Two Motivation Myths

Let me pierce two important motivation myths.

First: We still think it is necessary to be intrinsically motivated for our job. This turns out not to be the case. And second: We still think it is better to be highly motivated. This, too, can go completely wrong.

1) It is necessary to be intrinsically motivated for a job.


Liking your job and thus being intrinsically motivated for your job is no longer a prerequisite for being properly motivated. And this offers a lot of perspectives for business leaders, managers, and executives. Because ‘obliging’ someone to like his job or parts of his job is not easy. What does count, and you can work on this, is how meaningful you find them. You may still like your job, but meaning, usefulness, is just as important.


2) The more motivation, the better.


Not so much the amount of motivation, but the type of motivation is decisive. Someone can be very motivated to go to work, but if this is because of external coercion (only for the money, because others expect it, for the annual bonus, for the nice car, or for the prestigious job title), or because of internal coercion (shame to do something else, guilt at too long lunch breaks), then this has a lot of negative consequences, such as unethical and competitive behavior, stress, physical and mental health complaints, etc.

“It is crucial to find your job meaningful and/or fun. Then you work from an ‘I want’ motivation. If you work from external or internal coercion, you work because ‘you have to’, and even if you are equally motivated, this leads to a lot of negative consequences.”

So just measuring the amount of motivation is not enough. A staff survey can show that your employees are highly motivated, but at the same time they do not perform as well, are absent a lot due to illness, do not feel so good about themselves, and even drop out due to burn-out. A possible explanation is that they work from a ‘I have to work’ feeling. In other words, you may be motivating your employees in the wrong way.

What is then the right motivation and why?

The Right Motivation

Autonomously motivated employees (those who find their job fun, interesting, valuable or meaningful) want to work 4 years longer than employees who are not autonomously motivated. Employees who only work because they have to (of themselves or others), count twice as many long term absentees: 22% is absent for 21 days or more, versus 10% for their colleagues. Increasing the autonomous ‘I want’ motivation significantly reduces the risk of long-term absences. Moreover, the risk of burn-out decreases dramatically with more autonomous motivation. Only 7% of the autonomously motivated are at risk of burn-out. For employees who only work because they have to, this is almost half (49%). Those who do their work because they have to, report sick more quickly for a reason other than their health, than those who do not work out of duty (17% versus 10%). These are tough figures, and they also apply within your organization.

A New Mindset

The figures indicate that we ‘work’ and the motivation for this work is quite different. Science tells us that this is possible through a focus on Autonomy, Belongingness, and Competence. These are our three universal and psychological basic needs (ABC-theory).

Any measure that increases the feeling of autonomy, belongingness, and competence gives a feeling of connection with the job, organization and colleagues, and ensures that employees want to and can stay longer at work, report less (wrongfully) sick, drop out due to burnout, etc.

The Role of the Leader

Aiming for sufficient autonomy, working on connectedness and meaning, and employing employees on their talents is, within the company context, a shared responsibility of employers and employees.

But especially the direct manager plays a crucial role here. He has a major impact on these three universal basic needs. A manager can give much or little autonomy. He can offer tasks that are too difficult, or just too easy, and he can focus on an atmosphere of trust and friendship, or rather stimulate competitiveness within his team.

Leaders who support and stimulate the ABC of their employees thus contribute to a positive organizational climate where employees find their work meaningful or enjoyable. This goes hand in hand with lower absenteeism rates, less burn-out, higher productivity, and more innovation.

Would you like to know more about the Self-determination Theory and Remote Motivation?

Subscribe to the free webinar ‘moet motivatie’ on 14 October 2020 (in Dutch).


You might be motivating your people the wrong way.

Hermina Van CoillieSenior Consultant and Motivation Expert

Join us for the Webinar

Join us for the Webinar on Motivation

Hermina Van Coillie

Hermina is an expert in motivation.

Leave a Reply

Privacy Settings
We use cookies to enhance your experience while using our website. If you are using our Services via a browser you can restrict, block or remove cookies through your web browser settings. We also use content and scripts from third parties that may use tracking technologies. You can selectively provide your consent below to allow such third party embeds. For complete information about the cookies we use, data we collect and how we process them, please check our Privacy Policy