What Really Motivates Employees

(Hint: It’s Not Money)

By Lori McNeill

Are employees at your organization disengaged? Do you find it challenging to get buy-in regarding initiatives or tasks that are critical to your success? Maybe you need to re-think your approach …

Employees Crave Autonomy
As adolescents, we were told what to do on a regular basis: what time to get up, what time to go to bed, what to wear, what to eat, and on and on. That approach is not necessarily motivating for kids, but it is necessary to teach them discipline and routine, and is necessary for their health and safety.

As adults, most of us have figured out how to match our clothes appropriately and not embarrass ourselves when we leave the house. We manage to feed ourselves and satisfy our hunger. Somehow we get through our day-to-day activities without someone telling us what, when, and how to do everything.

So, if adults manage to function on their own in the real world, why do we think they need to be told what, when, and how at work on a daily basis? Do leaders think employees revert back to an adolescent state of mind at the workplace so it is necessary to monitor their every movement? A controlling approach is not motivating to employees either, and it is really not necessary.

Give Them What They Want
Resist the Need to Micro Manage
I recently listened to a podcast on NPR, which stated that “micro-managing” is the number one complaint employees have regarding their managers. Most of us have experienced this phenomenon.

In fact, one manager I had early in my career comes to mind. The company I was working for had a policy regarding Summer Hours, allowing employees to work longer hours Monday through Thursday so they could leave at 2 p.m. on Fridays during the summer months to beat the terrible traffic in the Northeast. Employees loved this policy. They would eagerly work the longer hours during the week so the Friday commute was bearable.

Unfortunately, my manager didn’t value the program. She always wanted to be the star in the department, so she would walk the halls to make sure her direct reports were still there on Fridays after 2 p.m. Her controlling attitude did not sit well with her employees, but they feared repercussions if they left. It did not make them more productive, but instead did the opposite as they begrudgingly sat at their desks, checking sports scores and the news until the manager finally left and they were free to go as well.

It wasn’t isolated to Summer Hours. She took the same controlling approach regarding every initiative she gave to her staff. As you can imagine, moral in that department was at rock bottom.

Give them Freedom
For reasons of compliance, safety and consistency, it is important to have standard operating procedures in place. However, there are probably lots of opportunities to give your direct reports freedom to make decisions on their own.

The next time you have core values that are big initiatives from headquarters, ask them how it applies to their department and their work. Then ask how they can create their own ways to implement the values. The next time a business problem, sales target, or client issue arises, ask them to give you a handful of ways they can problem solve.

It is critical to explain the WHY to employees, but give them some flexibility and freedom to figure out the HOW. They will be more engaged and vested in the outcome if they have a say in how it gets done instead of being told and controlled.

If you want to chat with Lori about inspiring autonomy in your employees, email her at lori@price-associates.com.