The Complexity of Today’s Employee Motivation

When entrepreneurs develop their businesses, they often think only about external elements of their business instead of internal ones. Such a success factor is employee motivation.

They think about current and potential customers. They think about current and potential competitors. Also, they think about current and potential partners. The last on their list is thinking about their team, employees, or persons who will need to take the burden on their own shoulders…

Because of that, we are in a situation where our eyes are constantly focused on customers, competitors, partners… That’s not wrong. At a startup stage, it’s very important for the business’s success.

But what about the business and employees, organization, and systems? Because of that, I will talk about the employee’s motivation.

How to Increase Employee Motivation?

Employees are the vital link in the whole chain that ensures everything is as it should be in your business.

You can plan properly and produce everything as it should, but again you can lose your business because an employee in charge of delivery did not do the job correctly.

Employee motivation is one of the key elements that ensure the successful operation of the business. But, motivation is more complex than we think or that we understand.

As your customers have needs and problems for which your business delivers solutions, also your employees have specific needs to return value to the company for which they work. They have different needs, different problems, and different considerations… It’s something that makes the motivational process very complex.

What About Money Rewards as a Motivational Factor?

The question is, how can you motivate your employees to ensure their maximum efforts in the development of your business? Can you make this with money?

Money rewards are a really strong employee motivational factor. But, often we hear that money is not the most important. I can’t say that it is true nor that it’s not true. Why do most employees transfer from one company to another? If you ask different people that question, you will get the answer that will tell you, in most cases, the real reasons are more money.

However, I believe that all of us have already read about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs; the theory tells us money is not the only motivational factor. But, again, I think that today we can’t base our activities on motivation on one theory or practice.

Motivation Theories

Many researchers focused on understanding what motivates employees and how these factors motivate people. Let’s look at different theories that explain employee motivation.

Hawthorne Study

The Hawthorne study is widely considered to be one of the most influential psychological studies of all time. The study, conducted from 1924 to 1927, was aimed at increasing employee productivity. At the time, businesses did not understand the relationship between physical conditions and worker output, and many believed that workers could be forced into higher levels of productivity through environmental factors. However, the results showed that the productivity gains were due to better working conditions. These included lighting, temperature, and even noise levels. By increasing productivity, businesses could increase profits and therefore reinvest in improving the conditions of their employees.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, developed by Abraham Maslow, is a theory that explains human needs in order of importance. While it’s often referred to as a pyramid, it’s actually a model that depicts human needs in a series of descending levels. It posits that our basic human needs are: physiological, safety, social (or belonging), esteem, and self-actualization.

At the bottom of the pyramid are physiological or basic survival needs. Physiological needs include food, air, shelter, water, clothing, etc. The next rung up the ladder is safety. This includes feeling secure and safe from physical harm. Social, or love and belonging needs are third in this hierarchy. Love means being loved, cared for, and affected while belonging involves feeling accepted and included.

A person’s esteem needs are the fourth level in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. There are four basic levels of esteem:

  1. Self-Worth – how much value they assign to themselves.
  2. Accomplishment – getting something done and making progress towards your goals.
  3. Respect – respect from others and self-respect.

The highest level on the hierarchy is self-actualization. Self-actualization is the process by which people come to feel whole and complete and become themselves fully. According to Abraham Maslow, self-actualization occurs when someone achieves their highest potential in a particular field. 

Herzberg’s two-factor theory

Herzberg’s work categorized employee motivation into two factors: 

  • Intrinsic factors (motivators), such as achievement and recognition, produce job satisfaction.
  • Extrinsic factors (hygiene), such as pay and job security, produce job dissatisfaction.

Herzberg suggests that if you want someone to do something, you need to do one of two things. You either need to provide something extrinsic that motivates them or remove something intrinsic that inhibits them. The first factor is the extrinsic reward; the second factor is the intrinsic reward.

Vroom’s expectancy theory

Vroom’s theory assumes that an employee’s effort leads to performance, and performance leads to rewards. Rewards are either positive or negative, and the more positive the reward, the more likely the employee is to be highly motivated. A negative reward won’t motivate an employee. When your employee is faced with a negative reward, they’ll be less likely to be motivated.

So, according to expectancy theory, employees will be motivated for their work based on how much value they expect to get from the implementation. The higher the expectation, the greater employee motivation will be.

Adams’ equity theory

John Stacey Adams developed his job motivation theory in 1963, called Adams’ Equity Theory. This theory acknowledges that varying factors affect employee’s perception of their relationship with their work and employer.

Adams’ equity theory states that employees aim for equity between themselves and other workers. This equity is achieved when the ratio of specific employee outcomes over inputs equals other employees’ outcomes over inputs.

In other words, if the ratio of the value of the employee’s output over the value of his or her inputs is greater than the ratio of the value of the other employees’ outputs over their inputs, then the employee has more equity.

Skinner’s reinforcement theory

According to psychologist B. F. Skinner, people learn to do certain behaviors that help them reach their goals and avoid behaviors that prevent them from achieving them.

Skinner’s theory explains how positive or negative support can change a person’s behavior. Employees’ behaviors that lead to positive results will be supported, and behaviors that lead to negative results will not be reinforced. Managers should positively support employee behaviors that lead to positive outcomes and should not support employee behavior that leads to negative consequences.

Why is Employee Motivation a Complex Thing?

Employee motivation in today’s company is a much more complex question. Why? Let’s closer look inside some theories and practices.

1. Taylor’s Scientific Management for Employee Motivation

Frederick Winslow Taylor believed in the scientific method and did what scientists did in those days: conduct studies, collect data, and test hypotheses. Taylor’s Scientific Management was published in 1911, covering the first scientifically validated management principles to improve productivity. His ideas, while controversial in their day, are still valuable to businesses today because they show that managers can achieve goals by focusing on increasing worker efficiency.

Scientific management is based on very old principles (such as the need for control) that have been proven to be ineffective. This process is all about giving workers clear, simple goals and a clear understanding of what they need to do to reach those goals.

The time when we can base motivation on the ideas of Taylor’s scientific management doesn’t exist anymore. Today, people are more complex than in the past. Today’s tasks are more complex than in the past; therefore, their standardization in the way they were standardized is not possible. The performance required for optimal operation of your business today is not the same as in the past. Because of that, measuring employee performance is more and more complex.

2. Money and Motivation

Although people love money, to be honest, I still can’t find a linear relationship between the financial rewards or money and the level of employee motivation. You will need to develop your unique and completely new system that will be flexible enough to apply in different situations in your business regarding motivation.

employee's motivation and tasks

3. The Need for a Mix of Motivational Factors

Today’s and future managerial skills require a mix of motivational techniques that could be implemented in different types of situations, especially when it comes to boring, repetitive, and creative tasks. You can’t base your motivational system only on one technique. You will need the set of techniques that will always be tested for different situations, in different working places, and on different employees.

This is only a portion of possible thinking that tells you about today’s employee motivation complexity. You can’t find one excellent approach to your business. You will need to use many tests if you want to continually improve your motivational system in your business.

Dragan Sutevski

Posted by Dragan Sutevski

Dragan Sutevski is a founder and CEO of Sutevski Consulting, creating business excellence through innovative thinking. Get more from Dragan on Twitter. Contact Dragan