Are You Open to a Variety of Motivations at Work?

by  Mary C. Schaefer  |  Workplace Issues
Are You Open to a Variety of Motivations at Work?

I remember listening to a company director one day, musing on his observations of employees.

“I’d like to see everyone want to develop and advance, you know, show more initiative and ambition.”

I commend him on wanting to see the humans beings in his organization grow, develop and succeed. At the same time I couldn’t help but think that if everyone were as ambitious as he, they would all be lining up for his job.

We want people to have different ambitions and motivations for a reason

We have a wide range of jobs in organizations. We need people who are happy to do those jobs. There is nothing wrong with people being happy where they are – as long as they are happy and productive.

I recently posed this question on social media.

“Managers, why do you think that some of your very talented employees are satisfied with being in the middle of the pack?”

My colleague Mat Boyer shared a great perspective. He brought up the elephant/stake story. Somewhere along the way someone made them think they can only go as far as the rope will let them. They could be sending this message to themselves. So from their perspective they could be working to their full potential.

I’ve asked very talented employees what made them stay where they were. In my mind’s eye I could see some shake their heads indicating I would never get it. I heard things like: It pays the bills. The work isn’t bad. I enjoy my coworkers.

It still may not be for the reason you think

Long ago a colleague shared with me an assessment she put together to help managers and employees get on the same page about motivations. It included common items like this.

  • Recognition from top management
  • Salary increases
  • Company paid education

It also included items like:

  • The challenge of a difficult task
  • Creative freedom
  • Relief from unpleasant duties
  • Assignment of new duties
  • Access to preferred equipment
  • Encouragement from their manager
  • Time spent with their manager
  • Influence over tasks and goals
  • Personal control over time

Some might not consider these viable options to feed human motivations at work, but why not?

You can’t afford to ignore differences

Whether you appreciate the differences or not, ignoring the diversity of human motivations can negatively affect productivity and retention over time.

I remember once asking a boss to fund an affordable 2-year skill-building program related to my work. He didn’t see the connection and turned me down.

A few months later he told me to find a workshop to fulfill my development requirement for the year. I did. He approved it. It was good, but didn’t inspire me like the one I asked for. It turned out the 12-hour workshop plus travel expenses cost about the same as the 2-year program I requested.

Would it have been so hard to go deeper to comprehend my request and gain some goodwill with a solid performer?

Be open to other motivations

I eventually used the motivation assessment with my boss so we could understand each other better. Unfortunately due to a string of events it was too late to turn things around between us but I got the experience of the discussion.

I wonder what would happen if you chose to learn more about your employees’ motivations. You can even take the initiative to allow your boss to learn about you.

Humans crave things like autonomy, belonging, recognition, growth and meaningful work. Even if some of these things don’t speak to you, cultivate an environment that supports a variety of motivations. Enhance the satisfaction and productivity of more employees and everybody wins.


Have you had the experience where your motivations were honored, or not? What effect did that have on you?
Photo Credit: Pixabay/padrinan

About The Author

Articles By mary-schaefer
Speaker, coach and trainer Mary Schaefer’s expertise is in creating work cultures where organizations and human beings can both thrive. She is a former HR manager. Find out more about how Mary helps managers empower themselves to make the most of their human resources with this special collection of articles selected for LCG readers: http://www.reimaginework.com/LCG/  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

Jane  |  11 Apr 2017  |  Reply

I might be the wrong person to answer this question because I have probably worked 30 places in my lifetime. You might think why wasn’t I motivated to stay longer and therefore have few employers on my resume. For one thing, many of the jobs were very short term, project based. Hopefully that helps protect my reputation as a job jumper. LOL It took me an entire career to understand myself why I was never motivated to climb the ladder or get into management. I am a helper at the deepest part of my soul. When I worked for any length of time at a ‘real’ job I found out everything I could about the corporate structure, their product lines, services provided, and software and applications they used. Why? Not because I wanted to advance my career, but because I wanted to learn well enough to teach and support my co-workers and team members. My motivation, which I didn’t recognize at the time, came from living my purpose. I hope that makes sense.

Mary C. Schaefer  |  11 Apr 2017  |  Reply

Jane, your experience beautifully illustrates why it is important to understand and honor a variety of motivations.

You clearly articulate why you moved around. Those reasons need to be honored too!

From an employer’s perspective recognizing your type of motivation may not lead to retention but can support a person’s performance and productivity while working. For that matter, it doesn’t hurt to honor the motivations you describe for any human being at work period, while they are in alignment with what the employer needs. (Side note: I get mixed signals from employers about a desire for retention anyway…) Thank you for sharing this!

P.S. Please let me know if I missed the mark in interpreting your comments.

Jane Perdue  |  11 Apr 2017  |  Reply

Thought-provoking post, Mary! I see motivation as something that’s very personal and that shouldn’t be proscriptive. I agree with you that bosses absolutely need to be tuned into what motivates their employees. From my experience, the most successful companies have a mix of employees–those who are ambitious about their career and those who do good work but who are satisfied where they are. Managing those distinctions appropriately can be a great tool for retention. Not everyone wants to be the “chief” and having a boss who recognizes and appreciates that can be golden.

Mary C. Schaefer  |  11 Apr 2017  |  Reply

Thanks for commenting Jane. Love this: “Not everyone wants to be the “chief” and having a boss who recognizes and appreciates that can be golden.”

Vatsala Shukla  |  14 Apr 2017  |  Reply

I’ve worked with various organizations during the course of my corporate career and to be honest, they all understood the meaning of diversity of motivation with 1 exception. Ten years later, it isn’t a big deal for me but I do remember a particular quarterly recognition award at my last employer called Sparkle. It was something I really wanted and worked towards. There was no monetary benefit and for me acknowledgement of my efforts was important.

The award that quarter went to another Senior Manager for my hard work on a very difficult assignment. Of course I protested but to no avail. There had been a mistake because another Manager who was up for Partnership had overheard a conversation, wanted to raise his profile and made the recommendation without checking who was the leader of the assignment!

I reported this to my boss and HR to no avail. The Partner wannabe’s chances would be affected with the correction and my boss’s view was it was already in print and it didn’t matter because I was a genuine Sparkle.

I guess they thought money would be a better reward and I got a 25% bonus that year but i left the firm and decided I wanted to sparkle elsewhere.

Non-monetary rewards should not be underestimated when it comes to motivational tools.

Mary C. Schaefer  |  14 Apr 2017  |  Reply

Vatsula, I am sorry you had to experience that. It is a perfect illustration of the importance of understanding and honoring motivations (yours in this case). I am glad you chose to continue to sparkle even if it was somewhere else.

Mary C. Schaefer  |  14 Apr 2017  |  Reply

Vatsala, it is important to me that I spell people’s names correctly, so please accept my apology. Mary

Vatsala Shukla  |  14 Apr 2017  |  Reply

It’s okay, Mary. It happens. You should see what comes out for my name when I use Microsoft Word spell check. :)

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