Dr. Richard Ryan is Professor Emeritus in Psychology at the University of Rochester

Professor Richard Ryan, one of the world’s leading researchers on human motivation and the co-developer of Self-Determination Theory (SDT), believes the secret to a happier and more engaged workforce lies in understanding what really motivates us.   

Why does motivation matter in the workplace?

Simply put, fostering a culture where employees have clear career goals - and are motivated to achieve those goals - is critical for any company to retain and attract great talent. Employees are holding their employers to a higher standard, and if they don’t feel valued in their place of work or feel their career growth is being stunted, the outcome is predictable: they will leave.

And indeed they are leaving: One survey found a third of people quit their jobs because they weren’t learning new skills and didn’t feel like their employer was helping them to progress within the company.

Understanding what motivates people, what really inspires us to leap out of bed in the morning, is fundamental to building a productive culture that employees really want to be a part of and to bringing out people’s best work.   

So, what does motivate us at work? 

What motivates us at work is fundamentally the same as what motivates us in most every other realm of our lives. Science tells us that motivating ourselves or others through external factors such as the threat of punishment or even the promise of a reward (i.e. the old carrot and stick tactic) is rarely effective or long-lasting.

But finding interest, meaning or value in what we’re doing–whether that’s starting a new exercise routine or a new job–is far more powerful in cultivating lasting commitment, wellbeing, and satisfaction.

The idea of supporting such internal motivation is at the core of Self-Determination Theory (SDT). 

Building a workplace culture that really motivates employees

SDT can really be broken down into three basic needs that drive our intrinsic motivation and sense of willingness to put our best into our work:

  1. Competence
  2. Autonomy, and
  3. Relatedness.

Companies must strive to hit all three if they want to create a culture where employees feel valued and fulfilled. 

Competence essentially boils down to feeling good at what we do - I think it’s fair to say we all want to feel effective in our jobs. We like to use our skills to make a contribution that feels meaningful and valued.

Relatedness refers to our need to feel connected to others around us, but this is balanced with our desire for autonomy - having a sense of ownership and control over both our day-to-day activities and our long-term career path.   

Building a culture that taps into these intrinsic motivations

Especially as a cofounder of MotivationWorks Inc., a company that consults on fostering employee engagement, I’ve had the opportunity to work with a lot of human resource managers, so I appreciate that creating a culture around the idea of intrinsic motivation can be daunting–and it’s certainly a big switch from management approaches of the past. 

But I think a good place to start is just with compassion. Good leaders will listen to their employees, understand their viewpoint and have faith that they will do a great job if they’re just given the right conditions to do so. 

Of course, every company has certain targets it needs to hit, but it’s important to remember that people aren’t machines–we aren’t motivated by KPIs. We need to feel like we’re working towards something meaningful and to understand why what we’re doing actually matters.

Having a strong company vision can help with that because it gives employees something to rally around, a shared goal that everyone in the company is pulling together to achieve–that sense of relatedness. It’s important that an organization’s goals aren’t just experienced as a set of top-down mandates.

It’s about encouraging commitment, not forcing compliance. That’s why managers have a responsibility to maintain an open dialogue within their own team, ensuring that every individual understands why certain demands are being made of them, listening to concerns when they arise, and showing a willingness to compromise whenever possible. Employees should never feel like they’re just another cog lost in the corporate wheel.   

Should companies banish the ‘carrot and the stick’ tactic altogether? Shouldn’t employees be rewarded for good work? 

It almost goes without saying that people want to be paid well and rewarded for the work they’re doing. But actually, when you examine the reason behind that, it’s often because we feel the amount that we’re paid is a direct indication of how much we’re valued by our employer.

If we’re paid well, it tells us that our work is being recognized and that we matter to the company. But many companies now also offer their employees perks and benefits–like a free gym membership–and those generally fall under that extrinsic motivation category. Am I saying companies shouldn’t use incentive systems? Not at all, they’re still a part of motivational design. But they do need to be leveraged in the right way so they’re not undermining people’s intrinsic motivation and commitment. 

Rewards can really become an issue when they are too outcome-focused. That’s when they stop feeling supportive and start being experienced as another form of external control. The most common example of this is performance-related bonuses offered to employees when they achieve certain KPIs.

These can actually be very corrupting in a company because it encourages people to only focus on what they’re getting rewarded for and can even lead people to cheat or cut corners just to reach that end goal as fast as possible. It can also create a pretty unhealthy environment within teams, particularly if these rewards appear to be inequitable. 

When considering compensation systems, my advice to companies is that they think about what message the rewards are sending to their employees. 

One thing we have discovered, however, is that when employees are dissatisfied with their compensation, it’s not always about the money. It’s often a reflection of frustrations of autonomy, competence or relatedness on the job. When they are liking their work, compensation becomes less of a focus.

What do good rewards look like?

Consider rewards that offer opportunities for greater intrinsic satisfaction.

For example, offering employees access to a range of career development tools, like online training or coaching sessions, that enable them to learn new skills and shape their career path.

Also, rewards work best when they are perceived as fair and commensurate with one’s contributions. A sense of inequity can undermine loyalty. Finally, good compensation packages also consider the whole of a person’s contributions (rather than just a narrow set of outcomes). They increase a person’s sense of being truly valued and appreciated for all their efforts.

Dr. Richard Ryan is Professor Emeritus in Psychology at the University of Rochestera Professor at the Institute for Positive Psychology & Education at the Australian Catholic University, and co-founder of MotivationWorks, Inc. He's also the co-developer of Self-Determination Theory, one of the leading theories of human motivation.

