“If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.”
-Lao Tzu

Talent is a double waste. When an employee doesn’t speak up about an idea, it means the business loses an opportunity to grow, and that person’s morale suffers, dragging down those around them. So how do we motivate employees to perform at their best? We’re going to the sources today, looking at three popular theories and how to integrate them into your business:

1) Dual-Factor Theory:

Since the 1950s, psychologist Frederick Herzberg’s Two-Factor, or Motivation-Hygiene, theory has been influencing HR departments worldwide. It pivots on two factors:

  • Motivator Factors: These motivate employees to work harder when they’re present. They’re the “feel good” aspects, like recognition, validation, and a sense of purpose in your work.
  • Hygiene Factors: These lead to disgruntled employees when they’re absent. They are the essentials, like salary, benefits, and quality of relationships with peers and managers.

Herzberg found that while both factors influenced motivation, they acted independently from each other. Motivators increased performance when present, but didn’t directly decrease it when absent. Likewise, Hygienes didn’t improve performance when present but decreased it drastically when absent.

How to Use it:
If you have disgruntled staff, you first need to find out if it’s Motivating or Hygiene factors causing it. Everyone is different, and something affecting one person may not matter to another. Find a baseline of Hygiene factors that everyone is comfortable with (not necessarily thrilled, but comfortable). From there, start to make Motivating factors present, consistently and sustainably. This will, according to the theory, lead to maximum employee motivation.

2) Hierarchy of Needs:

Coined by Abraham Maslow in 1943, this famous theory states that meeting our five most basic needs is the key to motivation. When the five needs are met, it gives us a sense of purpose in our jobs, and we perform better. They are:

  • Physiological: Food, water, and shelter. Hopefully, all are met regardless of employer.
  • Safety: Includes personal and financial security. If your employee can’t afford rent or heating, they can’t focus on the job at hand.
  • Love/ Belonging: The need for family and friends and to feel love. Most of us even have some of this need met at the workplace.
  • Esteem: Feeling confident and respected. If your employee doesn’t feel appreciated, they won’t come forward with their best ideas. This is tied to the power and gender dynamics in your workplace.
  • Self-actualisation: This is the holy grail of psychological needs. It’s feeling that you’re living your purpose and achieving everything you can.

How It Works:
Motivating Employees - two happy contruction workersIf you can help your employees find a sense of purpose in their job, they will take ownership of it, seize it, and grow the business. Purpose doesn’t necessarily mean more money; in fact, it rarely does. It’s the spark that makes us feel good about coming to work in the morning, that we’re contributing to society and ourselves in our jobs.
To help find purpose, encourage your employees to think about the deeper undertones of their jobs. Get past the services, products, and endless email threads, and find the “why” of what they do. How do they help people day in and day out?

3) Theory of Attribution

This theory, developed by Bernard Weiner, is three dimensional and based on trying to figure out why we do what we do. Weiner believes that the things we attribute our behaviours to influence the behaviours we will have in the future directly. Not all attributions, or causes, are created equal, though, and some will be more effective than others.
To better understand the influence the causes and the effects they will have, Weiner says there are three characteristics to judge them by:

  • Stability – Will they change with time or not? If a runner in a race loses, they might attribute the loss to no stamina. Lack of stamina is a more stable and they may lose motivation if they think it’s not temporary. Less stable causes like, say, a twisted ankle, are less likely to decrease motivation, because it is believed temporary. Stable characteristics may also increase motivation but usually only in positive cases (like winning the race).
  • Locus of Control – Was it caused internally or externally? If the runner attributes the loss to an internal factor, like illness, they may be less motivated to try again. If they blame the loss on an external element, like bad weather, their motivation likely won’t dwindle.
  • Controllability – Could the situation have been controlled? The runner, for example, might believe the loss could have been controlled with harder training. If they attribute it to something they could have controlled, it may negatively affect their motivation moving forward. If they believe it was not in their control, like a bad track, it may not change their motivation as much.

How to Use It
This theory depends on regular input and feedback from employees. Ask them to what they attribute their failures. Do the same for their successes. If their attributions have less desirable characteristics for motivation, give specific feedback to change their outlook. Work toward motivation they can fuel into working harder and improving practices.

Motivation is key to reducing Talent Waste. Making the most of what we have in our hands will provide better results and happier employees. Motivating can feel like a tricky task, though. These three theories have been time-tested in workplaces over and over again. Based on the ideas of understanding human behaviour, you’ll be sure to see results with one, two, or even three theories in place.