Motivation and emotion/Book/2013/Workplace motivation

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Workplace motivation:
Using Self Determination Theory to create sustained motivation in the workplace

Overview[edit]

Consider the following example...

Tilly has not long graduated from a graphic design degree and has been working with the same firm in the field for approximately 2yrs. Becoming a graphic designer has always been her dream as from a young age she has been passionate about the skills involved in the job. Although Tilly doesn’t hate her job, she feels like there is something missing as she had imagined she would feel a greater sense of satisfaction in her work. Tilly always gets the job done, but often wishes she did not have such strict deadlines, criteria and design brief’s to meet which would allow her inner creativity to free itself and run wild. She has noticed a few of her university friends are experiencing the opposite and she wonders if trying a different firm would prevent her inner drive from plummeting. Tilly's boss Gus has noticed a drop in her enthusiasm and performance since she has begun working there. In fact he notices that this is a common trend in most of the new employees he takes on but can’t quite pinpoint why as he is always providing incentives and rewards for exceptional designs. This trend he has been observing seems to be directly related to the workplace setting he is providing. Gus can’t quite figure out why, let alone how to overcome this problem.

Like Tilly, employees who once felt empowered by their work can often feel a slump in their motivation. It appears that this experience, although felt by the individual, is in fact attributable to the workplace environment. This chapter is geared towards employers and upper management bosses and draws on motivation theory and research to uncover why this happens and how sustained motivation can be established. In general terms, the chapter considers questions such as:

  • What is motivation and why is it important in the workplace?
  • What types of motivation are there?
  • What are the outcomes of different motivation types?
  • What are the benefits of sustained motivation?
  • How can sustained motivation be cultivated (even for uninteresting tasks)?

Work and motivation[edit]

Understanding Self Determination Theory can help you unlock sustained motivation in your employees.

According the Australian Bureau of Statistics, a full time employee will spend approximately 40hrs working each week. Factoring in that most work 9-5 hours, 5 days week and aim for around 12 hours sleep each night, this equates to approximately half of our waking hours we spend at work. Considering these facts, it comes as no surprise that our work environments have a powerful influence on our motivation.

Motivation itself can be defined as the energising force which initiates behaviour and determines its form, direction, intensity and duration (Latham & Pinder, 2005). In other words motivation is the reason why behaviour occurs and is also responsible for how it occurs.

Self Determination Theory (SDT) is a specific theory of motivation relevant to a workplace context and for this reason the current chapter will harness the principles it has to offer. In a nutshell, Self Determination Theory (SDT) proposes that there are different types of motivation which produce different behavioural outcomes, and certain types of environmental contexts determine which type of motivation will be predominant (Deci & Ryan, 2008). By acquiring knowledge of this, employers are able to adapt their workplace environment to promote the type of motivation which leads to the most effective behavioural outcomes amongst their employees. In essence, SDT holds the key to unlocking sustained motivation in the workplace.

Are you control or autonomy oriented?[edit]

Take this quick quiz to find out[edit]

How are you and your employees motivated?

Question 1. Which phrase best describes you?

A. I want to do my job

B. I feel like I should do my job

Question 2. What drives you to work everyday?

A. Because it is important to me

B. Because if I don't work, I might get fired

Question 3. What do you seek most in a job?

A. Challenge, development and enjoyment

B. Benefits, good pay and status

Question 4. Which of these workplaces do you generally find yourself in?

A. Where you negotiate your own agenda

B. Where an agenda is set for you

Question 5. When at work do you feel:

A. Valued

B. Undervalued

The above quiz was designed to test your "General Causality Orientation". If you choose all or mostly A's you are predominately "Autonomy Oriented" however if you choose all or mostly B's you are predominately "Control Oriented".