Find out more about SDT and different strategies and styles for better motivation by enrolling in Dr. Ryan's free online course available on Coursera here.

You may also be interested in these articles:

Register, Login or Login with your Social Media account:


Advertisers

Advertiser Skyscrapers

Video Advert

Newsroom Activity

FE News: The Future of Education News Channel had a status update on Twitter 6 hours 31 minutes ago

RT @FENews: What should be in the FE White Paper? #SkillsWorldLive 2.3: Tonight's guests include:  Ella Whelan | Tom Richmond | Anthony Imp…
View Original Tweet

Latest Education News

Further Education News

The FE News Channel gives you the latest education news and updates on emerging education strategies and the #FutureofEducation and the #FutureofWork.

Providing trustworthy and positive Further Education news and views since 2003, we are a digital news channel with a mixture of written word articles, podcasts and videos. Our specialisation is providing you with a mixture of the latest education news, our stance is always positive, sector building and sharing different perspectives and views from thought leaders, to provide you with a think tank of new ideas and solutions to bring the education sector together and come up with new innovative solutions and ideas.

FE News publish exclusive peer to peer thought leadership articles from our feature writers, as well as user generated content across our network of over 3000 Newsrooms, offering multiple sources of the latest education news across the Education and Employability sectors.

FE News also broadcast live events, podcasts with leading experts and thought leaders, webinars, video interviews and Further Education news bulletins so you receive the latest developments in Skills News and across the Apprenticeship, Further Education and Employability sectors.

Every week FE News has over 200 articles and new pieces of content per week. We are a news channel providing the latest Further Education News, giving insight from multiple sources on the latest education policy developments, latest strategies, through to our thought leaders who provide blue sky thinking strategy, best practice and innovation to help look into the future developments for education and the future of work.

In May 2020, FE News had over 120,000 unique visitors according to Google Analytics and over 200 new pieces of news content every week, from thought leadership articles, to the latest education news via written word, podcasts, video to press releases from across the sector.

We thought it would be helpful to explain how we tier our latest education news content and how you can get involved and understand how you can read the latest daily Further Education news and how we structure our FE Week of content:

Main Features

Our main features are exclusive and are thought leadership articles and blue sky thinking with experts writing peer to peer news articles about the future of education and the future of work. The focus is solution led thought leadership, sharing best practice, innovation and emerging strategy. These are often articles about the future of education and the future of work, they often then create future education news articles. We limit our main features to a maximum of 20 per week, as they are often about new concepts and new thought processes. Our main features are also exclusive articles responding to the latest education news, maybe an insight from an expert into a policy announcement or response to an education think tank report or a white paper.

FE Voices

FE Voices was originally set up as a section on FE News to give a voice back to the sector. As we now have over 3,000 newsrooms and contributors, FE Voices are usually thought leadership articles, they don’t necessarily have to be exclusive, but usually are, they are slightly shorter than Main Features. FE Voices can include more mixed media with the Further Education News articles, such as embedded podcasts and videos. Our sector response articles asking for different comments and opinions to education policy announcements or responding to a report of white paper are usually held in the FE Voices section. If we have a live podcast in an evening or a radio show such as SkillsWorldLive radio show, the next morning we place the FE podcast recording in the FE Voices section.

Sector News

In sector news we have a blend of content from Press Releases, education resources, reports, education research, white papers from a range of contributors. We have a lot of positive education news articles from colleges, awarding organisations and Apprenticeship Training Providers, press releases from DfE to Think Tanks giving the overview of a report, through to helpful resources to help you with delivering education strategies to your learners and students.

Podcasts

We have a range of education podcasts on FE News, from hour long full production FE podcasts such as SkillsWorldLive in conjunction with the Federation of Awarding Bodies, to weekly podcasts from experts and thought leaders, providing advice and guidance to leaders. FE News also record podcasts at conferences and events, giving you one on one podcasts with education and skills experts on the latest strategies and developments.

We have over 150 education podcasts on FE News, ranging from EdTech podcasts with experts discussing Education 4.0 and how technology is complimenting and transforming education, to podcasts with experts discussing education research, the future of work, how to develop skills systems for jobs of the future to interviews with the Apprenticeship and Skills Minister.

We record our own exclusive FE News podcasts, work in conjunction with sector partners such as FAB to create weekly podcasts and daily education podcasts, through to working with sector leaders creating exclusive education news podcasts.

Education Video Interviews

FE News have over 700 FE Video interviews and have been recording education video interviews with experts for over 12 years. These are usually vox pop video interviews with experts across education and work, discussing blue sky thinking ideas and views about the future of education and work.

Events

FE News has a free events calendar to check out the latest conferences, webinars and events to keep up to date with the latest education news and strategies.

FE Newsrooms

The FE Newsroom is home to your content if you are a FE News contributor. It also help the audience develop relationship with either you as an individual or your organisation as they can click through and ‘box set’ consume all of your previous thought leadership articles, latest education news press releases, videos and education podcasts.

Do you want to contribute, share your ideas or vision or share a press release?

If you want to write a thought leadership article, share your ideas and vision for the future of education or the future of work, write a press release sharing the latest education news or contribute to a podcast, first of all you need to set up a FE Newsroom login (which is free): once the team have approved your newsroom (all content, newsrooms are all approved by a member of the FE News team- no robots are used in this process!), you can then start adding content (again all articles, videos and podcasts are all approved by the FE News editorial team before they go live on FE News). As all newsrooms and content are approved by the FE News team, there will be a slight delay on the team being able to review and approve content.

 RSS IconRSS Feed Selection Page