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  • Anna Harrington

A few tips & ideas: worker motivation

In my 19 years as an occupational health advisor (OHA) I have had the privilege to listen to stories, explanations, reasons for why people come to making the decisions that they do. Often I have been amazed at the extent of motivation an individual has to continue to work with severe ill health agonising ill health symptoms.

I have learnt that having a framework in which to categorise these behaviour regulating factors assists me to order, consider and bring some understanding to the person’s actions. This listening has to be grounded in respect for the reporter’s views and decisions, free from judgement and without the listener imparting their own decisions and opinions on to the reporter. This takes skill, self-reflection, humility, self-emotion management, time and energy.

The discussions I have had certainly informed my belief that an understanding of employee motivation can structure a strong employer and employee relationship if needs are understood by each party and balanced between employee and employer.

There are 2 models or frameworks that I keep in mind when I am doing an employee assessment that I think can be useful in managing people at work: Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and Professor Martin Seligman’s PERMA model. Both inform wellbeing, with the PERMA model being more detailed towards to higher levels of human potential than Maslow Hierarchy of Needs. Recent changes to the content of my occupational health assessments reflects the Professor Martin Seligman’s model to incorporate inquiry into job meaning and accomplishment.

Maslow Hierarchy of needs

The bottom 2 levels of Maslow Hierarchy of needs are about basic human physical survival. I generally in my occupational health assessments, am more interested in exploring the higher levels; belonging (work related), esteem and self-actualisation. This does depend on the hazards and risk controls in an organisation that impact physical health and wellbeing.

Belonging - humans are rubbish by themselves. There are no happy hermits! We are social beings and require social connections on different levels; intimacy, friendships, association, resources.

The Maslow Hierarchy of Needs levels are not exclusive, they interact with each other as humans are complex beings. The need to belong reaches into feeling safe, valued, able to contribute to something bigger than ourselves.

The need to belong intersects with all the elements of the PERMA model. Positive emotions are frequent when interacting with someone who makes us laugh. Being valued for who you are gives rise to better opinions of self, recognition that you have a purpose/role to play in local society (for instance the business). For some high-level performing individuals this role can be played out on a global scale.

Accomplishment is the reward for hard work, delayed gratification, grit and determination. Being accomplished brings respect from others, being valued, which in turn feeds esteem.

Self-actualisation links with accomplishment, it appreciates that humans desire to reach all that they perceive themselves to potentially be. In practice I think the individual vision of this changes according to self-perception, as an example a person perceiving that due to school assessments, they are rubbish at maths but then are in a role which challenges this. The individual takes on this challenge, using resources, others for coaching and support. The accomplishments achieved changes the individual’s perception of how capable they are in tackling mathematical problems.

How does this apply practically in businesses?

  • Ensure your employees feel a sense of belonging. Having small teams with a line manager who looks out for all, is a way to achieve this.

  • Listen to why your employees have chosen to work for your business. This will give you insight into what sense of meaning they get from their job.

  • If the job itself has little meaning for instance packing boxes think about how you can show employees the end result for instance the customer delight in receiving your product.

  • Give positive meaningful feedback regularly. Feedback can be in small amounts frequently during the day for instance thank you, “I appreciate your activity on this piece of work”, “you have really helped me today, thank you” and then occasions giving positive feedback in a more significant way. Meaningful feedback is about identifying the action that the individual did that links to their uniqueness. An example could be – “your research and persistence has really enabled this project to be successful”.

  • Be very careful if you have to leave out team members when discussing work that impacts them. Ensure they understand and can accept why.

  • Be respectful of individuality. Some people love big shows of reward or thankyous, whereas for others this would be horrifying, for them a quieter message would be more welcome. 

Also published on - here

Author - Anna Harrington

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