3 Methods Science Recommends for Motivating Employees

Employees with a sense of purpose are more inclined to contribute to success over the long haul.

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By Pratik Dholakiya


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According to a 2013 Gallup study covering the US market, "70 percent of workers are not engaged in their jobs." With this startling statistic in mind, many managers wish they could understand what triggers employee motivation, especially as many different sources revealed a positive correlation between motivation and performance.

Here's what Duke University's Prof. Dan Ariely, a renowned thinker on behavioral economics and irrationality, can teach us about employee engagement and factors influencing motivation levels.

Below are three things managers can learn about motivating employee performance in the workplace from the man himself:

1. Encourage employees to find their strengths.

Besides ensuring job security, employees should be encouraged to discover and/or develop their strengths. Employees today, especially those in Generation Y and statistics related to their respective employee turnover rate, need to feel that they are part of a working environment that challenges/inspires them professionally and allows them to learn, grow and find a sense of purpose. According to Ariely in one of his brief video clips discussing employee motivation, "we need to recognize how important meaning, completion, competition, motivations are in getting people to care and to work hard, and we need to try to encourage those…we need to do things that don't undercut those human motivations."

Related: 4 Ways to Motivate Employees Without Budgeting Bigger Salaries

Additionally, research conducted by The Marcus Buckingham Company agrees with many of his points claiming that, "the most powerful human need at work is help to discover strengths and to use them frequently".

2. Emphasizing creativity in the workplace.

Ariely also emphasizes the need for employers to consider the power of creativity as a trigger for motivating employees to greater performance levels. Here, gamification, or "the process of using game thinking and game mechanics to solve problems and engage users" can be impactful as various elements, whether visual or content based, such as those that can be found across GamEffective, can spur both engagement and increased performance levels. Such solutions also work well in bringing back the feeling of excitement to the workplace.

Related: 4 Ways to Keep Employees Motivated and Productive

According to Ariely, "creativity helps us think better of ourselves and also makes us believe that what we're doing is actually okay and therefore, make us seem more trustworthy to other people… So we're becoming more convincing because we can believe it to a higher degree".

3. Working together as a team is key.

Lastly, Ariely also discusses the importance of employees feeling part of a greater whole, part of a team. In fact, he cites the example of employees actually preferring pay cuts across the entire staff rather than having a specific individual being fired. Additionally, the idea of prosocial bonuses or incentives, "either in the form of charitable donations or team expenditures, can be an effective means of encouraging more positive behavior for the individual, their teammate and for society".

This advice may seem contrary to what many managers often hear regarding competitive workplace environments, where individual bonuses are expected to directly impact performance levels and output.

To sum up, successful managers will need to understand what actually motivates their employees and how to increase inspiration and engagement levels by trying out different team-based games, advocating for socially-minded incentives and directly reaching out to staff members to see what they think about your business. By giving them a sense of purpose, they will be more inclined to want to contribute to the success over the long haul.

Related: 8 Ways to Motivate Employees Into an Unstoppable Team

Essentially, successful managers will need to tap into employee emotions, as they play a significant role in affecting employee motivation levels across organizations both small and large.
Pratik Dholakiya

Founder of Growfusely

Pratik Dholakiya is the founder of Growfusely, a content marketing agency specializing in content and data-driven SEO.

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