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What will motivate employees in the 2020s?

What will motivate employees in the 2020s?

What motivates employees? The question has preoccupied heavyweight thinkers and spawned entire industries as employers look for ways to attract, retain and get the most out of staff. 

In this blog I want to consider the factorslikely to impact on employee motivation now and in the future. I will briefly discuss some staff benefits, but only those that are enduring, or more recent ones that have obvious value because they answer a need.

Motivation versus hygiene factors

In the 1950s and ‘60s, psychologist Fredrick Hertzberg carried out influential studies on workplace motivation, concluding that factors for job satisfaction include achievement, recognition, responsibility and growth. These are “motivator” factors. If you improve these, you improve job satisfaction. Without them, staff have no satisfaction in their role.

Job dissatisfaction,on the other hand, is influenced by “hygiene factors”. These are factors external to the individual such as salary, status, policies and work conditions. Crucially, if you fix poor hygiene factors — say by giving someone a pay rise or improving the office environment — you don’t get satisfaction: you just decrease job dissatisfaction.

In other words, hygiene factors are not as important as motivation factors. Many employers focus on fixing poor company hygiene factors because it’s simpler than developing good motivation factors.

It’s easy to relate these ideas to the theory of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. When an employee is intrinsically motivated, their motivation stems from opportunities for mastery of their chosen field, autonomy and fulfilment. Extrinsic motivators are external factors such as the promise of increased financial reward, or improvements in their working environment. People work with far more passion and purpose if they are intrinsically motivated.

Learning and progression

As of this year, about fifty per cent of the working population are now millennials or younger. And these younger generations are highly motivated by a desire for professional and personal growth. There is no question that educational and development opportunities are essential in attracting these generations, but employers can think widely here. Training in new technology, tools and processes can be matched by mentoring and coaching, time out to attend industry events, access to digital learning resources, and financial support for professional qualifications. I can think of few benefits more likely to appeal to new staff than this, except...

Flexible/remote working

Technology means we needn’t be tied to the desk, and with today’s commutes and demanding work schedules, who wants to? Remote working is now an option for most employers, which means they can be more flexible and creative with the hours their staff work.

There’s a certain type of workplace benefit that seeks to bring the out-of-office to the office; fashionable, get-it-done-without-leaving-work stuff like foreign language classes, yoga and massages. But I think these miss the point of what many employees want today. If they take place in the office they effectively extend the time employees need to spend at work. It’s freedom that employees cherish: the ability to live on their own terms.

Feedback and praise

Regular feedback is simply critical for today’s employees. The demand and changeability of business means that regular check-ins and feedback sessions are more useful and more empowering than annual appraisals. If employees have goals, a quick weekly check-in can be a vital sanity-check, and allow for course-correction if needed. Feedback is a two-way street and I think it’s essential that employers seek feedback from staff. The only way you can solicit honest feedback is to demonstrate through your behaviours that you value and act upon it. Feedback is useless if there are no consequences to it. If an employee commits to a milestone, project or goal and you don’t check in on their progress, you’re failing them. 

Straight out of the “little things that count” book of good management, praise is free and yet very powerful. I believe it’s important to thank someone, even if they’re “just” doing their job. And there’s a qualitative difference between effective praise and an offhand “thanks.”

Team orientation

Set regular team goals and let your team own the goals. It’s something that is happening more and more in assessment days as employers look to understand how candidates can work together, and it works really well in employed teams, too.

Individual goals help staff produce focused work with a clear end, but team goals allow staff the autonomy to decide how they are going to achieve something, and encourage groups of staff to be self-managing and mutually supportive. They can also act as a corrective to the inevitable dips we all have in life: if one team member is under par for personal reasons, others may be powering ahead and full of motivation. Team-oriented goals encourage staff to share best practice and ideas, and there are few things more gratifying for me as a business owner to see my teams doing this. 

Of course, any manager setting team goals would do well to sit in from time to time to assess the team dynamic. Much as team goals encourage autonomy, it’s not fair to leave inexperienced teams unchecked.

Moveable pay days

Uber is one of several early adopters of the moveable pay day, where staff can draw down their pay once they’ve logged their hours, rather having to wait for a fixed, universal pay day. Of course, it’s then up to them to manage their money and logged hours to ensure it covers the intervening period and as an evolving system this makes more sense for employees who get paid by logged hours. But this is something I can see catching on in those organisations that are resourced and structured to offer it. Who knows: one day, the fixed pay day may seem archaic.

Duvet days and shorter weeks

Duvet days are still popular amongst candidates. For those unfamiliar with the concept (very few I’d imagine), a duvet day is a formal allowance of time off, but it can be taken with no notice (provided it doesn’t clash with an important, scheduled client meeting or similarly-unmissable event). It’s the perfect solution for days when we just can’t face work. Many companies who implement duvet days say they decrease the number of sick days taken by staff.

I know of at least one employer that offers a nine-day working fortnight, meaning every second Friday is a day off for staff, staggered so the office will always be peopled on any given Friday. They report excellent motivation and enhanced productivity since introducing this benefit, which speaks to the contemporary demand for more time for life.

The end of fashionable perks?

Those organisations who can afford alternative perks and who are competing for the very best talent will always have a roster of eye-catching and fashionable benefits. But what’s key is this: for most employees, intrinsic value in their work will always be more important than extrinsic value. And the winners in the war for talent will be those employers who understand this. 

What are the most appealing motivation factors for you? Do you agree with this? I’d be interested to hear from you. 

- Helen


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