So what does this score mean?[edit]

"General Causality Orientation" is a concept used to describe an individual's motivational orientation (Deci & Ryan, 1985). In simplified words, a general causality orientation allows an individual's motivation type to be identified. There are three main causality orientations:

  • Autonomy Orientation- individuals who are autonomy oriented are self-directed, internalise the value of their work and willingly engage in tasks purely out of interest. These individuals are autonomously or intrinsically motivated.
  • Control Orientation- these individuals tend to act out of extrinsic motivation, their behaviour being governed by external factors such as rewards, deadlines, and directions placed on them by others. They generally have little or low self-regulation, often feeling coerced to do a task. This exemplifies a controlled motivation type.
  • Impersonal Orientation- describes an individual who is an amotivated type, meaning they have a deficit or lack of motivation.

People are to some degree oriented in each of these three ways, which is why you may be feeling like you can relate to each of them (Deci & Ryan, 1985). Despite this, most have a predominant orientation which describes the way their behaviour is both initiated and regulated (Deci & Ryan, 1985). Managers can use the General Causality Orientation Scale (GCOS), a 36-item questionnaire developed by Deci & Ryan (1985), to formally asses their own as well as their employees motivation orientation.

There are two main explanations regarding where these orientations come from and why people differ in their predominant type. The way behaviour evolves and is maintained (as explained by the orientations) originates from both a situational context (such as a workplace) as well as and individuals personality (Gange & Deci, 2005; Lam & Gurland, 2008). Whilst personality traits are reasonably fixed, the situational context is malleable. This means that if orientations are partially caused by the workplace environment that employers are able to mould it to promote a certain type of orientation and therefore motivation type in their employees. As you progress through the chapter, it will become apparent why certain types of motivation should or shouldn't be promoted to increase the effectiveness of employees and benefit the organisation.

Controlled motivation: The carrot and stick approach[edit]

Don't tell me how to do my job. I don't come to your workplace and tell you how to sweep up!
- Billy Connolly
Controlled motivation is often referred to as the "carrot and stick approach" beacuse there is a high emphasis on rewards.

Although people don't like being told what to do, many still adhere to external influences which control them. Control oriented scores indicate a controlled motivation type which is extrinsically motivated. Controlled motivation is sometimes referred to as "the carrot and stick approach" because behaviour is controlled by external rewards. If the desired behaviour does not occur the reward will not be received and/or a punishment may be presented (Deci & Ryan, 2008). This tends to be the traditional approach to motivation in the workplace and it still exists in many workplaces today. Controlled motivation has its downfalls though, as some long term outcomes which arise from this approach include stifled creativity, low job satisfaction, high staff turnover, and a lack of employee engagement (Stone, Deci & Ryan, 2008). Furthermore, a workplace environment which places emphasis on extrinsic motivation tends to undermine employees intrinsic motivation, covered later in the chapter (Deci & Ryan, 2008).

If controlled motivation does not necessarily produce the most desired outcomes, then why do some managers continue to nurture it in their approach? One of the core reasons is they have their own managers to answer to. Managers are held responsible for the productivity of the employees they manage and external pressures, such as producing certain results in certain time frames, are often placed on them from the very top (Stone, Deci & Ryan, 2008). This works much like the domino effect as the pressured feeling resulting from controlled motivation works its way down the levels of management to the very bottom. A study by Stone, Deci and Ryan (2008) found that even when managers knew about more effective motivational strategies they became controlling when placed under pressure. In succumbing to external pressure many managers tend to revert to the carrot and stick approach because it produces short term performance (particularly for easy tasks) (Stone, Deci & Ryan, 2008). This feeds the notion of "short term boost over long term gain" and highlights the need for the upper levels of management to "free up" for this pattern to be overcome.

Self Determination Theory (SDT)[edit]

Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life!
- Confucius
Self Determination Theory.

