Learn Through Play

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Why Short-Term Motivation Fails

What motivates you to go to work every day? Is it purpose? The paycheck? Neither one is right or wrong, but one may be better than the other.

When it comes to motivating employees, Daniel Pink’s book ‘Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us’ is often regarded as the gold standard. At Ziksana, we find that the work of Lindsay McGregor and Neel Doshi in the book Primed to Perform describes positive motivational factors that we’ve found to be more useful to build manager skills with our clients.

McGregor and Doshi outline six motivational factors that influence why we do the things we do:

  1. Play: I do it because I enjoy it.
  2. Purpose: I do it because I believe in it.
  3. Potential: I do it because it may lead me to a better role.
  4. Economic Pressure: I do it because I need to pay the bills.
  5. Emotional Pressure: I do it because I have to. (…because my boss told me to because my family relies on me…)
  6. Inertia: I do it out of habit because I did it yesterday.

The first three factors- Play, Purpose, and Potential- are considered long-term, positive motivators. Smart and innovative companies have been using the idea of play to increase employee engagement for a long time- they just called it “Tinkering Time”.

For example, WL Gore, Google, and a number of other companies will tell their individual contributors: “You get to do what you want with a half-day per week. You choose what you want to work on. So long as it fulfills our vision, you get to tinker.” These company leaders are granting playtime for individuals, and it’s purposeful: people get to be creative and innovate to solve problems that move the team towards the vision, but in a way that for the individual is personally interesting, and so the work becomes truly productive. In these companies, play is the most autonomous motivator but isn’t the only factor that makes employees motivated to be at work.

On the flip side, the last three factors – Economic, Emotional, and Inertia – are three negative, short term motivators. They can certainly be effective- as anyone who has lost a job and had bills to pay will tell you, these motivators can be powerful ways to spur action. But they’re not necessarily going to keep a high performing employee engaged for the long haul.

Understanding these motivators is a great tool for managers to have in their toolbox. When managers learn to ask their employees questions about why they come to work every day, they can speak to how their daily responsibilities contribute to the bigger picture. This helps them grow and reignite their motivation to improve their performance and development at work.

Learn more about how to create long term motivation in a work environment, better employee experience, and grow work motivation, at the “Managing Personal & Team Motivation,” live online workshop.

Watch Ziksana’s Founder, Akshay Sateesh, discuss short-term and long-term motivators!

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