As workforces adapt to the changing times, knowing what motivates your staff is more important than ever. Studies show that a motivated workforce is likely to produce a higher-quality output. Poorly motivated workers, on the other hand, show less commitment, experience less job satisfaction and exhibit more apathy about work, and contribute to increased employee turnover. With expert insights from assessment specialists 10x Psychology, we look at the secrets of motivation.

What is motivation?

In short, motivation is what drives our behaviour and explains why we do the things we do, in the way we do them. Research suggests that motivation isn’t controllable; it’s something that occurs within people’s minds and hearts. Both extrinsic (reward-based) and intrinsic (with no apparent reward other than the work itself) motivations are found to be significant predictors of workplace performance. 

Research shows that there are numerous drivers of motivation, such as autonomy, job variety, mastery, personal growth, reward striving, social impact, competition, goals and targets, corporate responsibility, or work environment. 

We’re all motivated by these to varying degrees – and understanding that can help HR managers hire the right candidates and provide an optimum working environment. “It's not just about what the individual needs,” says Gerianne de Klerk, Head of Psychometrics at 10x Psychology. “It’s what can the organisation give – and can we get a match between those two things to make this a really productive workplace?” 

Talent acquisition and onboarding 

Knowing what motivates applicants (it varies widely!) is invaluable in the recruitment and onboarding process. But not all of us consciously understand our motivations, even when asked about them – which is why psychometric testing can be so useful at this stage.

10x Psychology has developed a motivation questionnaire that uses behavioural insights to capture which factors drive an individual in the workplace. “Our data analysis shows that matching the right individuals to the right roles really can bring about an increase in overall performance,” says de Klerk. Understanding these drivers, alongside other factors like skills and experience, can help hirers make the right choice of candidate.

Say, for example, you’re an HR director of a non-profit with limited budget for pay rises. Given a field of strong applicants, you might choose to prioritise those who are more motivated by making a social impact than by financial reward. Or, if you know a candidate is highly motivated by autonomy, you can decide and discuss whether the role allows for the independence that person wants. 

The insights gained from psychometrics can also be valuable for candidates themselves, notes 10x Psychology’s Chief Product Officer, Dr Liza Walter-Nelson. “If I'm highly driven by autonomy, I’m going to look for information around governance at the interview stage, or I might ask specific questions around structure and decision-making in the organisation.” 

Performance management

If you’ve taken the time to carry out psychometric testing on new hires, don’t ditch that valuable data as soon as they’re on board. Reviewing employees’ motivational drivers at intervals (easy if you use an online assessment platform) can help employers manage them more effectively, inform learning and development plans, and evolve their responsibilities to maximise performance.

Dr Walter-Nelson says, “We might have someone who’s plodding along in their job, but something’s missing. Is the role progressing in a way that isn’t keeping them motivated? We might then consider job enrichment or job enlargement. If they are driven by job variety, for example, we could involve them in multiple projects or assign work to them across teams to increase the variety in their work.”

These behavioural insights don’t just have benefits at an individual level. Aggregated motivational results can help managers better understand what drives the team collectively. This can be used to improve communication, define shared goals, divide work, and improve collaboration. 

Career progression (and exit)

To maximise the benefits of motivation-led management, it’s a good idea to survey employees again at intervals: “Motivation isn’t static and when a person’s circumstances change, so do their motivational drivers. Taking stock of what matters to each person could be done once a year, or even more often,” says Dr Walter-Nelson. At different stages in our careers, we’re all motivated by different concerns, whether that’s recognition, pay, personal growth, or work-life balance. 

And ultimately, understanding what motivates someone at work can help you both realise when their current job is just not a good fit. Exits can be smoother, avoided altogether, or used to both parties’ advantage. 

“You can exit somebody well by having an honest conversation about what they need, and agreeing that you can’t offer it right now, so they can go and get that experience somewhere else,” says Dr Walter-Nelson. “They could easily return to you when the right role comes up, and be a really useful and productive employee again.” 

This article was first published in People Management on 28 June 2021.

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