Motivation has been and continues to be one of the most popular buzzwords in the corporate world. Being motivated is good, therefore every employee must be motivated at all times. Motivation is good for the workplace and good for the employee. We’re all familiar with this almost religious approach to motivation. But what does motivation really mean? What are the actual benefits of motivation? And is an organic lunch scheme or a gym membership enough to make you motivated?
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What does motivation really mean?
Work motivation is defined as the internal and external circumstances that initiate work related behavior and that defines its shape, direction, intensity and duration. Your skills and competencies define whether you’re capable of carrying out a certain task, but your motivation will define the quality of your efforts. Because of this, motivation often haunts the office hallways like a bad pop song you can’t get out of your head.
Do you feel the flow?
Even though you may want to roll your eyes every time motivation is on the agenda at the team meeting, motivation is just as important for you as it is for the organization. Remember that feeling when you’re so deeply immersed in a project that you completely forget who and where you are? You get the feeling that nothing can hold you back or stop you? It’s a feeling of positivity, intense concentration and complete clarity. In modern psychology, this feeling is called flow and is essentially an expression of complete motivation. Boldly, I assume that every person on the planet wants their job to be carried out in a state of flow. But is it sufficient to listen to a motivating podcast on your morning commute, eat the free Wednesday pastry from the canteen and then sit down at your desk to enter flow? Nope, it takes much more than that.
Does free lunch and a gym membership motivate you?
If you ask Patty McCord, who helped create the unique and high-performing culture at Netflix, the answer is a simple no. She doesn’t consider the external circumstances to be very influential in creating motivation. Instead, she focuses on challenging tasks. A perspective supported by Locke & Latham’s Goal Setting Theory, which points out the fact that challenging (yet doable) tasks lead to better results than easy tasks. However, several nuances play into the development of motivation.
What are motivating working conditions?
Hackman and Oldham defined a theory in 1976 which can be used to design motivating working conditions. Three factors are particularly important, namely that the work is experienced as having a purpose, that there is a sense of autonomy and that you receive clear feedback. These factors are put into the following formula to generate a Motivating Potential Score (MPS):
As it appears from the formula, feedback and autonomy are the most essential factors, because a complete lack of either feedback or autonomy will lead to an MPS of 0. Even if you have a strong sense of purpose in your job, you won’t be motivated if you have no control of how to contribute or you get no continuous feedback on your results.
The firm wants intrinsically motivated employees
Ryan and Deci nuanced the abovementioned understanding of motivation by distinguishing between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is to be understood as an inner motivation to do things because they spark joy, while extrinsic motivation are external factors that stimulate motivation such as a financial bonus or free coffee. When you hear the word motivation in the office hallways, it’ll primarily relate to intrinsic motivation. When an employee is intrinsically motivated, they’ll complete their tasks simply because doing so makes them happy, and this is a much easier way to achieve a sense of flow.
The three main motivating factors
Three essential factors must be considered if a firm wants to foster intrinsic motivation. Spoiler: they aren’t free coffee, organic lunches and a gym membership. Instead, the three factors are autonomy, sense of community and skills. If an employee is to feel ideally motivated, it’s necessary for them to feel that they are capable of completing the task at hand, that they have a say in how to complete the task in the best way, and that they have a sense of belonging to the community of the workplace. So if you aren’t feeling motivated at work even though you get a big fat paycheck at the end of each month, go to the gym twice a week (for free) and have your free pastry every week, you might want to look for motivation elsewhere. Be mindful of which conditions your employer is providing for you to feel competent, autonomous and social at work, because these are the factors that have a real impact on your motivation and how close you get to the state of flow. This will not only make your work more enjoyable, but will make you deliver greater results for the company, which is why it should be in everyone’s interest to shift the focus from the external circumstances to the fulfillment of our inner psychological needs for competence, autonomy and sense of community.