Utilizing Theories Of Work Motivation To Boost Employee Morale
In a world where employee attrition is rapidly increasing, could theories of work motivation be the answer to boosting morale and retaining talent in the workplace?
Employee retention is a huge issue for the global workforce. In 2021, managers have faced a rise in discontented employees that leave due to feeling underappreciated, unfulfilled, or simply not being challenged enough. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly four million Americans quit their jobs in July 2021 alone. The resignation rate in the U.S. is now at a two-decade high, with more than 11 million jobs open. According to Neuroleadership, this is more than just a Great Resignation. This is a state of discontent.
This high turnover rate is not only inconvenient for companies, but it is also expensive. It costs the average employer upwards of 33% of an employee’s annual salary to process their departure. Plus, the expenses of advertising for a replacement can be steep too.
One way to avoid the damage done by high staff turnover is to implement a solid employee morale-boosting plan. By ensuring that employees feel recognized, adequately challenged, and are provided with opportunities for growth, turnover levels can be massively reduced.
There are many recognized theories of work motivation developed over the 21st century designed to shed light on human behaviors of motivation, productivity, and the basic needs required for high morale.
Let’s find out what they are and why they work.
More Than Money: What Employees Need To Stay Motivated
Over the past 100 years, there has been a significant push for humans to adopt job productivity as an essential part of life. Businesses thrive on the energy and input provided by their workers. But keeping them motivated is no easy feat.
Contrary to what many people believe, money is not the only thing that employees want. While money certainly is incentive enough for some, employees have many other needs that must be seen if they are to give back a certain quality of output.
Employees are simply people who want to be treated as such. And people need affirmation, opportunities, support, and fulfillment in order to provide businesses with a high level of productivity.
Any business with big ambitions needs to place a great deal of interest and care for the personal experiences of the people they employ. Without recognizing the importance of employee morale, no business can hope to achieve its goals sustainably.
Employees want to be seen as people, not machines – and they will only reach their motivational and productivity peak when treated as such. But how can businesses achieve this?
The 4 Main Motivation Theories Of The 21st Century
The study of what motivates humans is not new. In fact, the 21st century has produced a number of strong theories on work motivation relating to what drives us mentally and psychologically.
Various psychologists and human behaviorists have dedicated their studies to find out how motivation is triggered in the human brain and how we can use those triggers to our own benefit.
These four theories are the most documented schools of thought on human motivation that are available. Each theory is developed by experts to educate the world on what our basic needs are and how to nurture them both in and out of the workplace.
Any manager with a desire to boost employee morale and unlock the potential of their employees can benefit from understanding these four main theories of motivation.
1. Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
Abraham Maslow was an American psychologist from the 1940s and 50s who found recognition through publishing Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – a theory of mental and psychological health intended to help people reach their full potential.
Within Maslow’s hierarchy sits five categories of needs, each of which focuses on different aspects of health. Maslow endorses that when all of the five categories are nurtured, an individual is able to achieve a true state of self-actualization.
- Survival (water, oxygen, food)
- Safety (shelter and security)
- Belonging (family and intimate relationships)
- Self-esteem (social status, achievements)
- Fulfillment (a sense of personal growth and self-actualization).
Managers can use this hierarchy as a template for ensuring each aspect of psychological health within the workplace is being met in ways that are tangible to employees. Once these needs are seen, motivation and productivity become a natural by-product.
2. Daniel Pink’s Motivation 3.0
Daniel H. Pink is a New York Times bestselling author of the 2009 book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. By taking on a more modern approach, Pink appeals to the greater business community as an influencer on motivational strategies and theories.
Pink takes on a completely new approach to perceiving motivation, believing that most companies today still work with outdated and unsuccessful methods of boosting employee morale.
Yesterday’s theories of reward and punishment (which Pink refers to as Motivation 2.0) are no longer effective in the world of today. Employees can no longer be duped into the outmoded carrot-on-a-stick approach – they crave individual freedom and opportunity.
