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What employees really want

No employer would deny the potential impact of a motivated, positive workforce. By Fiona Dent

Yet sometimes, in spite of incentives, reviews and recognition, people may be uninspired and disengaged.

Ashridge Business School has undertaken research to better understand the issues facing people at work where business life is complex and demanding, and uncovers what really motivates employees.

We looked at it from two perspectives: what motivates people at work and what organisations are doing to ensure employees are engaged.

Respondents were asked to rank a list of key motivators in relation to their importance to themselves and also to rank them in terms of how their organisation viewed these as motivators for employees. 

There were some interesting discrepancies between what managers want and what they believe their organisations rely on.

While performance related pay and incentive schemes had some motivating effect on individuals, the majority believed that their firm over-relied on this as a key motivator when the basic salary was more important to individuals. However, both individuals and organisations seemed to recognise the importance of providing challenging and interesting work.

Further qualitative research showed that there are five aspects that contribute to motivation:

  • The organisation – providing the right structure and processes, eg. performance management and reward schemes
  • The individual – people must be clear about what motivates them and how these needs can be satisfied at work
  • The boss – not only acting as a role model but also valuing each of their colleagues and staff in a way that makes them feel motivated
  • The colleagues – being with like minded people who energise and motivate each other
  • The clients – many value, and are motivated by, feedback from customers

Overall, the findings seem to suggest that motivation is more individually focused in that it is about personal relationships and an individual’s own perspective on motivation. Organisations can provide platforms, processes and policies to create a framework but this is only a skeleton. 

If you want employee engagement and motivation to be truly first class you have to ensure that the five elements above are connected and working to the same goal. 

Motivation is not rocket science. Simple things work, for instance: colleagues and bosses saying thank you (and meaning it), listening to opinions, trusting them to deliver and providing them with interesting work.

Know what it is that motivates you and make colleagues aware of this. As a manager get to know what motivates your colleagues and provide opportunities accordingly.

Fiona Dent is director of executive education at business school Ashridge.

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