What Motivates You at Work?

CoachHub · 2 September 2022 · 5 min read

Generally speaking, outside of volunteer opportunities and passion projects people don’t work for free. But money aside, what motivates you to do a good job at work? Studies have shown that salary alone isn’t as motivational as you might think. Yes, it still tops the list of reasons why people head for their job every day, but once basic pay requirements are met other motivational factors kick in. If money is what makes people show up, empowerment, competence and connection are what make them show out. 

What motivates you to work with more pleasure? Empowerment, for one.

Empowering people to shape the flow of their days is a powerful motivator. It’s the polar opposite of micromanagement. Empowered employees have some degree of say over what they work on and their approach to it, and they are trusted to meet their deadlines. When the nature of the work can accommodate it, they are also able to exercise control over where tasks get done. Not only does that flexibility increase workplace motivation, it also increases engagement, which is a key indicator of company success. The ADP Global Study of Engagement found that virtual workers who are part of a team are far more likely to be engaged than the office-bound (29% and 18%, respectively).

The ability to participate in decision making also sits squarely within the idea of empowerment. In its 2021 Work and Well-Being Survey, the American Psychological Association (APA) found that almost half of employees were stressed out at work because they weren’t able to participate in decision making. Needless to say, stressed out employees aren’t the most motivated, especially when the decisions being made are ones that directly affect them.

Remember, people are hired because a company thinks they have the skills and experience to do the job. If a manager spends the majority of their time telling people what to do, rather than coaching or guiding their teams via thoughtful questions and active listening, they can erode the sense of empowerment people need to stay motivated.

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What motivates you to work with more passion? Competence, rewarded.

People want to learn. They want to feel like they’re making progress toward something that’s meaningful to them. Think of competence as “not stagnant.” 

In the motivational sense, appreciation, positive feedback and praise are competence’s stock in trade, and there are many ways to go about it. Some are subtle, such as giving people more opportunities to do what interests them throughout the course of the day. The aforementioned ADP study found that teams on which everyone agrees that “I have the chance to use my strengths every day at work” are the most engaged. Other forms of appreciation are more overt. Public acknowledgement may work well for extroverts who like the spotlight. For those more positively influenced by the success of others, celebrating team wins can produce the feel-good moments that keep them going.   

Tread lightly, however, when it comes to using “constructive” criticism to motivate. Unless it’s coming from someone the recipient trusts implicitly, it can be taken as just straight-up criticism, which isn’t very inspirational. Try couching it in terms of helping people progress toward their goals instead. Be empathetic. Be thoughtful. Be positive. If you’re on the receiving end, assume it comes with good intentions and treat it like a conversation that will help you get somewhere you want to go. When employee goals are done well, they’re in alignment with organizational goals anyway, so that’s a win-win for everybody.

Of course, competence should also be rewarded by opportunities for growth and advancement. Lack of opportunity is a red flag for people exploring their options. The aforementioned APA Work and Well-Being Survey found it to be one of the top three causes of stress at work (the others being low salaries and long hours). With 71% of people feeling burnt out and almost 20% of them ready to get out, companies are wise to pay attention.

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What motivates you to work with a greater sense of purpose? Strong connections.

Most people have an intrinsic desire to connect with and help others. When people feel as though they are connected to others as individuals or as members of a team, they have a vested interest in making the best of things. The work takes on greater significance. People can be motivated to perform at the highest levels when they understand the positive impact their actions have on others. Think about the teamwork, collaboration, cooperation and innovation that can happen when people feel truly connected to each other at work. 

Cigna’s 2020 Loneliness and the Workplace report found that people who have poor relationships with their coworkers are lonelier, and lonely workers think about quitting their job twice as often as those who aren’t. Furthermore, 10% of those who find themselves to be lonely also say their work is substandard, and a significant percent of workers feel abandoned by their coworkers when the pressure is on. The good news: the majority of American workers are satisfied with their work relationships and the sense of bonhomie they feel, and over half report that they have a best friend in the trenches. If you want to feel like what you do matters, figure out what about it matters most to someone else.

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Finding the motivation to work with pleasure, passion and purpose

Workplace motivation theories abound. What motivates you to do a good job may not be precisely the same as what motivates the person beside you (or on the other end of the Zoom call), but the themes above provide an interesting lens through which to explore it. Ask “what motivates you at work other than a paycheck?” If you’re stuck, consider working with a personal coach to guide you on this journey. The answers can be enlightening for individuals and companies alike, prompting us to rethink the work we do, how we do it and who we do it with. The thought of working with pleasure, passion and purpose through greater empowerment, competence and connection may be all the motivation you need.

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CoachHub is the leading global talent development platform that enables organizations to create a personalized, measurable and scalable coaching program for the entire workforce, regardless of department and seniority level. By doing so, organizations are able to reap a multitude of benefits, including increased employee engagement, higher levels of productivity, improved job performance and increased retention. CoachHub’s global pool of coaches is comprised of over 3,500 certified business coaches in 90 countries across six continents with coaching sessions available in over 60 languages, to serve more than 500 clients. Our programs are based on advanced R&D from our Coaching Lab, led by Prof. Jonathan Passmore and our Science Council. CoachHub is backed by leading tech investors, including Sofina, SoftBank Vision Fund 2, Molten Ventures, Speedinvest, HV Capital, Partech and Silicon Valley Bank/SVB Capital. In September 2021, CoachHub acquired French digital coaching pioneer MoovOne to build a global champion focused on jointly democratizing coaching.
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