For years, employee motivation efforts have focused on granting assignments and providing rewards, both financial and nonfinancial. However, today’s employees desire more than bigger paychecks, gift certificates, and broader roles. Research shows they are further engaged and motivated by knowing their efforts are meaningful and appreciated, employers care about their welfare, and any recognition they receive is truly warranted.

Studies consistently show that motivating workers in this digital age requires greater emphasis on the way they are treated. Extrinsic rewards, e.g., bonuses, are welcome and valued, and even more so when the employee believes the reward is deserved. Employees want to know that their performance is worthy of recognition based on actual data and results, not subjective performance management forms or assumptions by higher-ups. When employees receive a reward tied to their specific performance, it is more motivating than a blanket award or recognition given to all employees.

Engagement and Motivation

Employee engagement is a huge issue for many firms. A recent Gallup poll indicated that 70 percent of employees are not actively engaged. A Towers Watson study showed similar results in Canada. This lack of involvement by workers can have a significant impact on results. Research has shown that companies with engaged employees generate three times higher profit margins than other organizations. This implies that improvements in employee motivation and engagement can drive improvements in overall business performance, too.

Performance Reviews and Stimuli

Businesses have long grappled with ways of evaluating performance and using results to motivate staff. Filling out performance management forms and delivering the results has become increasingly bureaucratic and burdensome at many firms. Employees and managers are less satisfied with the performance review process than ever, with even high performers finding them unconstructive. Research is showing that only 29 percent of employees believe their firm’s performance management system is fair. This lends support to the need for fact-based measures going forward.

Part of the issue may lie in a difference between employees’ perceptions of their performance versus their management’s. Someone who is motivated and performs well does not do so because there will be a form completed at year-end; they are often self-motivated.

Abraham Maslow famously introduced his hierarchy of needs three-quarters of a century ago. In many ways, his 1943 paper, A Theory of Human Motivation, still reflects reality in today’s workforce. Employees’ initial reasons for working at all are to meet basic needs for food, shelter and such. However, the higher-level needs for self-esteem, respect from others and a feeling of self-actualization or development are those that drive performance and offer clues for further motivation and recognition efforts.

When behavior is intrinsically motivated, individuals feel their accomplishments are under their control. If they feel valued, this will drive behavior. Conversely, if individuals see the motivation for completing tasks to be externally driven and the results as subjective, they are likely only to be engaged when they feel they are being watched. Either way, their feelings of being appreciated are directly related to the effort they put into their work.

Notable Motivators Today

The impact of rewards on employee motivation differs psychologically on internal and external levels. Different people react to different types of rewards. However, overall, motivation is more effective when it recognizes how employees feel about their work. The better they feel, the more motivated they are likely to be.

Study after study illustrates the value of three main factors in employee motivation: giving relevance and context to the role, showing an appreciation for contributions and putting a priority on self-care or more casual recognition rituals:

  • Relevance and Context – If employees understand their role and how their results matter, they are more motivated. No one wants to feel that they are doing busy work or completing a project that no one cares about. So, helping them understand the big picture and their piece of it ties back to Maslow’s theories on self-esteem and actualization. It can also drive engagement and results.
  • Appreciation, Kindness, and Recognition – Making employees feel appreciated and valued can be more powerful than providing rewards by rote. Managers tend to underestimate the power that acknowledgment can have on employee efforts. Sincerely voicing your confidence in employees and expressing warmth is important. Positive work relationships and recognition promoted employee loyalty more than salary boosts, according to a United Kingdom study. They found that most people would leave a well-paying job if it did not enhance them both professionally and personally. They felt that the right kind of appreciation from senior staff and good relationships with colleagues was critical. Many other studies show that culture has a strong impact on performance.
  • Wellness and Work-life Balance – Some companies implement wellness programs, such as on-site yoga classes and gym equipment, to reduce workplace stress. They then demotivate employees and reduce morale with intense work schedules and a sense that taking the time to use these programs is not acceptable. Showing employees that their well-being is important day-by-day can have a positive impact. Additionally, allowing people to take time out to decompress enables them to be more productive when they return. Food is also a recognition tool that can be received positively or negatively. Ordering meals in so people can work through breaks does nothing to motivate and recharge mental batteries. By contrast, bringing in food and making everyone stop working to recognize a person or team helps. Studies show that providing snacks and food perks can be a motivator and retention tool when implemented as described above.

Fair and Factual Treatment

Employees want to be fairly treated (and financially rewarded) for their workplace efforts. Most do recognize that they are not in the best position to evaluate their performance in contrast to others in similar roles. They are limited in their ability to observe themselves and others accurately.

So-called SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely) goals are supposed to provide actionable metrics, but they often reflect activities outside of routine tasks, such as a special project for the year. At review time, the results and performance are subjectively measured, often without context to the other accomplishments that year that were not in the review.

Using metrics to gauge productivity and results by each employee or team compared to peers provides a better view of how motivation and engagement efforts are working. It also helps to identify areas that need improvement. In addition, data-driven facts will be better received than subjective observations from a supervisor.

Sapience offers productivity measurement and improvement tools that enable firms to track performance more accurately. These enlightened analytics are designed to drive employee engagement and process improvements, and enhance productivity.

To learn more about our productivity measurement and improvement tools, visit www.sapience.net.