You can only set off the fire (of enthusiasm) in others if you are burning with confidence.” 

What motivates our employees and us?
Food for thought about motivation

When someone asks me for help or advice, I am happy to help. When someone needs something, I give it. When someone asks for support on the job, I give it to them. What motivates me to get involved with others or something, or even do more than I ask? 

In science, there are a variety of theories and attempts to explain the phenomenon of “motivation”:

“State of a person that causes them to choose an alternative course of action to achieve a particular result …. In contrast to biological drives, which are limited in humans, motivation and individual motives are learned or imparted in socialization processes. The term motivation is often also used in the sense of drives for action or needs.”

Gabler’s Business Dictionary

We distinguish between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation refers to the effort to do something out of an inner desire. Extrinsic motivation is based on external incentives.

Intrinsic motivation

“Intrinsic motivation is characterised by sincere pleasure in a task. This can be seen, for example, in a passion for which you are burning or in a hobby. You are immensely motivated in subjects, spend your free time on them and can occupy yourself with them for hours.

Intrinsically motivated people act with the inner driver of achieving and mastering the topic. It does not need any form of reward or confirmation. Simply for personal pleasure.”

Extrinsic motivation

“Extrinsic motivation acts on us from outside. You don’t dedicate yourself to a task for its own sake but because you are motivated to do it by external influences. Factors for extrinsic motivation are financial incentives such as salary, a promotion, fear of sanctions, dismissal, status and recognition, expectations from other people (parents, partners, society…)….

When you act extrinsically motivated, you expect a reward or acceptance and belonging to a group.”

Even as children, we are “taught” motivation. We get something, or we are not allowed to do something. Mostly extrinsic motivation is in the foreground, i.e. rewards punishment by parents and teachers play a significant role. 

Many parents use the principle of punishment and reward to get their children to do unloved things (tidying up, doing homework). Children comply with the “announcement” because they expect something from it or want to escape punishment.

Perhaps this sounds familiar from your childhood? In adults, the learned behaviour is reinforced: money, prestige, power or the desire to be liked and respected stimulate us to perform specific actions. 

However, as adults, we are also driven by something else: What do we enjoy doing? What do we like to do? What are we interested in? What do we see as meaningful?

Both are present in every human being and have an effect on our private life and our working life.

It is worth noting that intrinsic and extrinsic motivation exist side by side. You can take great pleasure in your job and feel an inner drive to work. At the same time, you want to be paid well for it and rise to a good position. The forms of motivation are not mutually exclusive.

You should know your motivating factors if you want to motivate others. 

  1. Get an idea of your situation. E.G.:

– Family situation

– Financial situation

– Professional situation

– Age

– Origin

– Education and training

– Environment

– Personal attitude, values

– …

2. In the next step, look at what motivates or demotivated you. 

– What interests me? What doesn’t interest me?

– What do I enjoy doing? What bores me?

– What are my values? What can I not stand at all?

– What gives me or what I do meaning? What do I consider pointless?

3. What motivates me?

– My performance, my commitment is recognised

– My opinion is heard and accepted

– I take on activities voluntarily 

– I am involved in decisions

– I receive up-to-date information

– The overall context and meaning of my work are clear to me.

– I experience appreciation

– I receive feedback 

– ….

How can you build on this to promote your own (intrinsic) motivation?

If I want to motivate myself, …

… I look for tasks that I enjoy.

… I reward myself.

… I allow myself a break and/or go for a walk. I can then continue my tasks refreshed.

… I concentrate, focus on what I am doing and do not allow myself to be distracted.

… I fathom the meaning for me in a task.

… I break down large tasks/challenges into many small steps and celebrate the partial successes. I also allow myself to change my goals in between.

… I create a working environment where I feel comfortable (music, surroundings).

… I exchange ideas with friends and colleagues and “spin” topics further.

… I always look for opportunities to get to know new people, issues and cultures.

… I try to approach tasks positively, even when they are annoying. I don’t always succeed, but more and more often.

Keep in mind: motivation and motivating factors are very person-dependent, complex and by no means the same for all people. A salary increase inspires one person; another would rather have more free time or praise and recognition from the boss and colleagues. 

What can you do as a manager to address your employees’ intrinsic motivation?

– Ensure good working conditions, a pleasant working atmosphere, and a good working climate.

– Make clear the meaning of the work and daily tasks and the importance of the task for the overall structure.

– Challenge and encourage employees without overburdening them.

– Give feedback on performance. Acknowledge achievements. Also, talk about “mistakes”   and possibilities for improvement.

– Create varied work opportunities and take into account your employees’ strengths.

– Allow employees to act and decide freely and on their responsibility.

– Encourage employees within the framework of their possibilities and needs.

– Build up a personal relationship with your employees and encourage this among them.

Intrinsic motivation cannot be forced, but it can be encouraged – you can be a living example.

“We all live under the same sky. But we do not all have the same horizon.”

Konrad Adenauer

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