A great deal of fascinating research has been done on what motivates people. Abraham Maslow created a hierarchy of needs, which was later expanded by Richard Barrett. Daniel Pink goes into the details of this hierarchy in his excellent video, The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.
Effectively motivating your employees is never as simple as you’d like it to be. Different people have different values, but at our core, most of us want the same basic benefits from our jobs. Study this hierarchy of employee motivators, then ask yourself whether your workplace culture allows employees to meet each of these needs:
The first and most basic need that employees have is gaining a fair salary for the work that they do. Without this baseline reward, the vast majority of your employees would never come into work for you again.
The next need that we all share is the need for a congenial work environment. If a person hates going into work every day because their coworkers are jerks or their boss yells at them constantly, they’re going to look for another job as quickly as they can. Work doesn’t necessarily have to be our favorite place in the world, but the more pleasant and welcoming the environment, the more satisfied employees will be.
Once those two basic needs are met, employees start looking for higher levels of satisfaction from their jobs. The first level is self-esteem: people want to do jobs that help them build their skills and expertise. Daniel Pink refers to this motivator as mastery. In essence, we all want to be doing something that helps us rise in our field and feel confident in our accomplishments.
One step higher is transformation, or the freedom to make our own choices. The vast majority of people appreciate at least some degree of autonomy in the work that they do. If someone is looking over your shoulder every minute, not trusting you to choose the best path, you’re bound to feel stifled and underappreciated.
The highest motivator is a feeling of purpose. Ideally, we all wish we could be doing jobs that perfectly align with our core values. Whether your values are saving the world from pollution or making the best apple pie known to mankind, you will feel the most satisfied with your work if you’re able to align your passions with your career.
What This Has to Do with Workplace Culture
Most businesses manage to cover the survival and relationship motivators, but fail to go any further. Cultivating a workplace culture that facilitates self-esteem, transformation, and internal cohesion is essential to reducing workplace stress and increasing engagement. According to Gallup, organizations with low employee engagement have 18% lower productivity, 16% lower profitability, and 65% lower share price over time. Thus, improving engagement through strong motivators can help your business in very real ways.