How to get employees to motivate themselves

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There are two distinct mindsets employees can adopt to achieve their goals in the workplace, according to Gavin Freeman, psychologist and author of the new book Just Stop Motivating Me.

Firstly, the "motivation to succeed" mindset is driven primarily by the “failure is a simple stepping stone to future success” thought process.

In contrast, the "motivation to avoid failure" mindset is driven by the “fear of a negative evaluation of me by myself or others”. 

He added that facing pressure in the right environment can be very motivating, but just as easily it can be de-motivating.

“Many individuals thrive in a pressure cooker – consider a merchant banker or day trader – they love the thrill of the race and the competitiveness of the environment,” Freeman told HRM.

However, as the head of intensive care unit, you may choose to not create the same pressurised environment when the next unconscious patient comes through the door, he added.

“That same head of the ICU, however, may create significant pressure for his / her doctors when they are in training or even training others, he said.

“In this case, they need to learn how to work in a pressured environment.”

One of the fundamental points of Freeman’s book is that businesses should stop motivating people and focus on creating an environment where people choose to motivate themselves.

This is because it’s quicker and creates an environment in which people are more likely to use their discretionary effort to benefit the organisation, he said..

Freeman offered six tips for HR professionals to create an environment where workers motivate themselves:
  • It sounds simple, but start talking to your employees and really start listening. You might already run surveys, but I am not convinced that businesses actually listen to their people.
  • Culture needs to be led by the top and backed up by consistent behaviours. One of the best comments in the book is “people will smell bulls--- a mile away”. If leaders are inconsistent and not acting authentically you don’t stand a chance.
  • Examine the shadow your leaders are casting and how they are casting it. Helping leaders understand the subtle ways they influence a culture is vital.
  • Consider the filters and the unconscious messages that are being sent through artifacts and symbols in the organisation. For example, “ I have an open door policy” but my back is to the door and I never actually have time to speak to anyone – says volumes.
  • Consider your IT policy and the bring-your-own-device policy you have. People feel comfortable with their own devices and it can help create a motivated workforce if they have the tools they like using.
  • Accountability must match authority – no point making me accountable for something and then not giving me the matching authority to deliver on it.

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