In my experience, there are three types of approaches to employee motivation :

  1. Companies that don’t bother at all
  2. Companies that have complex systems and procedures in place to ensure that their people development programme is rock solid (but aren’t necessarily interested in what their employees’ real goals and ambitions are)
  3. Those companies that actually listen to employees and help them get to where they want to go

Those that don’t bother at all often take this approach because of cost/time issues. They don’t realise the negative effect on productivity. Nor the bottom line and ultimately the loss of their most valuable resource due to declining employee motivation.

Professional development

There is a whole raft of companies with extensive professional development programmes. The expectation is that employee motivation will soar because they have the opportunity to put a development plan in place. Which is often heavily vetted/influenced/directed by their managers and/or regimented organisational career progression paths. They will then given targets based on that development plan. Using the carrot (reward) and stick (punishment) approach to promote the achievement of those targets.

Intrinsic goals

And then there are a few companies that realise that the only way to raise employee motivation, and therefore creativity and productivity, is to focus on their intrinsic goals.  The things that really matter to them. This approach allows these companies to grow. Whether Google’s “20% time” rule has been effectively killed off or not, in its heyday it brought us Gmail and AdSense as well as many more innovations that have been highly profitable for Google.

Whilst hordes of young managers get itchy feet and often end up getting hefty pay-rises every time they move to a new company, on average every 28 months.  The reason they leave isn’t money. It’s lack of development and progression. They don’t feel valued and they, therefore, lose motivation.

The puzzle of motivation

In his fantastic 2009 TED Talk, “The Puzzle of Motivation”, Dan Pink talks about the ‘mismatch between what science knows and what business does’. And makes a compelling case for the need to focus on intrinsic motivators rather than extrinsic ones.

Dan cites extensive well-documented research carried out at illustrious institutions such as MIT and the London School of Economics. Demonstrating that, for tasks requiring even just the smallest amount of cognitive ability, incentives don’t increase performance; they have a detrimental effect and actually decrease performance.

Three key factors to intrinsic motivation

  • Autonomy: “The urge to direct our own lives.”
  • Mastery: “The desire to get better & better at something that matters.”
  • Purpose: “The yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.”

Coming back to the three types of companies in terms of their approach to people development, I have worked in all three. I consider myself very fortunate to have worked, first as an employee, then a manager and finally a shareholder and director in a company that fell into the third category. A company that valued intrinsic motivators. We had a clear and structured approach to reviewing performance.  We genuinely listened to our employees. This led to increased motivation as employees felt empowered and valued.

The risk to a business adopting this approach is that some employees develop as far as they can but then move on because they want to move their career in a different direction, but I see this as evidence of success: Developing employees shouldn’t be about tying them to a company forever. It should be about allowing them to flourish and progress as far as they want to within the company, for as long as there is mutual benefit in that employee/employer relationship. Without these steps in place then any employer will kill employee motivation, eventually.

This post was updated in April 2019


Frederika Roberts – The Happiness Speaker

Inspiring you to achieve more success through the application of positive psychology principles.

Frederika Roberts is an ordinary person who has experienced extraordinary events. In business, she has learnt at least as much from her mistakes as from the things she got right. Her personal life has been a roller-coaster of emotions, yet Frederika feels exceptionally lucky and describes herself as ‘fundamentally happy’. Now she shares her poignant, emotional story and her ‘Recipe for Happiness’ with audiences and readers to help them be happier, more resilient and more successful at achieving their goals.

Born in Italy, of dual Italian and German nationality, Frederika moved to Luxembourg with her parents when she was two years old. She moved to the UK in 1990 to study at the University of Bradford, where she met her husband. After obtaining her BSc(Hons) in Business and Management, Frederika undertook post-graduate studies in education and became a qualified teacher. Over the years, she has worked in education, held customer services and sales roles and worked in recruitment. She has set up and run her own businesses, managed teams and worked for herself.

Frederika is a professional speaker, the Author of ‘Recipe for Happiness’ and a coach & trainer. She is a Professional Member of the Professional Speaking Association (PSA) of the UK & Ireland and is joint Vice-President of its Yorkshire region.