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Business Success Depends on Staff Motivation

Cultivating guilt, the use of bonuses and penalties, and psychological pressure on employees are not the best ways to improve a company’s efficiency. According to a HSE Laboratory of Positive Psychology study of work motivations, professionals will be most efficient if they have an intrinsic motivation to work, which is related not to earnings, but instead, to an interest in what they do

About 5,000 employees of a Russian industrial company, which has branches in different regions of the country, participated in the project survey. ‘We were the first in Russia to trial this psychological test battery for assessing personal resources, specifics of work motivation, and work satisfaction in an organizational context’, says Evgeny Osin, Associate Professor at the HSE Faculty of Psychology and one of the research authors.

This study is also unique because it involved employees in various positions, of various ages and educational backgrounds, and differing in many other social and demographic features. ‘Usually small samples, generally consisting of managers, participate in such studies, and there is very little data on how ordinary employees in local branches feel’, Evgeny Osin explained. The tools developed by the Laboratory of Positive Psychology during the study are available in open access for any non-commercial studies, along with all the necessary psychometrical indicators necessary to evaluate the quality of methods received.

Motivations differ

Work motivation is one of the key topics in modern organizational psychology. ‘A motivated employee is an obvious advantage in today’s competitive economy’, the research authors say. Motivation can be intrinsic or extrinsic. The study was based on the self-determination theory developed by Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, who showed that intrinsic motivation comes in various forms with various psychological consequences. Extrinsic motivation on the controlling level is determined by promised rewards and a willingness to avoid punishment or feelings of guilt and shame.

There are also autonomous forms of extrinsic motivation, when an employee sees his activity, which is subject to external aims, as a result of his own choice, in accordance with his own desires. The most autonomous form of extrinsic motivation is expressed in seeing work as a vocation or calling.

Intrinsic motivation is, primarily, an interest in work, whereby an employee gets satisfaction from doing it well. According to the authors, autonomy is important for intrinsically motivated staff. This doesn’t imply full independence from other people, but rather, includes an opportunity to independently control their own actions and feel a sense of freedom of choice. This level of intrinsic motivation is highest in creative professionals, top managers, and researchers.

The authors emphasize that intrinsic motivation is especially important in complicated, non-routine activities. Simple activities tend to require more extrinsic motivation.

The researchers mention multiple advantages of a situation when an employee loves his job and sees meaning in it,  both for himself and society as a whole. Such a person is unlikely to have feelings of conflict, rarely feel torn between family and work, suffers rejection from colleagues, or dissatisfaction with life in general. Accordingly, he is potentially the most efficient type of employee for the company.

Wall of partition between a labourer and a top manager

Nevertheless, mundane work, for obvious reasons, doesn’t promote autonomous motivation, unless, of course, an employee aims to, for example, break all records and becoming a foreperson. The study revealed the most satisfactory motivation situation in the upper part of organizational hierarchy, and the least satisfactory – among labourers. ‘They are the least intrinsically motivated, they have little to no interest in their work, they more often work only for their salary and are the least satisfied with their work’, the research authors say.

Personal resources are crucial

Employers should take into account that the type of motivation correlates with an employee’s personal resources. The authors studied this correlation and determined a ‘basic set’ of personal resources which were suggested in some concepts by other researchers ‘These are the basic beliefs which help a person stay motivated, to not surrender to difficulties and ambiguity and not give in to stress, and they include such elements as: resilience, optimism, general self-efficiency (self-confidence), and tolerance toward ambiguity’, Evgeny Osin mentioned. For example, optimism helps a person stay motivated even in situations involving failure.

The links between personal resources are usually more complicated than usually described by researchers. For example, personal resources not only promote successful work themselves, but improve motivation, which means they have a double function as both a tool and motivator. But then, the share of personal resources’ input in an activity depends on the type of motivation, the authors say.

Money support motivation, but it doesn’t create it

Penalties and bonuses are among the most widespread ways to motivate staff in companies. But if an employer wants their staff to be genuinely enthusiastic about their job, they need to look for non-material ‘arguments’. ‘Money isn’t as strong a motivator as many people believe: inadequate remuneration can undermine intrinsic motivation, but it’s impossible to create it solely with money’, Evgeny Osin says.

Intrinsic motivation develops if the environment allows a person to satisfy three basic needs: those of autonomy, competency, and relationships. This happens when someone in their work has freedom of choice, the opportunity to feel successful and efficient, reliable connections and emotionally warm relationships with colleagues, and the opportunity to be understood and accepted by them.

Business in Russia has room for improvement

How do Russian companies solve problems of staff motivation?

‘In those spheres where supply in the labour market exceeds demand, employers pay very little attention to staff motivation and well-being – they have a high staff turnover’, Evgeny Osin says, ‘But in areas where a company’s success depends on an employee’s personality and he cannot be easily replaced, employers are starting to understand the importance of psychological work and motivation development’. Companies in Europe and the US are more concerned about their employees’ well-being, since in these environments, business has long-term aims, the expert mentioned. As a result, Western companies actively use programmes for staff loyalty, motivation support, and corporate culture development.

Nevertheless, for many progressive Russian companies, especially large ones, the problem of detecting, developing and using their staff potential, is particularly relevant, another author of the study, Olga Dergacheva, argues. ‘In order to create a staff pool, to plan career transfers and to invest in people’s development, an employer needs to understand which people have the resources which will lead to the future development of the company’, she says.

 

Author: Marina Selina, December 03, 2013