In much of the research and blogs I read, I’ve heard several times now the argument that employees cannot be motivated, but only demotivated. I disagree. I believe many influences – both in the workplace and in their private lives – motivate employees to some extent. The level of influence that company leadership may have over those motivators, however, varies greatly employee by employee.

Harvard Business Review issued an excellent study last year on this: “Employee Motivation: A Powerful New Model.” The study authors examined cross-disciplinary research from the fields of neuroscience, biology and evolutionary psychology to synthesise an understanding of our four basic emotional needs or drivers: acquire, bond, comprehend and defend.

Defining motivation based on four workplace motivation indicators (engagement, satisfaction, commitment, and intention to quit), the authors found:

“About 60% of employees’ variance on motivational indicators (previous models have explained about 30%). We also found that certain drives influence some motivational indicators more than others. Fulfilling the drive to bond has the greatest effect on employee commitment, for example, whereas meeting the drive to comprehend is most closely linked with employee engagement. But a company can best improve overall motivational scores by satisfying all four drives in concert. The whole is more than the sum of its parts; a poor showing on one drive substantially diminishes the impact of high scores on the other three. … To fully motivate your employees, you must address all four drives.”

What does all this mean to employees?

“Although employees look to different elements of their organisation to satisfy different drives, they expect their managers to do their best to address all four within the constraints that the institution imposes. In short, they are realistic about what managers cannot do, but also about what managers should be able to do in meeting all the basic needs of their subordinates.”

There is a great deal more valuable insight in this article, and I encourage you to read it. But my bottom line is this – your managers are the driving force in motivating your employees to succeed. HR leaders out there: How are you equipping them to meet the employee needs they clearly expect their managers to fulfill? What are you doing to ensure that managers meet these goals and expectations? Managers chime in: are you being equipped in this way? What more do you wish would be offered to you to help you in this area?

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