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How to Ruin Employee Motivation

I am not a fan of HR designing employee experiences because they know nothing about human psychology and behaviours.


Take the engagement and motivation saga. What we want in workplaces is neither compliance nor defiance but engagement unfortunately, HR's policies and activities tend to address these two. Also, we cannot control somebody into engagement and motivation by reward, doughnuts, dancing competitions or games. Where did they read this????? What's more, they can easily ruin performance with their engagement or motivating initiative without realising what they are doing.


Let's look at how they can ruin your performance by negatively affecting your motivation.


External forces can move our set point of motivation, and when this happens, performance significantly drops. That is why people are miserable in their jobs because they are doing it for the money (pay the bills), but it turns out that people are not as motivated by money as we are led to believe. Money motivates as long as it keeps the bailiffs off the door.


Let's say you are the best salesperson, and you are the best because you are intrinsically motivated by being the best on the team or as a result of being driven by building relationships. We don't know why you are the best, and it most likely has nothing to do with skills or attending sales training.


Your boss wants to increase sales revenue therefore, the team gets a new target and a bonus reward upon achieving it. HR, leaders, and managers think that if you are naturally good at delivering your sales target, the bonus will launch you or motivate you to new heights.


Unfortunately, that's not what happens. Your intrinsic motivation is now being moved towards extrinsic, which is not a driver for you. You will feel disconnected because, for you, that is not the primary purpose of doing a great job, but now you are driven by this because of the team's target. You don't feel the bonus will compensate for the extra effort needed to reach the new target; the extra effort is not the actual sales activities. You know how to do that.


The extra effort that drains you is you trying to move your intrinsic motivation to an extrinsic one. It is unnatural, so you struggle. In this struggle, you lose your drive and your performance drops. Now, you don't enjoy your job because you do it for the wrong reason.


And this is how we ruin motivation.


Human motivation is highly complex, and even scientists struggle with it. It has many elements, and it is changing based on circumstances. We are all intrinsically and extrinsically motivated, which is different with each task.


Daniel Pink, an expert on the science of motivation, outlined three core motivations: autonomy, mastery and purpose and established (not only him) that pay acts as a motivator with simple tasks like stuffing envelopes or being on a factory production line.


However, money is not a motivating factor when you want people to design a new product, come up with ideas, deliver fantastic customer service, or create a network of clients that drives sales revenue. People simply cannot become creative because they get paid for it, and creative people will not be more creative because you pay them more.


Creative people may make more money because they create out of joy and fulfilment and not the other way around.


The moment you sway them away from their intrinsic motivation for doing something, you will have decreased performance.


PS: I did a summer job at 14 in a stationary factory, where we manually put the spiral into the spiral-bound notebooks. I LOVED that task and beat everyone. I got more money, but I didn't care about the money. I organised competitions and increased the number of notebooks every day. It was a joy to do; the competition served my Achiever strength, reaching a new target.


So even with this example, Daniel Pink's research finding that you can financially motivate people to do simple tasks fails. This is how complex human motivation is.


But we know one thing: don't move people's set point of motivation for certain tasks because you are trying to move Mother Nature. Good luck winning against her!



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