Motivating people to do great work is a continual challenge for managers. The truth is you can’t really motivate anyone, they have to motivate themselves. Yet companies invest in incentives and reward programs, and hope for the best. Don’t be fooled. Science tells us that people are motivated to satisfy three psychological needs:
Autonomy is our human need to perceive we have choices. It is our need to feel that what we are doing is of our own volition. It is our perception that we are the source of our actions, according to Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work . . . and What Does: The New Science of Leading, Energizing, and Engaging by Susan Fowler.
Relatedness is our need to care about and be cared about by others. It is our need to feel connected to others without concerns about ulterior motives. It is our need to feel that we are contributing to something greater than ourselves.
And of course, competence is a feeling that comes when we can successful do our job, solve problems and be useful. If you’re not offering opportunities to achieve satisfaction in any of these three areas, you’re leaving the door wide open for employees to become disengaged.
This is nothing new. One of the first research studies on human behaviors at work was the Hawthorne studies by GE at a plant outside of Chicago in 1924. Workers were observed to increase productivity because they were being observed and included in social interactions. George Elton Mayo described it in terms of a positive emotional effect due to the perception of a sympathetic or interested observer.
We are social animals and when offered opportunities to work together, such as in teams, we improve our engagement and productivity. We thrive on connection. Think about it: We spend an enormous percentage of our time at work, getting ready for work, preparing for meetings and presentations, thinking about what we’re going to say or do. Some estimate an average of 75 percent of our waking hours are focused on work.
If you don’t get your relationship needs met at work, you are not likely to compensate for it in the limited amount of time outside of work.
As a leader, one of the great opportunities you have is to help your people find meaning in their interpersonal experiences at work. Yet when managers apply pressure to perform without regard to how it makes people feel, people interpret the managers’ actions as self-serving. That never works, and in fact is a good reason for people to disconnect and disengage.