How compliments are better for motivation than a bonus


Human motivation is one of the hardest things to influence. Of course, monetary compensation helps. But it’s definitely not the only motivator make us wake up early in the morning. Here’s how companies often fail to understand this and what you can do to make your job more satisfying.

Bureaucracy kills motivation

Researcher Dan Ariely states that trust is an important element to keep employees motivated. Sure, a bonus will temporarily help with motivation. However, people get used to receiving such a bonus in the end and after they’ve met their targets will do less for a while. After all, why go the extra mile if you’ve already achieved your targets for the year?

Trust is different. With trust managers can empower their employees and make them feel they make a difference, which of course they do. After all, who will do the work? Who has the expertise? Yet, bureaucracies are created in which all of the procedures implicitly say: we do not trust you.

For example, the company requires endless KPI’s to be reported to several management layers, often one KPI being only slightly different from the other. Another example are endless approval loops, bogging down the employees who then have to wait for days or weeks to get started on their most important tasks.

Why would management think in such a corporate culture that employees are motivated to go the extra mile for a long period of time?

What is the definition of motivation

To properly know how we can influence our own motivation, we need to know what motivation actually is. In my view 2 theories together best describe human motivation.

The first theory is described in the book “Drive” by Daniel Pink. He describes the key elements of motivation as:

  • Autonomy – being able to direct our own work, instead of being micro-managed
  • Mastery – the desire to master skills and knowledge, essentially being good at what we do
  • Purpose – Working for a higher purpose. What will the organization achieve, what will be our legacy?

Dan Ariely also mentions that we actually not always pursue happiness. He mentions the example of marathon runners. They go through hell in training and running a marathon. Yet, after they’ve finished, will they say it wasn’t worth their while? Of course not. There are even a lot of amateur runners who aren’t that good, yet they will still say it was worth it. Why? Because the sense of achievement.

The second (classical) definition of motivation is the theory of needs (Maslow):

  1. Self-realization
  2. Recognition / esteem
  3. Love and belonging
  4. Safety
  5. Basic physical needs (shelter, food etc.)

To be able to achieve the highest of human needs, we need to first fulfill the lowest needs, being having enough to eat, having a roof over our heads etc. Once those needs are met, we can move on to a higher need.

What lacks in the theory of Maslow is that humans want to have a purpose in life. A why to live for. However, it does add to the theory of motivation by Pink by adding such elements as love and belonging and recognition. These of course also help with motivation.

Now, how can we apply these theories into practice?

Tips to improve your motivation

Your employer has a big influence on our motivation. However, in the end motivation is something we can and must influence ourselves. This whereas we cannot always influence the choices of our employer and searching for another suitable job can take quite some time.

Taking on more responsibility

If you feel that you’re being micro managed by your boss, you could always ask for more autonomy if he or she is open to feedback. For instance: ask to complete a task important to your department completely by yourself, including the “difficult” parts such as presenting to higher management. This will be scary at first, but it will give you a higher sense of achievement.

Giving a compliment

A sense of belonging is very important to keep you motivated. We want to belong to a group. Therefore, getting along with your co-workers is vitally important. Giving a compliment now and then will help you to reinforce your relationship with the people around you. And although it’s not your intention to get compliments in return, you will see that people are likely to reciprocate.

Learning a new skill

When your career isn’t moving as fast as you would like, it is always a possibility to learn a new skill or enhance an existing one. Whereas you cannot directly control if you will be promoted or not, what you can control is what you will learn the next day. And it doesn’t need to be something that costs money, necessarily. There’s lot’s of free content out there on the internet, that doesn’t cost a dime. Take my website for instance.

Based on the theories I’ve mentioned in this post, there’s a lot more that you can do to increase your motivation. I encourage you to be creative about this and see what works best for you.

Thanks for reading this article. Don’t forget to like and share and see you back here next week for another blogpost!

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