Motivation often comes down to individuals and circumstances and what works today may not work tomorrow, which is why it can feel difficult and time-consuming. But work done willingly is always better than work done unwillingly and your people’s commitment to their work is worth its weight in gold (even at today’s prices!) so let’s ‘think positive’ and take a look at motivation.

There is a huge amount of research and theory on what motivates people in the workplace (e.g. McGregor’s X and Y or Reiss’s 16 basic desires), how personality types can influence an individual’s motivation (e.g. the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) and there are models to help us examine how self-awareness influences motivation (e.g. the Johari Window), but a starting point would be Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Abraham Maslow’s psychological research led him to identify a pyramid or hierarchy of personal needs common to all of us:

  1. self-actualisation – achievement of full personal potential
  2. self-esteem – independence, recognition, respect
  3. social – sense of belonging, friendship, love
  4. safety & security – protection, shelter
  5. physiological – food & drink, warmth

Each of these needs depends upon those beneath it receiving some satisfaction. In other words, you can provide all the coaching and personal development training you like (to meet Need#1), but if the individual feels that they receive no credit for their good work then your coaching will not motivate them (because Need#2 is not being met.)

Furthermore, to illustrate how people’s personal lives and working lives cannot easily be separated: you can give someone a public thank you for all their hard work at the team conference (to meet Need#2 and maybe even #3) but that will mean very little to them if they are having trouble paying the mortgage (Need#4 is under threat.)

So, what people need in order to feel motivated will vary from individual to individual and from one day to the next. What can you do? First: ‘think positive’ (of course!) Second: communicate. Talk with your people. You need to know how they feel; what is going on for them in the workplace. That doesn’t mean you should pry or be too invasive with your questions, but you can and should show an interest. Give them the opportunity to tell you what they need. And when they do, you acknowledge that need, show you understand that need and, where possible, meet that need.

Granted there may be some factors or incentives that are not within your control. Do acknowledge their existence, but devote your energies to that which you can provide.

Finally, how often should you do this?

“People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing that’s why we recommend it daily.”
— Zig Ziglar (motivational speaker)

Ask yourself: “How motivational a manager am I?”