Self Determination Theory (SDT) distinguishes between three different types of motivation, namely autonomous, controlled and amotivation. It considers that different types of motivation are more effective for predicting behavioural and life outcomes then measuring an amount of motivation (Deci & Ryan, 2008). Autonomous motivation, in comparison to controlled motivation discussed above, is when an individual's behaviour emerges willingly, employees engage in a task because they want to and their work is fully self-endorsed (Gagne & Deci, 2005; Lam & Gurland, 2008). These two types of motivation contrast against amotivation because they both energise and motivate behaviour (although in different ways) whereas amotivation is characterised by little or no motivation (Deci & Ryan, 2008). Autonomous motivation is composed of both intrinsic motivation and a certain type of extrinsic motivation (Deci & Ryan, 2008). The extrinsic element will be covered later in the section on uninteresting tasks. The intrinsic value seen in autonomous motivation is the reason why you are more likely to persist and do well on an activity you enjoy explaining why the commonly known quote above has emerged. Autonomous motivation is therefore the key to unleashing sustained motivation in the workplace.

Three basic needs must be satisfied for autonomous motivation to flourish and fulfilling these allows autonomous motivation to be predicted (Deci et al., 2001). This is applicable to all human beings as these basic psychological needs are universal (Stone, Deci & Ryan, 2008). The three basic needs are:

  • Competence: is the desire to exercise skills and master tasks of an optimal challenge which allow a desired outcome to be reached (Ryan, 2004).
  • Relatedness: is the desire to have interpersonal relationships which are mutually supportive, respectful and involve reliance (Ryan, 2004).
  • Autonomy: is the desire to experience choice as well as feel a sense of control over one's own behaviour & direction (Ryan, 2004).

Autonomous motivation: the benefits[edit]

As previously mentioned, different types of motivation result in different behavioural and life outcomes. The outcomes associated with autonomous motivation are shown to be particularly positive for both the employee and employer. Employers who provide autonomy supportive environments allow the fundamental needs of competence, relatedness and autonomy to be satisfied (Deci et al., 2001). An autonomy supportive environment leads to autonomous motivation which results in range of benefits (Gange & Deci, 2005). Some of the most profound benefits identified in the research on autonomous motivation in workplace settings include:

Autonomous motivation has many benefits such as enhanced well-being.
  • Autonomous motivation results in optimal psychological health and well-being (Deci et al, 2001).
  • A study by Grant (2008) established that the intrinsic form of motivation found in autonomous motivation leads to increased persistence on a task, enhanced performance and higher productivity overall.
  • Autonomous motivation leads to high levels of task engagement (Meyer & Gagne, 2008).
  • Employees gain a positive attitude towards their work (Gange & Deci, 2005).
  • Positive mood, enhanced creativity, greater conceptual understanding, a reduced likelihood of burnout, less absenteeism, and an ability to effectively tackle more difficult tasks all result out of autonomous motivation (Deci & Ryan, 2008).
  • Need satisfaction provided by autonomy supportive environments allow employees to feel greater job satisfaction which in turn results in better job performance (Baard, Deci & Ryan, 2004).

It is apparent that this type of motivation is long lasting and these findings demonstrate why cultivating autonomous motivation is becoming the preferred approach in workplaces today. The next section establishes how employers can provide an autonomy supportive environment to promote this type of motivation and yield the benefits we are seeing above.

How employers can cultivate autonomous motivation[edit]

It goes without saying that employers desire the highest possible productivity out of their employees. Most current research findings are suggesting that promoting autonomous motivation is by far the most effective avenue towards creating sustained motivation and enhanced performance amongst employees in the workplace (Gange & Deci, 2005). So exactly how do employers create an autonomy supportive workplace environment?

Two core ideas should be kept in mind. Firstly autonomy support needs to stem from the individual or individuals at the top of a workplace hierarchy (Gange & Deci, 2005). This is because upper management has the power to influence a specific interpersonal orientation of motivation, which in comparison to an individual's orientation (assessed at the beginning of the chapter), will be encompassed by all members of the workplace (Baard, Deci & Ryan, 2004). If a seed for autonomy orientation is sewn at the top, the roots will spread down the levels of management right to the most subordinate level. Cultivating autonomous motivation in this way acts much like a rich fertiliser allowing a strong, effective and healthy product to be produced. Secondly, to satisfy individual's needs in an autonomy supportive way the workplace environment should nurture competence, relatedness and autonomy (Deci et al., 2001). Below are some strategies which can be employed to create autonomy supportive environments:

Invite participation in dialogue[edit]

Employees should have input into important decisions.

