Be grateful you have a job. Business leaders need to be careful before they play the “they want to be grateful they have a job” card.
As I write, the UK, where I’m based, is coming out of lockdown and returning to some sort of normality as far as working life is concerned. But the impact of Covid19 on the economy is apparent in the large numbers of organisations slimming down operations and making staff redundant.
Most people remaining in work are grateful to have a job and those out of work might look at them enviously and suggest they’re right to be so. But how should leaders react to these circumstances and should they assume that such gratitude will automatically feed through to an uplift in motivation, engagement and performance?
If you’re familiar with Abraham Maslow and the way his ideas around needs based motivation are often depicted arranged as a hierarchy in a pyramid shape, you’ll know that jobs – or more accurately, the security they bring – is shown at the bottom on that pyramid.
From this flows two lessons that suggest we should be cautious:
- Motivation is the drive to satisfy a need
- A satisfied need no longer motivates
So this means that as people work hard to find a new job or secure an existing one they’ll appear to be quite motivated. But once the threat of loss of employment has receded and their security needs are therefore satisfied for now, we tend to see motivation tail off as people become concerned with satisfying needs at the next level: belonging, esteem, and so on.
It might be helpful to think of having a job, and of having the tangible rewards that come with it, as external (or more accurately extrinsic) motivation: Somebody promises something to us and we feel motivated to do what is required to get it.
But there is also internal (or more accurately intrinsic) motivation which we experience in situations that are inherently motivating in and of themselves.
This is an idea rooted in the work of Edward Deci and Richard Ryan and their Self Determination Theory. It was recently popularised by Daniel Pink in his book, Drive.
As leaders who coach, we can have much more impact on internal motivation – as felt or experienced by employees – than external motivation which is largely determined by the organisation as a whole and often beyond our sphere of control.
And this interpretation can be seen in the work of coaching pioneer Tim Gallwey as set out in his Inner Game series of books.
He took internal motivators like pride, satisfaction, accomplishment, sense of achievement and so on and grouped them together as being matters of Performance.
Others such as curiosity, acquiring new skills, moving outside of comfort zones and trying new things he grouped as being matters of Learning. Finally, internal motivators such as fun, finding work pleasant and enjoying the company of our colleagues were grouped as matters of Enjoyment.
Thus the wide variety of internal motivators can be made easier to understand and work with by being summarized as a product of performance, learning and enjoyment (PLE) and Gallwey would often show them arranged on a triangle like this:
The real trick in appealing to these motivators is to use coaching to keep a healthy balance. Any one of the three over-stressed at the expense of the others leads to demotivation. Most people at work experience this when Performance becomes all consuming. They have targets and standards and key performance indicators fired at them constantly and any sense of Learning or Enjoyment disappears.
Doing a good job and hitting targets – performing – is indeed highly motivating, but not without learning and enjoyment as well.
It is also quite possible to create an imbalance by having too much Learning. Becoming more skilled, learning new technology and trying new things is great, but not if we never get a chance to put what we learn into practice or if the working atmosphere is so sour that we’re still just a miserable as before.
Believe it or not you can also upset the balance by having too much Enjoyment. Of course it’s great to work in a nice, fun atmosphere, with slides and ping pong tables but not if we’re given meaningless tasks and nothing ever changes.
I will always maintain that coaching at work is above all about performance improvement, but what makes it so more effective than other management approaches is that it generates great learning for the person being coached and – when done well – can be a highly enjoyable experience too.
Of course we need external motivation by way of pay, rewards and job security – especially in times of economic crises.
But by themselves these things do not lead to lasting motivation and if leaders use the current circumstances as a ploy to try to get away with low pay and poor employment practices they’ll likely come undone down the line. Be grateful you have a job?
Because this tactic does nothing for loyalty, internal motivation or engagement and people who feel trapped by their employer will bide their time and then be off as soon as things improve.
Motivation comes when people can combine the external motivators provided by their employer and combine them with the internal motivation that comes from work where they can expect to perform well, learn lots and enjoy the experience.
And that’s truly something to be grateful for.