The surprising truth about what motivates employees

Hester Gras

The workplace is changing. Not only the environment as we know it but, also the working culture is changing. For decades we have been thinking we knew what motivates employees and how to let them work harder. But, now we know we have been terribly wrong about that. Employees are not as manipulable and as predictable as we used to think. There are many studies about this subject. We discuss the most disruptive outcomes.

Are we motivated by incentives?

You might think the higher the reward the better the performance. That’s for sure as long as the task is simple and straightforward. But, once the task called for even rudimentary cognitive skills, a larger reward will lead to poorer performance.

Fact: money is a motivator but, when a task requires some conceptual creative thinking it will not work.

So, is money not important?

Money is a motivator, pay people enough so that they’re thinking about the work instead of thinking about money. Key motivators which are stronger than money: autonomy, mastery and purpose.

  • Autonomy; Employees desire to be self directed, to direct their own lives. They will be more productive once you get out of their way. For example; Atlassian, an Australian IT organization, lets their developers free for 24 hours a quarter. They can work the way they want, on anything they want, with whomever you want. All they ask is that they show the results during a fun meeting with beer and cake after the 24 hours. It turns out that one day of autonomy has led to multiple new products.
  • Mastery; Employees want to get better at stuff because it’s fun and satisfying. For example: A lot of people play musical instruments in their free time without making money. That seems economically irrational. But, they do it because its fun.
  • Purpose; Employees want to make a contribution to a higher purpose. Make clear why your company is doing this, what is the bigger picture here? For example: Steve Jobs (Apple) once said: “I want to put a ‘ding’ in the universe”…

Keen on finding out how internal news could help you by motivating your employees and turn them into advocates? Don’t hesitate to give us a call, we’d be happy to brainstorm with you!

Want to check some more examples? Watch the video below.

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