”Instead of trying to entice people with a sweeter carrot, or threaten them with a sharper stick, we need a whole new approach”

Keeping hold of that new year zest

Are you full of plans for the year ahead? Raring to go? Feeling productive?

January lends itself to goal-setting, capitalising on the fresh start that a new year offers. However, the challenge is to not run out of steam as the year progresses. And, as well as keeping themselves on course, managers also need to ensure that their teams stay motivated long after the new year spirit dissipates.

Figures from a 2017 external employee motivation survey by professional services firm Mazars point to increased motivation among Irish employees in the previous 12 months.

The survey reveals that 87 per cent of employees are motivated in their jobs. But what makes an employee motivated? According to Mazars, two out of five employees say they are more motivated than they were a year ago due to a change of role, a new job or a salary increase.

“Having a deeper understanding of what motivates employees is crucial to leaders and managers of all organisations as it is linked to customer satisfaction, organisational performance, the achievement of organisational goals and the level of attrition within businesses,” the Mazars report notes.

Motivating your team

In a tight labour market, making sure your team is engaged and motivated is a key priority for managers. According to recent research by CIPD Ireland, the professional body for HR and people development, employee engagement was the top strategic priority in just over half the organisations surveyed.

Mary Connaughton, director of CIPD Ireland, said that demand for high-quality staff has increased the focus on employee engagement. “With three-quarters of companies reporting skills shortages in the last 12 months, greater attention is being placed on the engagement, retention and development of employees, which are central to performance and growth,” she said.

Connaughton added that organisations believe this “increased attention and investment in leadership and engagement” will lead to increased levels of employee engagement over the next couple of years.

Based on the Mazars report, employees cite financial benefits as their biggest motivator. However, money alone is not enough to keep staff happy, engaged and productive.

Tied as the second-most important factors were ‘praise and recognition’ and ‘achievement of business goals’. Employees also cited work-life balance and personal satisfaction as important factors in determining their motivation level at work.

Finding the right drivers

Managers need to bear in mind that motivating people calls for more than a one-size-fits-all approach. Get to know your team and understand what drives them.

In an interesting recent post on the Irish Management Institute’s website, Dymphna Ormond, an IMI associate, suggested that managers must “create the right environment, the right factors and opportunities that will motivate each of your team members to give their best”.

She added: “Every person on your team is different. They have different interests, strengths, skills, needs, desires and behavioural characteristics. Different work will energise different people.”

According to best-selling US author Dan Pink, there’s often a mismatch between what actually motivates people and what companies do to motivate their staff.

Adopting a new approach

Pink’s Ted Talk on the science of motivation has had more than 20 million views. In it he explains why he believes the way businesses try to motivate staff is often flawed. “These contingent motivators – if you do this, then you get that – work in some circumstances,” he said. “But for a lot of tasks, they actually either don’t work or, often, they do harm.”

Instead of trying “to entice people with a sweeter carrot or threaten them with a sharper stick, we need a whole new approach”. He believes motivation centres on three key elements; autonomy, mastery and purpose.

So as you gear up for the year ahead, think about how each member of your team works, what drives them and what can improve the work environment for all of you, ultimately leading to happier people and a more productive team.