Analysing Workplace Motivation in the Digital Age
Our motivation to work is visible and often infectious. The zeal with which we work percolates down to our teams and positively impacts our peers. Let us try here to demystify ‘workplace motivation’. Some even say that the phrase is an oxymoron; we can either be at the workplace or remain motivated!
A significant proportion of time in our lives is spent at work. Researchers say that more than one-third of our life is spent on to be physically present at workplace and for more than half of the life we ‘carry’ work in our minds. With the advent of email and smart phones, our mind share on work has increased enormously. While social media has enabled us to connect with friends and relatives, a significant time on the social network is also spent talking to colleagues and discussing more work. With this level of engagement, it is also imperative that one gets best out of this time.
Conventional theory on motivation focuses on two aspects – intrinsic and extrinsic factors. Intrinsic motivation relates to all those aspects which lie within us and motivate us. Our values, thoughts and upbringing all play a part in encouraging or discouraging us from doing things. Extrinsic motivation is anything outside of the individual that he/she needs to acquire to increase motivation. Typical examples are money, bonuses, nice cars etc.
The focus on management theorists have been on extrinsic motivation for ages resulting in industries offering ‘incentives’ without much thought and application. The broad consensus of the past had always been that ‘positive and negative reinforcements’, known as ‘carrot and stick’ approach, is the best method to enhance motivation.
But the workplace of today and tomorrow are quite different. The proportion of knowledge workers is increasing and automation is replacing low-skilled jobs. The employee of tomorrow wants to feel autonomous and empowered to do her job. This also points to the view that intrinsic motivation needs to be the focal point. It needs to be addressed with tact. The new thought says that what is important is the desire to do things because they matter, because we enjoy doing the tasks as they are interesting and because they lend us a larger purpose and meaning. The foundation of this new approach is embedded in three pillars – the three ‘F’s of motivation.
Freedom: It is the independence and autonomy to accomplish our tasks and lead our lives. The knowledge worker of today wants to have her own space to manage her work. The tasks of today need self-guidance by the performers. Google is a new-age organisation which has made ‘20 per cent of its ideation’ a radical success. Google employees are urged to spend 20 per cent of their time doing ‘anything they want’. They can do literally anything! Very interestingly, Google claims that more than half of their new products and product innovations are seeded during this free time!
Focus: Human beings intrinsically have this urge or desire to do something better than that they have done in the past. The issue is when we try this at everything we do. Focus is about the complete determination to improve some specific areas. The mastery of work is a great motivator and so is the relentless quest for excellence. If we create workplaces where people are encouraged and not goaded like cattle, we are likely to trigger this feeling in individuals and teams.
Function: What is the overall function of what we do? What is the larger purpose? We constantly seek meaning in what we do and to connect it to a larger picture or vision. There is a flawed perception in our society that if we need to find purpose, we need to leave our jobs and materials and become an ascetic and lead the life of a hermit. Nothing is more further from truth. Purpose is about making a difference in the lives of everyone we touch each day whether at our workplaces or in our personal lives. It also provides the ultimate fuel to work.
Every job, no matter how meaningful or boring it may seem, will get mundane if we let it. Freedom, focus and function keep it fresh.
(The author is Associate Partner – Markets, South India, EY)