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The right mix for motivation

By Rachelle Peard. Published on 14 October 2014

Toby Burton, reward search specialist at Eton Bridge Partners looks at the different factors which employers should consider to maximise motivation.

To view the by full article on the Institute of Leadership & Management website, please click here

We can broadly define motivation as the process that drives our goal-orientated behaviours. Motivation causes us to act, it gets us out of bed in the morning, it enables us to achieve. The correlation is almost absolutely aligned, increased motivation is a consequence of increased engagement in any process or job.

If we are disengaged, our motivation is low and we’re in survival territory, but when we are highly-engaged, we can realise our ambitions much more effectively, because it is motivation that helps us achieve.

Whilst few would disagree on the above – the debate as to what gives our brains that motivational spark is harder to answer. Employers know that getting motivation right means increased focus, engagement and ultimately increased profits, but everyone is different.

For some, cash will be the big motivator, for others, a package linked to the highs and lows of the stock market. The list goes on: a big fat pension; a sense of social wellbeing; more time off; a sabbatical; to be happy come what may; to have a job aligned to your hobbies and interests; to be 10 minutes from your front door.

The easy answer is that these options all sound pretty good and many individuals would put their hand up and say ‘yes, thank you I’ll have a bit of all of the above’. Of course, the reality is somewhat different, as very few employers are able to offer that golden mix of motivational factors.

Not only that, but different people at different stages of their life will place different levels of importance on those factors – at a basic level for example; someone saving for a house deposit can probably tolerate sitting in an office with a leaky roof and people they dislike with a passion, whilst they are saving. Whereas someone who has paid off their mortgage is perhaps ready to focus more on the ethics and happiness their job gives them, ahead of the cash bonus they might receive.

To find the right solution, employers need to look at a range of potential motivators and adapt them to suit an individual’s circumstance. All too often, money is presumed to be the answer to motivate and retain employees, but generally speaking, it isn’t. Moreover, this inaccurate lever of perceived motivation improvement is often deployed at completely the wrong time, ie when they receive a resignation from a disengaged employee.

As a headhunter, I know that employees mainly leave due to the push rather than the pull factor. The push almost certainly comes first – usually as a result of poor or uninspired leadership at a senior management level and above. Take the example of employee A, who has just resigned. Company X wants to retain them, so should they counter offer with another £10k, or are they delaying the inevitable?

The latter is often the case, because it’s likely employee A will be disillusioned with decision making at a higher level within the organisation. Spending the £10k on a leadership development programme or planning out a flexible working strategy may provide a more enlightened solution.

Focus given to these less tangible factors will serve the company far better in the long run. Higher calibre leadership that has been invested in, that sets a vision, that communicates and takes employees along as part of the vision will send motivation soaring.

The results will be clear; lower attrition levels, higher engagement, better financials, an ability to draw in better talent through increased employer reputation in the wider market. In short it will improve profits simply by engendering a more rounded approach to inspiring employees into the discretionary effort zone.

In today’s modern workplace, people desire (and expect) flexibility, and will respond accordingly. When it comes to remuneration, cash will always be extremely important and getting this element right remains critical and emotive. But crucially, it is knowing when you are using the cash lever wisely that makes the difference, and employers should only do so when they can be sure it will have a meaningful impact on motivation. But above all it is the desire to be inspired – and this inspiration breeds motivation.

Ultimately it’s the combination of positive working environment and high calibre, inspirational leadership that is critical to motivation, and a highly engaged and focused workforce will follow.