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Motivating Employees When Money Is Tight

January 25, 2016

What motivates employees to do their best work? Many of our clients ask us this question, especially as the external environment has intensified workplace demands, resulting in smaller staffs who then have to manage expanded job responsibilities. Leaders often want to reward their employees’ loyalty and hard work monetarily, but they face resource constraints that make it impossible to offer bonuses or raises. So how can leaders keep employees motivated under these conditions?

One answer is to increase opportunities for employees to experience intrinsic motivation at work. By intrinsic motivation, we mean the internal force that drives people toward optimal performance. Many employees can remain intrinsically motivated even in the absence of rewards (like raises) or deterrents (like disciplinary action).

In our recent work with leaders, we have introduced what are called “The 3 M’s” of intrinsic motivation: Mastery, Membership, and Meaning.

Employees experience Mastery when their jobs offer opportunity for both challenge and success. When there is not enough challenge, employees may become stagnant or bored. When there is not enough opportunity for success, employees may feel discouraged or overwhelmed.

Leaders can…enhance challenge by finding ways for employees to develop stretch goals and deeper skill sets. They can also review job descriptions and work flows to make sure that they are appropriate and that they enable success.

Staff experience Membership when their need for belonging is balanced with their need for individuality. Membership feeds the human need to feel part of something, and also to feel acknowledged for one’s unique contributions to the whole.

Leaders can…enhance Membership by finding ways for employees to get to know each other both broadly (across the organization) and deeply (as whole people).

Employees experience Meaning when they see clearly how their individual work serves the organization’s mission. Even employees in ancillary departments contribute something vital to the greater good.

Leaders can…make mission and purpose part of the daily conversation; they can help employees connect the dots between routine tasks and the larger ends that they serve. Leaders can also identify opportunities for employees to help others, both internally and externally.

By keeping The 3 M’s in mind, leaders are much more likely to be able to keep their staff motivated and productive during difficult times.

— by Renya Larson, PHI Organizational Change Consultant

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