This involves allowing employees to have input into important decisions. An employer or manager may often fall into the trap of feeling like they are encouraging participation, but by controlling the dialogue through setting agendas, asking questions, and using specific interaction they are confirming their own ideas (Stone, Deci & Ryan, 2008). Alternatively, employers should provide open questions such as "what do you think about this issue?" This encourages employees to freely contribute their ideas, without feeling like they should provide the answer the boss would like to hear. In doing so their needs of autonomy and relatedness are met.

Listen to and acknowledge employees perspectives[edit]

This suggestion goes hand in hand with the previous point. Allowing employees to have an input is one thing however giving credence to what they have to say is another. Employers should aim to actively listen to what each of their employees have to say and acknowledge their perspective by providing a restatement of the key point/s (Deci et al, 2001). For example "So what you're saying is, establishing a system would help us address the issue of all trying to print at the same time?" This confirms to employees that their voice has been heard and their idea has been taken on board rather then pushed to the backburner thereby making them feel involved and supported.

Offer choice and responsibility[edit]

Employers should be flexible and offer choice.

Reconsider the example of Tilly at the beginning of the chapter expressing a desire for more self-control over the tasks she was to achieve. Offering employees some choice in the tasks they do is important for allowing the need of autonomy to be satisfied (Gange, 2003). For example instead of telling employees exactly what they are to do, employers should offer flexibility on how the task can be performed to achieve the desired outcome. Under this scenario the employee is now responsible for the task (Stone, Deci, & Ryan, 2008).

Provide positive and informative feedback[edit]

Whilst feedback plays a significant role in satisfying the need for competence, caution should be taken with the way in which it is delivered. For positive feedback to be effective and autonomy supportive it should be both specific and sincere (Stone, Deci, & Ryan, 2008). Employees should be commended for unique efforts as well as for providing initiative on certain tasks (Stone, Deci, & Ryan, 2008). An example of effective praise would be "thank you for taking the initiative to re-design the shop window display, this contribution adds some creativity to what we already had". This type of feedback encourages employees without them feeling as if the purpose of the praise is controlling (e.g. good work, you mopped the floor exactly as I told you to). Emphasis should also be placed on inclusive language (did you notice the juxtaposition between the use of we and I in these two responses?).

Feedback for undesirable circumstances should also be handled carefully. In these instances feedback should be purely factual without any judgement by the employer (Stone, Deci, & Ryan, 2008). For example "You are not to swear in front of customers" as opposed to "I have notice you occasionally swearing in the presence of customers. Do you think this is acceptable?" By paring this type of feedback with active listening a solution can be reached by working together (in contrast to "don't do it") (Stone, Deci, & Ryan, 2008). Providing feedback in the above form means the need for competence and autonomy can be met.

Be wary of controlling intentions[edit]

For autonomously motivated individuals, the work itself is intrinsically rewarding. It is important to keep this in mind when offering benefits. Any benefits should not impinge on intrinsic motivation. Benefits should be negotiated with the recipient(s) to determine the type of reward. For example an employee may request an early leaving time on Fridays rather than a pay rise. Involving the employee in this way builds on all of the strategies previously discussed. Firstly the employee is invited to have an input into the type of reward, the employer should acknowledge the employees suggestion, provide them with some alternative choices within reason, in turn making them feel responsible for the reward they choose to receive. The reward is provided purely for their efforts rather than to control them. Research indicates when rewards are administered in an autonomy supportive way such as this, they do not undermine intrinsic motivation (Ryan, Mims & Koestner, 1983).

These ideas are fairly simple. Just by nurturing the needs of competence, relatedness and autonomy a more sustained and beneficial type of motivation can be achieved amongst your employees.

