Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Business 101 -- What Motivates Employees

You may have heard, even engaged, in the age-old debate about what motivates employees.

"The green stuff," says Virginia.

I know she's kidding.  That's what many managers assume.

"A pat on the back?" says Virginia.

That's more like the Virginia I know.  A recent survey of managers revealed this as the number one motivator: "Recognition for good work (either public or private)."

Wrong, according to the Jan.-Feb. 2010 issue of Harvard Business Review, page 44 ("What Really Motivates Workers"). 

The most important motivator is "progress" -- When workers feel "they're making headway in their jobs, or when they receive support that helps them overcome obstacles, their emotions are most positive and their drive to succeed is at its peak.  On days when they feel they are spinning their wheels or encountering roadblocks to meaningful accomplishment, their moods and motivation are lowest."

According to the article, a manager should regard this as good news because the key to motivation is largely within his control and doesn't depend on elaborate incentive systems.  A manager "can provide meaningful goals, resources and encouragement, and ...protect their people from irrelevant demands.  Or they can fail to do so." 

The strongest advice from the study:  "Scrupulously avoid impeding progress by changing goals autocratically, being indecisive, or holding up resources.  Negative events generally have a greater effect on people's emotions, perceptions, and motivation than positive ones, and nothing is more demotivating that a setback--the most prominent type of event on knowledge workers' worst days."

1 comment:

  1. Working in the health care field I see this all the time. Meaningful goals, resources and encouragement is sorely lacking. I think we all want to make a difference but the bureaucracy is stifling.