Understanding the effective and ineffective aspects of employee motivation can be challenging.

To address this issue, employers frequently search for motivation strategies that may initially appear simple or attractive but prove to be questionable upon closer examination. Here are some of the most prevalent myths surrounding employee motivation that we have discovered to be unsupported by evidence.

1. Money is the greatest motivator.

To put it simply, many people believe that the only type of motivation that truly matters for employees is money. It is true that employees want to be fairly compensated for their work, and some individuals do find motivation in financial incentives.

However, it may surprise you to learn that money alone does not buy long-lasting motivation in most cases. According to a study conducted by psychologist Edward Deci and his colleagues, extrinsic rewards, such as money, often lead to diminishing returns on intrinsic motivation.

To understand this concept, we need to distinguish between extrinsic and intrinsic motivations. Extrinsic motivation arises from external factors that drive our behavior. For instance, studying to achieve a good grade, working out to look good during swimsuit season, or taking on additional shifts to earn a bonus at work are examples of extrinsic motivation. On the other hand, intrinsic motivation stems from our own inner desires. A classic illustration of intrinsic motivation is learning to play a musical instrument because you genuinely enjoy the process, not because you seek approval or a reward.

The study suggests that while extrinsic rewards can provide temporary motivation for completing repetitive tasks, we derive greater value and enjoyment from more complex work when we are intrinsically motivated to improve our skills and achieve mastery.

Therefore, although performance bonuses or rewards programs at work can generate short-term motivation, long-term employee motivation is more often driven by our internal desire to excel in our work.

2. Feedback boosts employee motivation.

It is commonly believed that employees, particularly millennials and Gen Zers, desire feedback. However, the conventional notion of feedback may not be beneficial for employee motivation. Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall discuss in a Harvard Business Review article that several factors influence the way we provide feedback, such as our personal biases, the difficulty in assessing intangible qualities in others, and the mistaken belief that uniform standards of behavior can be applied to everyone with identical outcomes.

Not only is the feedback we offer often inaccurate, but it also does not align with how humans actually learn and develop. Receiving negative feedback triggers a fear response, causing our brains to enter a fight or flight mode. Our focus shifts to survival rather than truly listening and comprehending the feedback. Conversely, positive feedback helps relax our brains and makes us more receptive in cognitive, emotional, and perceptual aspects.

While it remains important to address and correct employee mistakes, providing feedback in a positive manner is more likely to help them excel rather than merely meet the minimum requirements. By highlighting and fostering their strengths instead of solely focusing on their weaknesses, we can have a greater and more enduring impact on their future performance.

3. Employees are motivated by fun perks.

Many companies, such as Google, are known for offering exciting perks and benefits to their employees, including gourmet lunches, massage chairs, and games. These perks are given under the assumption that employees will be more motivated and productive if they have fun and enjoy their workplace.

While these expensive perks are appealing, do employees actually desire and expect them in their jobs?

To answer this question, Fractl, a content marketing agency, conducted a survey of 2,000 employees in the United States. The survey aimed to identify the benefits that mattered most to employees when comparing different job options. Surprisingly, the top-ranked benefits were those related to employee health, wellness, and work-life balance.

Eighty-eight percent of the respondents stated that they considered “better health, dental, and vision insurance” as an important factor. This was followed by preferences for more flexible working hours, increased vacation time, and the option to work from home.

Having a healthy work-life balance, sufficient time for personal activities, and access to healthcare when needed were found to have a greater impact on morale and productivity than amenities like foosball tables or catered meals. This is not to say that fun perks are a bad idea, but they should not be used to compensate for a lack of flexibility or desired health benefits.

To effectively motivate employees, it is essential to understand and cater to their individual values and needs. Different employees are motivated in different ways, so there is no universal approach to unlock their potential and enhance their performance.

The best approach to motivate employees is to engage in open conversations and actively listen to them. This will help identify areas where changes can be made, additions can be implemented, or existing factors can be removed in order to create an environment where employees can perform at their best.


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