Employee motivation is a constant challenge. There are more books, CDs, videos, workshops, seminars and articles than you have time to read all on how to get employees to do what their manager wants. But for most managers, it’s a puzzle that they never fully solve during their working lives. Motivation isn;t that complictaed however. Let’s take a look at the basics once again and see what’s revealed!

What is motivation?
Let’s go back to basics and start with what exactly is motivation? Motivation is defined as the process that initiates, guides and maintains goal-oriented behaviours. It causes us to act, whether it is making a meal to reduce our hunger or watching an online training course to further our education.It involves a range of social, emotional, cognitive and biological forces that create the behaviour. However, in an everyday sense, motivation is used to describe why an individual does something. For example, a person might be so motivated to become a nurse that they spend their free time volunteering at the local hospital.

What makes employees happy? 
The road to understanding what motivates people at work began with Frederick Herzberg in the 1950s and 1960s. Herzberg researched the sources of employee motivation and discovered that the things that make people satisfied and motivated at work are not the same kind of things that make them demotivated.

If you ask your employees what makes them unhappy at work, you might get answers like: red tape, pay and conditions or policies and regulations. However, what Herzberg discovered was that even if you fix these factors you won’t necessarily end up with a motivated workforce because people are actually most stimulated by interesting work, increasing responsibility and recognition.

Recognition is key 
New research on motivation in the workplace shows that employee recognition matters more than financial rewards. In fact, in a study funded by Make Their Day and Badgeville 83% of employees said recognition for contributions is more fulfilling than any reward and it’s a trend that is increasing.

A recent independent report released by McKinsey & Company also revealed similar findings. The McKinsey & Company study showed that praise, attention from leaders, and opportunities to lead projects were more effective motivators.

Managers need to be liked
The Make Their Day study also reported that 80% of respondents said that working with people they like is highly motivating (this increases to 90% for employees 36 and older).

Therefore the Manager-Employee relationship is a key contributor to employee motivation. As the saying goes, “People leave managers, not companies”. This comes from the social and emotional forces that effect behaviour. Employees’ motivations change over time as their life changes, which means that the Manager-Employee relationship also needs to evolve over time. But which ever way you look at it working relationships matter when motivating employees.
To get the best out of the Manager-Employee relationship it’s important to give managers the skills they need to be able to develop working relationships that will motivate their employees. People management doesn’t come naturally to everyone and quite often the manager has been promoted into the role of a team manager without any formal people management training.

Managers should be trained on the softer skills needed to manage people and if your organisation runs a recognition programme then your managers should not only be trained on how the scheme works but also how to properly recognise individual employees and teams so that the recognition is genuine and timely.

In summary
The implications for organisations are dramatic. Not only do leadership teams need to keep up to date on the latest research, but when it comes to hiring or promoting people into managerial positions organisations need to ensure that these individuals possess the people skills required to manage and foster the types of relationships that will motivate their team.