Why Employers Have It All Wrong About Employee Motivation.

How To Motivate EmployeesEmployee engagement of American workers is pathetic. According to recent Gallup Employee Engagement Index survey, seventy-one (71) percent of American workers are “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” in their work, meaning they are emotionally disconnected from their workplaces and are less likely to be productive. That leaves only one-third of American workers who are “engaged,” or involved in and enthusiastic about their work.

Part, if not most, of the reason why employee engagement is so bad is that employers go about motivating employees all wrong. The problem begins with a misunderstanding of the very basics of motivational theory. Most managers believe some people are motivated, and others are not. That’s wrong – plain and simple.

All employees are motivated. But people are motivated differently. Not only do they value things differently, but the sources of motivation can have both positive and negative influences. When the sources are positive, employees are productive. When sources are negative, employees exhibit counter-productive behavior. These differences in motivation are based on extensive research resulting in the Quality of Motivation (QM) Theory.

All motivation can be traced back to two basic ingredients: pleasure and pain. Motivation by pleasure shouldn’t require much explanation. But you must be asking why anyone would be motivated by pain?

Have you ever heard the phrase “no pain, no gain” or “nothing comes easy”? These beliefs drive people toward pain and self-defeating experiences respectively, believing a little pain now will reap pleasure down the road. Think about the marathon runner or the professional athlete. Despite the risk of chronic pain due to the constant pounding of their joints and extreme stress to body systems, these athletes are relentless in their drive to reach the finish line at any cost, even long-term crippling and incapacitating injury.

Other people constantly pass up opportunity to advance or improve their lot in life (self-defeatance) because they don’t think they have done enough to deserve the raise, the promotion, or the recognition. There is a fine line between self-defeating behavior and humility, and that difference separates employees from being productive and counter-productive.

Self-punishment is mistakenly rewarded in today’s workplace. Strong work ethic, commitment, and good work habits are positive characteristics – unless they are derived from counter-productive behaviors. For example, let’s look at workaholism. It’s rewarded and often encouraged by employers. Workers who show up early, stay late, are on call 24/7, and rarely take vacation are put on a pedestal for all other employees to admire. But while doing more with less is driving American productivity and admired as good old work ethic by managers, it is also driving the rates of employee disengagement and employee turnover sky high.

It is also raining havoc on employee health, and consequently medical and disability costs. According to another Gallup survey, only 2 in 10 actively disengaged American workers report they are in excellent health, about the same as those workers who are unemployed. “A little pain never hurt anyone” is apparently not always true. Workers who “tough it out” may have the short-term benefit of increased productivity but long-term negative consequence of burnout, injury and even premature death.

What can employers do to avoid motivating these counter-productive behaviors and ensuring they create a positively motivated workplace? Managers must first recognize that enthusiasm, drive and high-paced activity alone are ineffective measures of motivation. People employed in your business bring their own unique motivational sources and skills to the workplace. That explains why some people seem to run and run….and run – just like the Energizer Bunny. Think about it. Watching Robin Williams perform can make you tired. So can hyperactive, pencil-tapping, emotionally disengaged employees. Their activity and busy-ness uses lots of energy but their results aren’t always productive; their work habits are not necessarily efficient.

Rewarding hard work and a strong work ethic is one thing but when it inadvertently rewards self-punishment, the cost to the bottom line is devastating.

Self-punishment is just one of four maladaptive behaviors that motivate employees and shape a company’s culture. Motivation is more complex than just pumping up spirits and getting people to work harder. By understanding that motivation has both positive and counter-productive effects, employers can create work environments and employee incentives that get the business results they want and avoid the long-term debilitating consequences of encouraging the wrong behaviors.

It is therefore crucial for businesses positioning themselves as thriving businesses to select and develop employees who will become profitable, motivated, and highly skilled at providing value-added services. The business must engage the emotional energy and attention of the employees and provide the resources to help them cope with the emotional, intellectual, and physical demands of the job.

Want to learn more how to motivate employees? Check out this short YouTube video. The background music is horrible – but the content is quite good!

This article originally appeared in The Total View, a weekly online newsletter that focuses on hiring, management and retention strategies. The Total View is written and published by Ira S. Wolfe, president of Success Performance Solutions and is distributed with permission by The Chrysalis Corporation. Subscribe for FREE to The Total View by typing your e-mail address in the newsletter sign-up box on the right side of this page.


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