What about uninteresting tasks?[edit]

By applying SDT principles even uninteresting tasks can be done willingly.
So... who wants to do this paper work?

Up until now we have discussed the power of autonomous motivation. Much of this discussion however has been based on running with the intrinsic motivation experienced in enjoyable tasks. But what about the tasks which are non-appealing and elicit no inherent interest? The bottom line is there are many jobs in the workplace which are likely to turn anyone off but need to be done! This is where the extrinsic side of autonomous motivation in SDT applies, more specifically the identified regulation type of extrinsic motivation. By providing a meaningful rationale (external influence) for doing an uninteresting task, managers can help their employees see the inherent value of it (Reeve, Jang, Harde & Omura, 2002). This allows employees to identify with the task through the self-endorsement of its value (Reeve et al., 2002). As the task now has meaning to the individual, they are more likely to exert effort and willingly engage in it (Reeve et al., 2002).

Summary[edit]

In conclusion, an understanding of Self Determination Theory allows managers to identify different types of motivation and predict the workplace behaviour of their employees. Controlled motivation places emphasis on rewards and punishments in driving employee behaviour. This approach provides short term results especially for easy tasks however in the long run produces undesirable outcomes and a tendency to undermine intrinsic motivation. Autonomous motivation on the other hand is manifested in the nature or importance of the task itself. The benefits of autonomous motivation are proving it to be the most effective approach to workplace motivation. There are a range of strategies managers can use, which involve satisfying the needs of competence, relatedness and autonomy, to provide an autonomy supportive environment. Nurturing autonomous motivation is the key to establishing sustained motivation in the workplace.

See Also[edit]

References[edit]

Baard, P. P., Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2004). Intrinsic Need Satisfaction: A Motivational Basis of Performance and Well‐Being in Two

Work Settings, Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 34, 2045-2068.

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1985). The general causality orientations scale: Self-determination in personality. Journal of research in personality, 19, 109-134.

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2008). Facilitating optimal motivation and psychological well-being across life's domains. Canadian Psychology, 49, 14.

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2008). Self-determination theory: A macrotheory of human motivation, development, and health. Canadian Psychology, 49, 182.

Deci, E. L., Ryan, R. M., Gagné, M., Leone, D. R., Usunov, J., & Kornazheva, B. P. (2001). Need satisfaction, motivation, and well-being in the work organizations of a former eastern bloc country: A cross-cultural study of self-determination. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 27, 930-942.

Gagné, M. (2003). The role of autonomy support and autonomy orientation in prosocial behavior engagement. Motivation and Emotion, 27, 199-223.

Gagné, M., & Deci, E. L. (2005). Self‐determination theory and work motivation. Journal of Organizational behavior, 26, 331-362.

Grant, A. M. (2008). Does intrinsic motivation fuel the prosocial fire? Motivational synergy in predicting persistence, performance, and productivity. Journal of Applied Psychology, 93, 48-58.

Lam, C. F., & Gurland, S. T. (2008). Self-determined work motivation predicts job outcomes, but what predicts self-determined work motivation? Journal of Research in Personality, 42, 1109-1115.

Latham, G. P., & Pinder, C. C. (2005). Work motivation theory and research at the dawn of the twenty-first century. Annual Review of Psychology, 56, 485-516.

Meyer, J. P., & Gagné, M. A. R. Y. L. E. N. E. (2008). Employee engagement from a self-determination theory perspective. Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 1, 60-62.

Reeve, J., Jang, H., Hardre, P., & Omura, M. (2002). Providing a rationale in an autonomy-supportive way as a strategy to motivate others during an uninteresting activity. Motivation and Emotion, 26, 183-207.

Ryan, R. M., Mims, V., & Koestner, R. (1983). Relation of reward contingency and interpersonal context to intrinsic motivation: A review and test using cognitive evaluation theory. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 45, 736-750.

Stone, D. N., Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2009). Beyond talk: Creating autonomous motivation through self-determination theory. Journal of General Management, 34, 75.

External links[edit]