Analysis: employees who feel motivated are likely to be creative, persistent, productive and willing to undertake challenging projects

By Varsha Eswara Murthy, Irish Research Council

Employee motivation is a constant headache for companies and organisations. Unmotivated employees are less likely to expend effort in their roles than motivated peers. They are more likely to avoid and even exit, the workplace, and can lead to decrease in productivity, quality of work and, ultimately, a company's output and profitability.

In stark contrast, research has highlighted that employees who feel motivated are likely to be creative, persistent, productive and willing to undertake challenging projects. Below are some strategies to enhance workplace motivation to create a more productive and satisfied workforce.

(1) Ask and listen

Decades of research has demonstrated that employees prefer supervisors who afford them freedom of expression and affirmation. With such conditions in place, employees become more productive, more satisfied, and more committed to their organisation.

In negative working atmospheres, communication can often be construed as a form of "dissent" rather than as a tool for growth. However, managers who are more affirming, friendly and attentive can foster organisational climates where communication is actually embraced. This, in turn, can result in notable improvements in motivation, making employees feel valued and heard.

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(2) Set real goals

Determining the degree of challenge when goal-setting is a minefield for employers. When the level of challenge greatly exceeds the level of skill of an employee, this can often lead to anxiety. However, when both the level of challenge and the level of skill are low, individuals can tend to become apathetic. Further, when the level of challenge is markedly lower than the level of skill, individuals are at first relaxed, but are much more likely to become bored and disengaged.

One way to attain a better balance between challenge and skill is for the employer to individualise tasks where possible to provide a better fit between the employee's level of skill and the level of challenge. It also requires employees to move beyond their comfort zone, which is best achieved by reducing their fear of failure. Ways to reduce this fear of failure include promoting a workplace climate of co-operation, self-improvement and personal bests. Factors that can improve motivation here include; clear goals, unambiguous feedback on performance, concentration on the task at hand, a sense of control, and enjoyment.

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(3) Championing personal bests

It is crucial to evaluate an employee based on their own standards, not the standards of others. Where this balance is struck, it can enhance motivation and render "success" as more attainable to individuals. Personal bests also have the capacity to enhance the belief in one’s own ability to accomplish specified tasks. Researchers have described how the personal experience of success is a fundamental cornerstone of self-efficacy and can influence the tasks employees choose to learn and the goals they set for themselves.

Self-efficacy also impacts on employees’ level of effort and persistence when learning difficult tasks. Moreover, not only does success enhance self-efficacy, it is also energising: individuals tend to persist at and be attracted to tasks at which they succeed.

(4) Understanding what employees value

An organisation's workplace values set the tone for a company's culture as they identify what an organisation, at a macro level, actually cares about. It goes without saying, though, that the values of individual employees must align with the values of an organisation as a whole. However, this should not be a one-way street. Employers must also take the time to understand the values of their individual employees and to understand what matters for them and to their own growth.

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By taking the time to understand what their employees value, employers can create much more wide-spread buy-in to their own values system, while also allowing employers to offer bespoke incentives and other motivators. If an employee values education and development, employers can provide additional training opportunities, whereas if an employee only values remuneration, then a bonus scheme might be money better spent on that employee.

(5) Build resilience

Fear of failure, punishment and unrealistic goals cause stress in employees. In the workplace most, if not all, individuals are faced with setback, stress, pressure, challenge, and adversity and it is in these situations that resilience is required. Equipping employees with resilience can allow them to effectively address what is before them in a courageous and constructive way .

Employers must therefore invest in strategies to enhance workplace well-being if they are to have a productive and satisfied workforce. Recent research suggests that teaching mindfulness and acceptance skills can improve well-being, resilience, innovation, and performance. This may be due to the training of attention and attending to the present moment that allows individuals to focus more effectively on current tasks.

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(6) Boosting morale

All organisations need to avoid the dreaded scenario of low morale. Low staff morale can result from employees finding little meaning and value in their work, frustration and the inability to effect what is happening within the organisation and muddled goals and demands exceeding skill level and/or resources.

In addition to the points already set out here, employers can boost morale by celebrating wins, both big and small. Equally, promoting work-life balance can boost not only morale, but productivity, and workplace satisfaction. It can even assist in preventing burn-out. Celebrating holidays of all traditions, faiths and backgrounds, as well as birthdays and other milestones, can improve morale, enhance a sense of belonging and foster an environment that embraces diversity and inclusivity, all while having a little fun.

Varsha Eswara Murthy is an Irish Research Council scholar and PhD candidate at UCD


The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