The Business Of Business: Three employee needs to consider in creating a motivating workplace

Organizations are nothing without their employees. Without highly competent and committed employees, organizations wouldn’t function optimally or achieve meaningful success. It is important, therefore, to keep employees intrinsically motivated at work. Employees are intrinsically motivated when they perform job tasks out of inherent enjoyment for those tasks, rather than to obtain a reward such as a salary. There are three basic psychological needs which need to be satisfied in order to maintain employees’ intrinsic motivation. Organizations should consider adopting strategies to meet these needs if they wish to create a motivating workplace.

1.    Autonomy

Autonomy is arguably the most important need to satisfy in order to keep employees intrinsically motivated. Employees need to feel that they are acting of their own volition when performing their work, that they are making their own decisions and not being dictated to excessively by their employer. Organizations should provide their employees with as much autonomy as is feasible. There are several ways to do so:

・    Provide employees with choice whenever possible. Organizations might allow their employees to choose their working hours, the location of their work, their work assignments, or even how they perform their work. Offering employees choice in the workplace allows them to feel in control of certain aspects of their work, which is likely to increase their intrinsic motivation. When choice isn’t possible, organizations should explain why.

・    Acknowledge employees’ perspectives. Being willing to understand the workplace from an employee’s perspective goes a long way towards supporting your employees’ autonomy. Adopting the point-of-view of your employees makes them feel heard; when they feel that their opinions matter, they are more likely to be intrinsically motivated to perform their work.

・    Avoid controlling practices. Organizations can unintentionally thwart their employees’ autonomy by adopting controlling workplace practices. Consider minimizing the use of controlling language (e.g., “should,” “must,” “ought”) when interacting with employees. Limiting the number of controls placed on employees is also a wise idea. An example of this would be to avoid forcing employees to attend workshops that aren’t necessary to the successful performance of their job. 

2.    Competence

Employees also need to feel a sense of mastery when performing their work in order to remain intrinsically motivated. Organizations should consequently foster feelings of competence in their employees. These feelings can be fostered as follows:

・    Provide employees with an optimal level of challenge. Presenting employees with tasks that aren’t too easy or too hard allows them to develop a sense of competence by practicing their job-related skills. If employees feel that they do not have the necessary skills to successfully perform their job tasks, then opportunities to develop those skills should be made available to them.

・    Provide employees with meaningful feedback. Employees should be given constructive and task-oriented feedback on their performance at regular intervals. Without such feedback, it is impossible to know which aspects of their work they are performing well and which aspects they need to improve.

3.    Relatedness

Lastly, employees need to feel a sense of interpersonal connectedness or purpose in their work. Feelings of belongingness are important to the experience of intrinsic motivation. Organizations can meet their employees’ need for relatedness by performing the following actions:

・    Acknowledge employees’ feelings. Giving voice to employees’ feelings in a way that conveys empathy allows employees to feel connected to their workplace. Employees who feel understood are likely to experience a sense of belonging while at work.

・    Provide opportunities to develop interpersonal relationships. Employees who are able to establish meaningful relationships in their workplace are more likely to find their work intrinsically motivating. It is especially important to make it easy for new employees to become a part of the organization’s social community, so as to make them feel as if they belong in the workplace.

・    Allow different groups within the organization to connect. The easier it is for employees from different departments within the organization to interact, the more likely employees will be to experience interpersonal connectedness at work. Furthermore, the more connected that employees feel to their workplace, the more likely they will be to remain with their organization.

Research has associated intrinsic motivation with a host of positive work-related variables, such as job commitment, superior job performance, organizational citizenship behaviour, and reduced burnout and turnover intention. If organizations think it desirable to have intrinsically motivated employees, then they should consider implementing some of the suggestions listed above. 

Bianca Lallitto has a Master's degree in Psychology with a certificate in Industrial/Organizational Psychology. She has a penchant for behavioural analysis, and enjoys exploring the possible causes of people’s actions. Her analyses frequently extend to the world of fiction; her thoughts on the behaviour of fictional characters can be found on her blog, Fiction Digest.

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