How we change what others think, feel, believe and do
Sirota's Three-Factor Theory of Employee Motivation
In The Enthusiastic Employee, Dr David Sirota and colleagues identify three basic understandings about motivating employees. First, organizational goals should not in conflict with the employee goals, as employees may well put their own goals first or be stressed when these two goals are different. Secondly, employees have basic needs that organizations should try to meet, which means human needs should be well-understood. Finally, it should be recognized that employee enthusiasm is a source of competitive advantage, and that companies should hence seek to facilitate and lead for this energy by aligning goals and addressing needs.
Three needs are recognized as being of particular importance in the workplace: equity/fairness, achievement and cameraderie. Below are discussions of each of these.
Fairness is a fundamental need in that when we work towards something, we expect reward and recognition that is proportional to factors such as how hard we have worked and the value we have created for our employer. We assess fairness by comparing ourselves with others and how they are treated. If another person seems to be paid more than us for the the same or 'easier' work, then we feel aggrieved. Likewise, if they are praised or we are ignored, again we will probably feel this is unfair.
In practice it can be difficult to have everyone feeling that they are being treated fairly, especially when they believe they are adding more value than their managers assess as being contributed by them, or when their self-esteem makes them feel more important than others.
Fairness can be a useful tool when giving employees bad news, such as when they are not being promoted. If they can first accept that a fair process was used in reaching this decision, then they will likely accept the news, as opposed to the unhappiness they will experience if they feel the bad news was reached through an unfair, biased or careless process.
Achievement is another important need and is highly relevant to the workplace. Both employers and employees gain from achievement, though this can mean different things to them. For an employer, it often simply means that employees do as they are told. For employees, this is more complex. First, they must have goals that are meaningful and not consisting of trivial tasks. The level of challenge should be above menial and below impossible. For this, there must be a match of the employee's capabilities and the goals assigned to them. They also require the tools and materials to do the job, from access to other people on who they are dependent to the time needed to be able to do a good job.
Some people gain a good sense of achievement without receiving any praise, though many will feel much better if their achievements are recognized. In this way, recognition is an essential tool that managers can use to help sustain motivation (as well as creating challenging goals and enabling their employees in being able to compete them).
One of the reasons we enjoy work is the friendship and sense of camaraderie that we gain there. We are a social species and working alone is, unsurprisingly, lonely. When we have a good relationship with our work colleagues, trust increases and consequent transaction cost goes down, making our more effective and efficient, as well as enjoyable.
A problem with many companies is that they set people against one another through competitive performance evaluation and reward systems. When your loss is my gain, I have less reason to be helpful. I also have less reason to be friendly and camaraderie declines. A better way is to focus on sharing, including sharing goals and rewards such that it is a good idea for individuals to work together. Good camaraderie is also a result of good leadership.
If you are seeking to motivate people in a work context, think hard about how you can create fair and equitable systems that help people achieve. Also seek to build the social side of the workplace. This is not a 'soft' option but can result in real gains for everyone.
Sirota, D., Mischkind, L.A. and Meltzer, M.I. (2005). The Enthusiastic Employee,