If employees are not motivated, they won't bring their right energies and commitment to work.
Imagine someone working in the cargo division of an airline company where the work involves taking care of the logistics and transportation of boxes from one city to the other. Initially, this person is excited because he gets to works for a reputed organization, earns a good salary, and travels to new cities. However, over time his enthusiasm fades away. Why?
Employees form the backbone of any organization. They bring (or not) the strategic plans that are made by the leadership in the ivory towers to execution at the ground level. If employees are not rightly motivated, they would not bring their energy and commitment to work. Not only would this lead to several inefficiencies, the severely demotivated might indulge in counterproductive work behaviors such as absenteeism, procrastination or sabotage. The several estimates on the extent of disengagement at work reveal that this threat is real. As an example, Gallup reports that 87% of the global workforce today is disengaged.
A common belief is that people work for money. Indeed, money helps pay the bills, go on luxury holidays, provides status in the society, and offers long-term security. However, money cannot buy everything. How about the sense of purpose or meaningfulness? Societies like ours have seen a massive jump in nouveau riche – those who have suddenly begun earning large amounts of money - especially amongst the young and the educated. And with that, we have also seen a rise in people losing their identity. Hedonic spending and indulgence have increased in the hope of finding happiness. Depression and mid-life crisis have become issues of discussion with those in their 20s and 30s. Family bonds are fading away. Many are quitting their jobs in search of the ‘meaning of life’.
In fact, research has shown that the best use of money as a motivator is to remove the topic off the table. That is, provide enough money to the employees that their energies are freed up from thinking about the issue of money itself. Beyond money, people also need an understanding of the purpose of their work. These are questions like -‘Why am I doing what I am doing?’, ‘What value am I adding?’, ‘How does my part of work fit into the rest of the things that the company is doing?', and ‘How does this fit into the overall product or service that the company provides to its clients?’
A consultant working with international development projects of a bank recently shared her experience. She excitedly began work on a new project about whether or not the bank should continue with a certain project. She worked on it very hard spending several nights. Once finished, her boss took her work, edited a couple of things, and took it to the senior management without her representation. After that, she never heard about the project.
This scene is regular news in many workplaces. There is always a sense of crisis and urgency and there are always tight deadlines to meet. Bosses ask their juniors to pull out information last minute without explaining why it is needed. They don't take the time out to share feedback and progress updates. New young members don’t get to watch the client meetings to know how the work they did fits into the grand scheme. In such situations, employees quickly become opportunistic, working towards their own goals - such as a line of experience on their CV or collecting company’s propriety information illegally – and move out at the first chance.
What can be done to tackle such low levels of motivation at work? Recall the opening example of an unenthusiastic employee at the cargo division. The issue was that he had been working without much understanding of what, why, or for whom the materials were being shipped. He noticed that he did feel a sense of doing something significant when they moved animals, medicines, or earthquake relief materials. In this case, his solution was simple. Together with the company, he identified real case examples about the products being shipped, the shipper, and the receiver – and the stories that were behind those. This led him to a feeling that he was not just moving boxes but was ‘delivering dreams’. Soon it became a successful company-wide initiative.
Next, what about the case of disgruntled consultant at the bank? Take her into team meetings as an observer to help get the full picture. That way, she would understand the use of the slides and the excel files created or even just the team meeting she helped organize. Spend time mentoring her and remove the culture of secrecy. At a team-level, managers can reorganize work around product-based groups so that employees see the cross-functional dependencies instead of working in their own silos.
There is no denying that there are several other factors that will contribute to a satisfied and productive workforce. Meaningfulness is an important one. Companies need to establish systems and processes to continuously identify the levels and sources of dissatisfaction and find ways to address those. It is not enough to provide increasing amounts of money. It is a collective responsibility of the employees and the organization to find ways to make better connection with the work.