Published On: Wed, Jun 7th, 2017

Behavioral Psychologists Research the Keys to Employee Motivation

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Scientists have been studying motivation and inspiration for decades, but only in recent years has research been able to tangibly prove what matters most to humans. Earlier this year psychologist Dan Ariely, who specializes in the study of motivation, delivered a TED talk in which he postulated that employees are motivated by a wide range of factors aside from just the amount of their salary. The research lends insight into how the human mind works while also giving employers inspiration and ideas for boosting the morale and productivity of their employees. It also raises the question whether giving an employee a raise is really the best way to motivate and inspire them.

Is Money the Only Thing That Matters?

Of course, nobody wants to work for free, and everyone wants to earn a decent wage, so money is definitely still the chief motivating factor in any work-related relationship. However, after a while, an employee will become accustomed to receiving a certain wage or salary and at a certain point they become complacent. When that happens, they can lose motivation and lack productivity in the workplace. At that point, other things wind up being more motivating than the money itself.

So, are psychologists asserting that giving a person a raise is not the best way to motivate them? Well, suddenly giving a person raise is definitely a great way to give them more confidence and a greater sense of purpose, so it’s a foolproof way to get an employee to give their A-game. At the same time, if an employer is looking for ways to motivate employeeswithout paying them more, adding meaning seems to be the best alternative option.

What Really Motivates Us?

According to Ariely and a number of other prominent behavioral psychologists, aside from money, humans are motivated most by purpose and meaning. If something seems clearly beneficial for ourselves and/or others in the long-term, or if it agrees with our sense of purpose, then it’s more likely to be a task that employees will take pride in. Subsequently, when someone is proud of the work they’re doing they’ll be more inclined to put their best effort into the job.

Apparently, humans are instinctively drawn to doing things that have meaning and represent positive change for the present and future. That might just be why paying more money works so well though. When someone sees that the work they’ve been doing has paid off with a raise, they’re much more likely to show up and work even harder knowing that there might be an additional raise coming, especially compared to someone who has been working at the same job for many years without any significant boosts in compensation.

How to Give a Job More Meaning

Some job positions are just downright difficult and unpleasant. Employers have always struggled to find creative ways to motivate employees in challenging job positions. The primary means of making a hard job more appealing is by increasing monetary compensation and benefits, but even that is sometimes not enough. Many employers are turning to motivational speakers and other training materials to try and give their workers a psychological lift during breaks or company meetings.

There are no statistics that reveal how many motivational speakers there are or how many companies are putting them to use. Although a select few companies might actually be investing in the costly expense of paying a motivational speaker to come deliver a speech in person, there are many smaller companies that use sites like YouTube to share free motivational videos with their employees via social networking sites and email. Others are resorting to making work conditions more lenient and enjoyable, or even holding competitions, parties, and other festivities and activities that make showing up for work more of a fun thing to do.

Is Too Much Motivation a Bad Thing?

You often hear of those rare cases when an individual isn’t hired for a job because they’re deemed “overqualified.” When this happens, the prospective employer is typically worried about whether the new hire will stay with the company in the long-term or use their advanced experience and credentials to move on to bigger and better things.

If a hiring manager thinks that you’ll have no problem finding a better job and quitting, they might choose to deny you on the basis of over-qualification, especially if they’re looking for full-time or long-term employees. Some theorize that the same outcome can occur when an employee is too motivated. You don’t want employees getting the idea that they should be making a serious career change and leaving the company altogether.

Giving the Right Kind of Motivation in the Right Ways

Most psychologists working on studies related to motivation have concluded that there are different kinds of motivation. After all, you can motivate someone to do many different things, and each approach will vary depending on the desired end result. Specialists conclude that it is important for employers to give strong consideration to the kind of message they’re trying to send to employees when releasing motivational content or making efforts to strengthen morale.

Behavioral psychologists specializing in employee motivation recommend that employers give their employees appealing incentives to be more productive at their current job. Overall, life coaching and encouragement might not be the best option in all cases, as it could lead to some employees quitting and looking for better opportunities than their current job position.

Practically Nothing Beats a Raise

Ultimately, it seems that giving a raise is still the most reliable and surefire way to show an employee that their contributions are appreciated. However, if an employee isn’t working hard enough to deserve a raise, then you face the obstacle of deciding whether a raise is justified to keep your employees happy in that specific job position. Additional surveys and studies would need to be conducted to confirm the hypothesis that a raise is undeniably the most effective way to give employees a much-needed boost.