organisation, their effort and their persistence, but its impact on the business as a whole.

Gallup has estimated that actively disengaged employees cost the US up to $550bn in lost productivity per year – and the figures for the UK are probably not too far off. According to cognitive neuroscientist and business psychologist Lynda Shaw, however, there are two important types of motivators at an employer’s disposal. 

The first is internal motivation which is to do with pride, work ethic and a passion for the work itself. Shaw said: “This type of motivation comes from within ourselves and pushes us to always do the best we can. Intrinsic motivation often stems from curiosity and something we enjoy. It enables self-development which on the surface seems selfish, but is in actual fact the way we develop a broad range of transferable skills to overcome different types of challenges.”

The second type is external motivation, which includes rewards such as money, a nice office and promotions. 

Research done by McKinsey & Company found that for people with satisfactory salaries, some non-financial motivators are more effective than extra cash in building long-term employee engagement. Shaw said: “We know for example that praise from managers, attention from our leaders, and our opinions and our ideas being heard can be as effective or even more effective than the short term boost of pay rises, bonuses or shares in the company. Treating our employees with dignity and respect seems to outweigh giving them cash in hand to motivate them.”

Read more about motivating employees:

Showing you trust your employees is another motivator, whether it be working from home when they need to, taking on a role that may be outside their comfort zone.

“There has been a lot of research into a brain chemical called oxytocin, which enhances pro-social behaviour and one area is that of trust,” Shaw explained. “Experiments show that when people feel trusted they produce more oxytocin in the brain. And the more oxytocin they produce the more they become trustworthy and of course, the reward centres in the brain are activated too thus helping us feel great. To add to this delicious cocktail when we trust someone they trust us back.”

With a third of our day spent at work, Shaw said it is imperative that we enjoy it but not necessarily give in to gimmicks. “There is pressure on bosses to provide the workplace with slides, juice bars, chef catered lunches, segways and team holidays, because a handful of certain large wealthy companies have been able to do so,” she said. “Most companies can’t afford these sorts of gimmicks but team-building activities chosen by the team, Christmas parties and pizzas being bought in when employees are having to work late are deemed to show employees that they are appreciated and also help them build social/ work relationships as well. 

“There are many dynamics to consider to build a successful team, but one of the key areas is that of emotional intelligence (EQ). Each team member needs to understand and consider the others as well as themselves. Therefore, the more a team gets to know one another in a relaxed creative environment the more efficient and healthy they will be.

“I always say to CEO’s when I am running workshops, employee motivation is about a two-way relationship. An old phrase comes to mind and seems appropriate: ‘You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’.”