In order to curb attrition, Pink advocates that businesses need to provide employees with the space to grow and be creative.
Through this freedom, employees may find pleasure and satisfaction in their work, resulting in increased motivation and company loyalty.
3. Hertzberg’s Two Factor Theory
During the year 1959, a man called Frederick Hertzberg published a paper titled The Motivation to Work, within which he described a new theory on human motivation. This theory was dubbed The Motivation Hygiene Theory, or the Two Factor Theory.
Hertzberg’s “two factors” were hygiene factors and true motivators.
The term hygiene factors refer to the material aspects of job satisfaction, such as salary, policies, or a company car. He proposed that while these things can contribute to short-term employee satisfaction, the result can easily be worn down by poor management or limited growth.
True motivators are long-lasting components of job satisfaction that focus more on emotional states than material ones. Things like recognition, appreciation and professional advancement are what employees really crave from a work environment.
When employees are given individual attention and opportunities for personal growth, both their attachment to a company and their sense of morale increases significantly.
4. Vroom’s Expectancy Theory
Yale business professor Victor Vroom published a paper called Work and Motivation in 1964. In his book, Vroom outlines Expectancy Theory, a school of thought which revolves around the following three variables:
- Expectancy: this variable refers to the probability of how likely someone is to accomplish a goal if they try.
- Instrumentality: should someone accomplish that goal, instrumentality refers to how likely someone is to receive a reward for it.
- Valence: refers to the level of satisfaction or pleasure that someone may experience when receiving that reward.
If an employee does not think they can accomplish a performance goal, they are not likely to try. However, if those goals are made to be more realistic and therefore provide a higher expectancy of accomplishment, employees may feel motivated to try.
The rewards advertised for accomplishing performance goals must be both relevant and desirable in order to motivate employees. By creating a healthy and less intimidating relationship with high performance, employees may find more pleasure in their work and motivation to move forward.
4 Actionable Ways To Apply Motivation Theories In The Workplace
Understanding the theories of work motivation is one thing. Applying them to real life is another. Bosses, managers, and business leaders alike can all benefit from learning about the many ways these motivation theories can be implemented from paper into the workplace.
1. Make sure your employee’s basic needs are met
Taking a leaf from Maslow’s Hierarchy could do your company some good. If the basic needs of your employees are not being met, low morale will be their default state.
Talk to your employees and find out what can be done to improve their working conditions. Consider things such as food, lighting, hygiene, lunch breaks, and chair or desk comfort. These things may seem small, but together they can make or break an employee’s mood.
2. Give recognition and rewards
When employees’ efforts are recognized, it can help them to feel more appreciated in the workplace and motivate them to perform at a higher level.
By setting up a comprehensive rewards program with gifts that are both relevant and desirable, employee morale levels can see a massive uptick. Recognition is important for a sense of individual value within the workplace, encouraging company loyalty and leading to better retention.
3. Support employee-led initiatives
Employees don’t want to feel like afterthoughts to those who work above them. Show your employees that you care about their issues and appreciate their efforts by showing interest in their initiatives.
People want to feel as though their ideas are being taken seriously and that they have a future with the company they work for. Allow employees to surpass your expectations of them by opening up the floor and supporting their initiatives.
4. Provide career growth opportunities
If an employee cannot see a future for themselves with the company they work for, chances are they’ll quit before too long.
Business leaders who want to boost employee morale and retention are most likely to see results through implementing upskilling programs. Providing employees from every level with opportunities for career advancement is an excellent retention tool.
The Bottom Line
No matter how researched, there are no ultimate theories of motivation to solve the problem of keeping employees motivated and engaged. However, as these theories have illustrated, we all have impulses and needs that must be met in order to reach our full potential.
By providing your team of employees with a comfortable, fair working environment and ample opportunities for individual growth, any business can see positive changes to the way engagement, motivation, and morale are measured.
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