One of the most challenging aspects of human resource management is employee motivation. It manifests itself through employee morale, output, absenteeism, effort, labor turnover, loyalty and achievement. Motivation is generally defined as an internal state that induces an employee to engage in particular behaviors, or a set of factors that cause employees to behave in certain ways, but it is extremely complex. This is because employee motivation is the product of many interacting factors such as the culture of the organization, management’s leadership style, the structure of the organization, job design and HR policies and practices. The employee’s personality, skills, knowledge, abilities and attitudes also play a part.
Motivation is not understood by managers and its essence remains enigmatic. It is what makes the “high fliers” fly. It is why some employees demonstrate a burning desire to achieve, and accept increased responsibility, while others remain passive or openly hostile.
What is it that really motivates employees? Human resource managers have been struggling with this question for decades. However, it is a mistake for human resource managers to regard motivation simply as a problem of “how to get employees to work harder”. Motivation (or lack of it) can be seen in absenteeism, labor turnover, punctuality, quality and safety.
Factors that most workers say would motivate them to improve their work performance are:
- More recognition of good work.
- More information about what is going on.
- More opportunities to develop skills, abilities, creativity.
- More money.
- More interesting work.
Similarly, it is wrong for human resource managers to assume that motivation is the singular key to increased performance. Many other factors influence individual performance in an organization. No amount of employee effort can compensate for factors such as lack of ability or skill, outdated equipment, poor organizational structure or financial constraints.
Finally, it is important that human resource managers distinguish between motivation and job satisfaction. Motivation is the “why” of behavior. Job satisfaction reflects an employee’s feelings about various aspects of work. Managers have to get their employees to act in a specific, goal-directed way so that the organization’s objectives can be met. If this is done so that employees get what they want from the job, then job satisfaction is achieved. Satisfaction is thus an end state resulting from the attainment of some goal.
The employee’s attitude towards work and life in general, and his or her age, health, level of aspiration, social status and political and social activities all influence the level of job satisfaction. Managers have traditionally believed that a satisfied employee is a motivated employee. Happy employees are not necessarily productive. Job satisfaction does not automatically cause employees to work harder. In fact, the weight of evidence suggests that job performance leads to job satisfaction rather than the other way round. However, satisfaction is related to tenure, turnover, absenteeism and tardiness. The encouragement of positive feelings in the employee about work can have a direct impact on human resource costs and organizational effectiveness in achieving objectives.
- One More Time: How Do You Motivate Employees? (Harvard Business Review)
- Three Things that Actually Motivate Employees (Harvard Business Review)
- Employee Motivation: A Powerful New Model (Harvard Business Review)