Businesses are more likely to succeed when they employ staff who genuinely care about the best interests of the organisation and its customers. To achieve this, employees need to embrace the values of the organisation and feel motivated in their daily work.
Staff motivation brings with it several benefits. For example, employees who are motivated are likely to put in more effort in the workplace, leading to greater productivity and lower levels of absenteeism. They are more likely to take pride in their work, thereby maintaining or improving quality. Motivation can be aligned with loyalty and commitment to an organisation. If employees enjoy their work and feel fulfilled, they are less likely to seek opportunities elsewhere.
So, how can firms improve employee motivation?
Businesses can foster staff motivation through financial incentives or non-financial incentives, or a combination of both.
Financial rewards often provide motivation for employees. These may include:
- A good salary
- Overtime, whereby staff are paid for working beyond their contracted hours
- Remuneration based on productivity – i.e. a commission based on the number of products sold
- Bonuses for high performing staff who meet or exceed targets
- Schemes that involve the business sharing part of the profit among its staff
- Staff discount
- Company car
An absence of financial incentives may mean that employees may become demotivated or complacent, but firms should be conscious that, in some circumstances, the paying of bonuses may encourage short-termism whereby short-term profit is prioritised over longer term interests. For example, firms need to be cautious that financial rewards such as bonuses are not awarded at the detriment of customers’ interests or the interests of the firm as a whole. Financial incentives based on performance can, in some circumstances, lead to employees ‘cutting corners’ and the customer losing out. Therefore, remuneration systems need to be fair and carefully managed.
Offering financial rewards, such as paying a high salary, is not possible for all businesses but non-monetary motivational factors can also help. These may include:
- Offering better working conditions e.g. flexible working arrangements or generous holiday entitlements to staff
- The prospect of promotion and career advancement
- Providing staff with tasks that interest or challenge them
- Ensuring staff have enough work to keep them occupied
- Encouraging team working
- Giving staff the freedom (within reason) to do their job in the way they choose
- Varying the workload to ensure that work does not become boring
A useful academic framework for understanding motivation, known as the ‘hierarchy of needs’, was proposed by American psychologist Abraham Maslow (1908-1970). This applies in many contexts but is also relevant when considering workplace motivation.
The most basic need is the need for survival. People need to work to put food on the table for themselves and their families. If this is the only reason someone is in a job, it is likely they will be disengaged and dissatisfied with the job. They will leave as soon as a more attractive opportunity becomes available.
People need to work in order to ensure their safety or security. Being in a secure job helps raise money to pay the rent, mortgage and bills and thereby reduces exposure to danger.
If people’s motivation does not extend beyond these ‘safety needs’, they are unlikely to feel engaged with the job. Whilst they may be prepared to do overtime, it will probably be purely for the money. If a more exciting job opportunity arose, they would probably leave.
People have a desire to be part of a group and achieve a sense of belonging. They want to feel part of something bigger. If a person enjoys working with their team mates, they may feel almost engaged but issues, such as poor opportunities for career progression, may prevent people from feeling fully engaged.
Humans need to feel respected for their own self-esteem and self-respect. This involves feeling valued by others and receiving recognition. In a work context, people will feel appreciated and will remain engaged. They will feel that they play an important role in the organisation and want to achieve.
Ultimately, however, people want to realise their full potential. If this can be achieved in a particular job, the person is likely to be highly engaged and a high achiever. They will love the job and not wish to leave. Only a minority of people will reach this level of engagement in the workplace.