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Beyond the Clock: The Benefits of Highly Motivated Employees

Alison Napolitano
Alison Napolitano

High levels of employee motivation are linked to high levels of employee engagement.

There are a number of benefits to having highly motivated employees in your ranks but for business owners, all roads eventually lead to the bottom line.

High levels of employee motivation are intrinsically linked to high levels of employee engagement, which is something that organizations are paying much more attention to these days, and with good reason.

According to Gallup’s most recent survey on this topic, “State of the American Workplace,” 70% of employees lack engagement on some level a dissatisfaction trend that’s estimated to cost the U.S. a whopping $450 billion to $550 billion in lost productivity per year.

There are a number of experts tackling the employee engagement and motivation topic such as Kimberly Schaufenbuel, program director at UNC Executive Development, a program associated with UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School’s online MBA for executives. In a UNC Executive Development white paper, Schaufenbuel explains how the science of motivation in the brain can be applied to improve employee motivation in the workplace.

Here, we’ll provide an overview of her findings, as well as what other experts say about having and creating highly engaged and motivated employees. [Related Article: Follow the Leader: 7 Employee Motivation and Retention Strategies Used by Tech Giants]

Why motivation is important

Schaufenbuel says that by understanding the reasoning behind employees’ actions, and using those results to motivate them, you can improve business performance. In addition to being more highly engaged, motivated employees handle uncertainty more easily; are better problem-solvers; have higher levels of innovation, creativity, and customer-centricity; are more profitable; create higher levels of customer satisfaction; and increase employee retention rates.  

Knowing what types of employees you have in your ranks is important to understanding motivation, as well. When it comes to engagement, Gallup says there are three:

  • Engaged: work with passion and feel a profound connection to their company. They drive motivation and move the organization forward.
  • Not engaged: are essentially “checked out.” They’re sleepwalking through the workday, putting time not energy or passion into their work.
  • Actively disengaged: just aren’t happy at work; they’re busy acting out their unhappiness. Every day, these workers undermine what their engaged co-workers accomplish.

As can be expected, actively disengaged employees do the most damage. As Gallup notes, “These employees are emotionally disconnected from their companies and may actually be working against their employers' interests; they are less productive, are more likely to steal from their companies, negatively influence their coworkers, miss workdays and drive customers away.”

What drives motivation and engagement

There are a number of experts who are trying to better understand what drives employee motivation. Schaufenbuel highlights the work of Harvard professors Nitin Nohria, Boris Groysberg and Linda-Eling Lee, who have been studying the neuroscience that influences it, and how the brain can be “retrained” to increase a person’s motivation for rewards. This dynamic is predicted to lead to improved employee engagement, enhanced productivity and higher rates of retention.

She also says that there are four behavioral drivers that influence human behavior: the drive to acquire, the drive to defend, the drive to bond, and the drive to learn and it’s important for organizations to understand them in a holistic manner since one may impact another. “When HR and talent managers understand what drives a person’s behavior in this context, they can design systems, policies, procedures and practices that will appeal to each driver,” according to Schaufenbuel.

Related Article: Motivation Station: 3 Scientifically Proven Ways To Inspire Your Team

Another expert Schaufenbuel highlights is David Rock, the director of the NeuroLeadership Institute and his SCARF model, which combines motivational theory with neuroscience. SCARF (Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, Fairness) is a framework for understanding how the brain responds to perceived threats and rewards.

Based on Rock’s model, “a job should not be viewed as a business transaction do the work and get paid but rather as a part of a social system in which the brain is rewarded (or punished) based on how well the business environment is meeting an employee’s need for status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness and fairness.”

Strategies for your organization

There are a number of strategies that experts recommend to improve employee engagement and motivation. Not surprisingly, a major influencer in this dynamic is the employee’s manager. Gallup’s report, “State of the American Manager,” reveals that managers account for as much as 70 percent of variance in employee engagement scores:

“A Gallup study of 7,272 U.S. adults revealed that one in two had left their job to get away from their manager to improve their overall life at some point in their career.” In another study, the survey organization asked respondents to rate their managers on specific behaviors that are strongly linked to employee engagement: those related to communication, performance management and individual strengths. As a result, Gallup makes the following recommendations for managers to help strengthen employee engagement levels:

  • Communicate richly: consistent communication and feeling that managers are invested in them is linked to higher engagement. “Knowing their employees as people first, these managers accommodate their employees’ uniqueness while managing toward high performance.”
  • Base performance management on clear goals: lack of clarity can lead to greater frustration for employees. “Engaged employees are more likely than their colleagues to say their managers help them set work priorities and performance goals.”
  • Focus on strengths over weakness: research shows this is a far more effective approach. “A strengths-based culture is one in which employees learn their roles more quickly, produce more and significantly better work, stay with their company longer, and are more engaged.”

Deloitte consultants agree that leaders are a critical piece of the employee engagement puzzle. In “Culture and Engagement, the Naked Organization,” they note, “While most leaders are measured on the basis of business results, organizations must begin holding leaders accountable for building a strong and enduring culture, listening to feedback, and engaging and retaining their teams.” They recommend the following strategies for companies to kick-start their employee engagement efforts:

Engagement starts at the top and must be a corporate priority.

  • Measure in real time to better capture current dynamics in order to address them more quickly.
  • Make work meaningful by focusing on leadership, coaching and performance management.
  • Listen to the millennials since they are the leaders of the future.
  • Simplify the work environment to “help reduce the burden of the 24/7 work environment that organizations operate in today.”

Related Article: Love Your Space: How to Encourage Employees to Take Pride in the Workplace

As Deloitte notes, “Organizations that create a culture defined by meaningful work, deep employee engagement, job and organizational fit, and strong leadership are outperforming their peers and will likely beat their competition in attracting top talent.” [Need help managing employee satisfaction? Check out how a PEO service can help.]

By recognizing the benefits of having highly engaged and motivated employees and implementing specific strategies to make sure that they are, you’ll improve the culture of your organization, as well as your bottom line.

Image Credit: Undrey/Shutterstock
Alison Napolitano
Alison Napolitano
Alison Napolitano is a Senior Marketing Manager at 2U where she supports community outreach for 2U's programs. Alison has a background in digital marketing and a passion for helping great brands succeed online.