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About Motivation

by dr. Hermina Van Coillie

ABC Motivation?

Motivation makes people act, take actions (or not at all). Without motivation there is no behavior. And if you want the right behaviour, you also need the right motivation.

Wanting to work longer, less prolonged, and frequent absences and a lower risk of burn-out: scientific research and practical experience show that the autonomous work motivation of employees has a positive impact on well-being, attitudes, work performance, and business results. And as an organization, you can effectively have a strong impact on the autonomous motivation of your employees. But what exactly does this mean? What is this autonomous motivation? And how can you increase it?

Intrinsic Motivation?

For a long time, the focus was on ‘intrinsic motivation’. An employee is intrinsically motivated for a task if he/she wants to perform that task. The disadvantage of intrinsic motivation is that it is sometimes difficult to influence it: you cannot force someone to like a task.

And then what happened? Jan always comes too late? Peter is not wearing his safety helmet? Sofie takes too long a lunch break? Does Inge refuse to use the new software? In these situations it is often too quick to switch to “punishing and rewarding”. Or even worse, to guilt and shame induction. Both are extrinsic types of motivation. This will certainly work in the short term, but there are a lot of negative consequences associated with this.

However, research now shows that there is also a certain type of extrinsic motivation that has a very positive influence, and even more so, is easy to influence. Provided you know what you are working on. We then talk about ‘usefulness and meaning’. Employees can be positively motivated as soon as they recognize the importance of something. Even if there is no intrinsic motivation for this. Then we speak of ‘autonomous motivation’. Autonomic motivation is broader than intrinsic motivation because it also applies to tasks which the employee does not like to perform, but estimates as meaningful or valuable.

Autonomous motivation – an employee likes his job, is interesting, valuable or meaningful – is opposed to controlled motivation, in which an employee only does something because it has to be done by others (‘I do it because my boss says I have to do it’ or ‘I only do it for pay’) or because of internal coercion (‘I do it because otherwise I will feel guilty’ or ‘I would be ashamed if I don’t do it’).

In the figure below this is shown schematically.

The Impact of Autonomous Motivation

Employees who are autonomously motivated want to work four years longer than their non-autonomously motivated colleagues. In addition, autonomous motivation goes hand in hand with fewer absences, both short and long absences, fewer work accidents, lower unwanted turnover, and a drastic reduction in the risk of burn-out (from 50% to 7%). Autonomously motivated employees also have better health, both physically and mentally, are more productive, proactive, innovative, more satisfied and involved with their job, more involved in their organization, perform better, and are happier. The impact at the organizational level is also visible: More satisfied customers and higher turnover. In short, autonomously motivated employees provide a lot of positive outcomes. Both for the employees themselves, and for the organization.

The question is then, how can you increase the autonomous motivation of your employees. The answer to this is very simple: By responding to three fundamental, universal, and innate basic needs. These are our need for Autonomy (the experience of being yourself and being allowed to act, think and feel voluntarily; the experience of choice and psychological freedom), Connectedness (the experience of a warm, close and authentic bond with others, taking care of others and being loved), and Competence (feeling competent and effective to perform an activity, achieving desired goals and thus developing one’s own skills), in other words, ABC.
Central to this ‘ABC’ approach, and more concretely in these three basic needs, is the power of trust. This way of motivating, with a focus on meaningfulness and meaning, where you give employees autonomy (not too much, but also not too little), and where you enter into a deep connection with your employees, and their commitment to their competencies and talents, will only succeed if you can trust each other. If this trust is not there, employees don’t dare admit their mistakes, don’t dare express their needs and emotions, but hide them from each other. And without trust, you will automatically end up with the classic motivational strategies of punishment, reward, and guilt and shame induction, better known as ‘The carrot and the stick method’.

How can you use the work environment to grow trust between your employees and fulfill these three basic needs? The answer is also very clear, through job design and the style of leadership.

Below is a schematic overview.

  • Do you notice that your homeworking employees are losing the connection?
  • Do you notice that their involvement is decreasing?
  • Are your employees less motivated?
  • Do you feel that stress is increasing within your organization?
  • Are a number of your employees struggling with mental or physical health problems?
  • Do you want to adjust your bonus system?
  • Is the motivation of your employees decreasing?
  • Are you not getting your employees involved in the new organizational structure?
  • Do you notice resistance to changes?

Then it is time for a new approach, a new way of management and ABC motivation

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