By Sunny K. Lurie
Most people would love to be enthusiastic about their work. However, the latest study shows 69 percent of employees are unengaged at work – that’s two out of three who are unmotivated to perform. What really motivates us at work? Harvard research in 2015 identified several direct motivators that increase performance and indirect motives that decrease work results.
The positive motivators below directly connect to the work itself. A career motivated by one or more of the three helps us flourish and perform:
- Purpose — feeling your work is meaningful, believing you are making a contribution and your performance matters. You value the work’s impact because the direct outcome of the work fits your identity. For example, a social worker driven by purpose who values the goal of empowering, educating, and supporting families to lead healthy, productive lives. (Purpose is also a top motivator identified by Daniel Pink, best selling author, “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us”)
- Play — working because you enjoy the job and your role and responsibilities, and you derive satisfaction while doing the work. Play is an instinct tied to curiosity and discovery to resolve things. For example, a tech professional at play is intrigued looking for ideas and finding solutions for each new technology challenge.
- Potential — growing in your career is the important incentive for you. Believing that performing the job with continued learning will help you develop and increase your potential. For example, a chef who is also learning to run the business as part of a plan to start and own a restaurant in the future.
When outside negative motives overpower the positive ones, they become highly distracting and often reduce work quality. Below are indirect motives not attached to the actual work that lower employee performance, according to the Harvard study.
- Emotional pressure — working because an external factor is pushing you. This motive is totally separate from the job. For example, your family compels you to go to law school and now you’ve completed it and would be distressed to disappoint them with a change in direction. Or experiencing tension from your company due to unrealistic goals that produce overwhelming emotional pressure.
- Economic pressure — doing the job to pay off mounting expenses, tuition bills or working only to receive a paycheck. For example, you have young children and elderly parents to care for and must work to provide support.
- Apathy, frustration — feeling indifferent or frustrated about the work you do because your position is not well-suited to your strengths and interests. For example, you are unhappy at work but remain at the company because you have not figured out which path to take and you are unable to gain clarity. This represents people of all ages.
If you are part of a high-performing organization, chances are you are encouraged to work with purpose, play, and potential. This can be accomplished in varying ways. One easy yet effective approach is to regularly ask each other the following questions:
For example: What impact did you have this week? (Purpose). What did you learn or try this week? (Play). What do you want to learn next? (Potential).
Companies with a healthy work culture also support educational programs that help minimize emotional pressure, economic pressure, and apathy. Growing a motivated workforce does not have to be complicated. In fact by supporting a few positive motivators and limiting negatives motives, organizations can and will inspire people to stay engaged and power up their performance.
If you have questions about workplace performance, please email me.
Sunny K. Lurie, Ph.D., is the CEO of Advanced Performance, which helps organizations maximize employee engagement, motivation, and performance by promoting organizational well-being.