According to Allan Schweyer, author of The Art and Science of Engaging Rewards, five key motivators drive the reasons why we work:
The last two motivators, pressure and pay, are negative — they often reduce performance in the long run. Typically, they’re driven by outside forces: running against the clock on a tight deadline, trying to meet near-impossible numbers, or pushing yourself to work longer hours for the hopes of a raise.
As Schweyer notes, the negative motivators can indeed produce beneficial outcomes, but they’re typically short-sighted and can end up leading to burnout or disengagement. We can only run ourselves into the ground for so long (years? months? weeks?) before we lose the drive or interest to keep wearing ourselves out. And we can even start to resent the very thing that we're working for if it doesn't feel like a healthy goal or one that feels personally meaningful in the end.
On the other hand, the first three motivators — autonomy, mastery and purpose — are positive. They’re usually driven from within an individual, not caused by an outside source of pressure, so they have the potential to create a more lasting effect. Further, when an individual sets their own goals, aligns their personal values and mission with those of their company, there’s a greater potential for satisfaction with one’s work on a deeper level.
Curious if your own organization is appealing to the positive motivators of why people work? Here are some questions to ask yourself:
Do your employees have the freedom in their roles to be proactive with their tasks and to take on new challenges? Do they feel empowered to do their current job, and even take it to the next level? Do they have the assurance that it’s OK to fail at something and learn from past missteps?
Do you offer your employees opportunities for training, professional development and mentorship? Do you have a method of tracking employee growth and goal-setting? Is there a system to encourage development both within the company and in employees’ personal aspirations they bring to the table?
Has your organization clearly defined its mission and purpose, and have you connected that mission back to the role of each employee? Do your employees understand the importance of their individual roles in that mission on a practical level? Does your organization offer boards employees can join, support local causes they care about, and have a defined culture that employees take part in?
A healthy balance
Finally, as a leader, ask whether your organization offers a balance of these motivators. Negative motivators aren't altogether bad, but you want to ensure your employees aren't facing burnout by carrying a heavy load of negative motivators alone. The key is to offer a healthy balance of motivators that appeal to the wide needs and values of your employees.