Motivation at work is tough. Imagine, having to go to a place for five days out of every seven, where people tell you to work on things that might not even interest you. Your family and friends are elsewhere, and you’re stuck with these people that you probably wouldn’t even know if it wasn’t for work.
Not only that, but each week you have to adjust from the weekend, where you have a higher degree of choice about what you do, to the workplace, where someone tells you what you should be doing. It’s not an easy adjustment for many people.
Some countries have started to adjust to shorter working weeks and are seeing improved productivity. However, many of us are still working with the five day (or more) grind.
Unless you absolutely love what you do, motivation at work is hard. It’s not realistic for everybody to love their jobs.
However, motivated team members put in more effort, take more care and are likely to be happier in their roles. So while people are at work, don’t you want them to be the most motivated they can be?
Listen to the related Thoughtful Leader podcast episode here: https://www.thoughtfulleader.com/podcast/42/
The Motivation Spectrum
I like to think of motivation at work as a spectrum. The spectrum sits on a continuum from low motivation to high, and everyone in your team will sit in a different place.
Each team member will sit within their own range within the motivation spectrum. However, the actual level of motivation that this involves will be unique to each person. This is illustrated in the simple graphic below.
Michelle’s motivation levels are generally higher than Jason’s. She can still fluctuate within that range, but overall, she is highly motivated.
You can see conversely that Jason’s motivation levels are generally lower. He sits further down the spectrum than Michelle does and never really shows high levels of motivation.
Let’s look at why this might be the case.
Team Members Doing the Job They Want to Do Will Have Higher Motivation at Work
In Michelle’s case, she likes her job. Not only does she like it, but she likes the direction that her career is taking, and her job directly aligns with that direction.
Michelle can see that her job makes a positive difference and can also see how it is building her skills and experience to progress further on her career path.
Jason, on the other hand, doesn’t really like his job. It involves a lot of manual tasks and is fairly administrative, so it can get boring. Jason’s passions lie outside of his day job, with his hobbies.
He has some goals outside of work and eventually wants to start his own business doing something which aligns with his interests. But for now, he needs the money from his day job.
Moving People Up the Motivation Spectrum
Obviously it’s good to have motivated team members, because performance improves and they are more likely to put in extra effort to get the job done well.
So we have a few options to try to improve motivation levels, and move people along the spectrum. We either want to improve motivation within the team member’s normal range of motivation.
Or, we can shift the motivation range altogether!
Option 1: Improving Motivation at Work within the Normal Range
In the case where a team member has a fairly unexciting job, it can be hard to motivate them to the highest levels. Even an exciting job can be dreary when it’s not something you want to be doing.
In this case, we just want to improve motivation levels the best we can, so that our team members come to work and put in some effort to do a good job. The last thing we want is a team member that absolutely hates coming to work, because this simply leads to more sick days, more wasted time and reduced morale within a team.
In my experience, motivating people in this situation comes from increasing variety, providing autonomy, reducing waste and promoting flexibility.
1. Increasing variety means providing opportunities to work on different tasks or projects, so that the work becomes more interesting, and team members can use different skills.
2. Providing autonomy means giving your team members space to work the way they want to. This includes organising their own work and managing their workload without having you looking over their shoulder every five minutes.
3. Reducing waste means making sure that team members are working on valuable tasks that matter. It means removing wasted effort, rework and pointless tasks. When people are working on things that don’t matter or need rework, motivation and job satisfaction plummets.
4. Promoting flexibility includes enabling team members to work flexible hours or work from different locations to accommodate their life outside of work. This can be helpful when your team members need greater freedom to pursue their goals outside of the workplace.
Option 2: Jumping to Higher Motivation Levels
In some cases, we have an opportunity to work with our team members to help them jump to a much higher level of motivation at work, and to shift their whole position on the spectrum.
This usually comes from understanding aspirations and doing work that develops key skills and builds experience that aligns with their goals.
1. Understanding aspirations means having a conversation about what your team members want to do with their career, and in their lives. Being non-judgemental is key here. Just because you might like your job and your leadership role, doesn’t mean your team members want the same things.
2. Developing key skills and experience involves having your team members work on projects or tasks that improve skills relating to their life and career goals. The alignment here is key.
Improving skills and building experience in an area that the team member does not care about will not improve motivation at work.
Motivation at Work: The Reality Check
It’s unrealistic to expect that our team members will always be motivated. After all, many people would rather be at the beach.
However, work plays an important role in people’s lives. It gives them structure, social contact and the ability to contribute to something greater than themselves. Work needs to be done and as much as people complain about it, it does provide value.
We shouldn’t be foolish enough to suggest that all roles and careers are created equal. The reasons behind motivation for a plumber and an executive may be very different. Some people care about their careers, while others just want the money to focus on other aspects of life.
The point is, when people are at work, we should want them to be hitting the top of their motivation range as often as possible.
You might be able to help some people jump further up the motivation spectrum to achieve higher performance.
Or, you might be able to help someone turn “I hate going to work” into “I’m going to work, and that’s OK”.
Both are valuable.
What do you do to motivation your people at work and move them up the motivation spectrum? Leave a comment below and share your experience with the other Thoughtful Leaders!