The workplace is going through a revolution right now.
Until fairly recently, the 9-5 working week was the accepted model of how businesses operated. Employees’ dedication and drive was largely measured by how long they spent in the office and how many personal sacrifices they were prepared to make.
But more and more organisations are questioning the effectiveness of this approach and tearing up the rule book.
Certain businesses are creating cultures and workplaces that focus on both corporate results and employee well-being – a trend driven largely by the flexibility of technology and the shifting priorities of employees.
The 9-5 working environment is being challenged by dynamic and innovative new ways of working, which stand to benefit employees and businesses across the globe.
Driven by millennials, today’s leaders are beginning to realise that getting the best out of people requires a different kind of environment and a more flexible approach to work.
Motivating without incentives
It’s tempting to assume that one of the best ways to motivate people is through incentives. Put up a tantalising prize or offer a juicy cash bonus and inevitably a job will get done faster. Or more effectively.
Except it’s not that simple.
In an experiment conducted in the 1970s by psychologist Edward Deci, two groups were asked to complete various problem solving tasks over three days. Group A was offered a financial reward on day two of the experiment for completing each task but Group B received no incentives at any point.
In the middle of each session, both groups were given a break. During that time they could carry on with the task or sit around doing as they pleased.
As you might expect, when Group A was being paid, they spent far more time working on the task during their break than Group B.
But when the financial incentive was removed, they spent far less time working on the task.
So, what happened?
The external reward worked great when it was on the table. But when it was removed, it proved hugely detrimental to baseline performance.
Ultimately, intrinsic motivation works more effectivley than extrinsic reward. So unless your business is prepared to keep offering endless incentives, this form of motivation can be counterproductive long-term.
A far more effective approach is to ensure work is worthwhile in its own right to help people stay focused. Because when people have a belief that a project has genuine value in its own right, there’s far more chance that their commitment and motivation will be sustained.
Working smarter – in practice
In today’s ever connected world, do we ever really turn off from work? Well, the fact I am writing this article at 10:30pm in the comfort of my lounge probably confirms that we don’t.
But deciding when we work, rather than having to perform within a rigid 9-5 culture can have huge benefits. After all, some people produce their best work late in the evening. Or first thing in the morning.
So, what if we told you that by allowing total flexibility of working, your teams can achieve better results for your company in the process? Hard to believe?
Here’s an example of how this works.
An employee at a client company recently resigned and was ready to serve her 4 week notice period. Her management knew how good she had been at generating new business appointments, so she was tasked with creating 50 new appointments for the sales team prior to leaving.
Her manager knew that she valued time with her family and told her she was able to leave the business as soon as she had achieved the agreed appointment levels.
Within four days, she’d created those 50 new appointments. The reason behind such fast results was simple ….
The manager had focused her on the results, not the 28 day notice period.
Crucially, knowing how to motivate individuals, not just teams, is an important part of working smarter as a business.
Motivation in the modern workplace
Increasingly, individuals are placing greater emphasis on working for businesses that offer greater amounts of freedom to innovate, grow and that nurture talent.
In a Ted Talk by career analyst Daniel Pink, he discusses how we’re still trying to motivate teams based on the labour intensive, mechanistic workplaces of the previous century. The incentives for increased productivity worked great during the era of production line process.
But the modern workplace demands different skills such as creativity, teamwork and the ability to undertake complex cognitive tasks. The new tools of motivation need to appeal to more intrinsic values and provide purpose in a personal, social and organisational context.
So, what inspires people to do great work?
Daniel Pink identifies three main areas he believe need to be addressed to get the best from people: autonomy, mastery and purpose. He defines these as follows:
Autonomy: the urge to direct our own lives.
Mastery: the desire to get better and better at something that matters.
Purpose: the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.
Essentially, people produce their best work when they’re given freedom to work on projects that have meaning to them and allow them the opportunity for self-improvement.
This approach is echoed by Harvard’s Professor of Business Administration, Teresa Amabile. In her research on organizational innovation, Amabile discovered the most powerful tool for motivating people involves giving them the chance to progress:
In an interview with Harvard Gazette, she explained,
“We know from our research with employees that ‘making progress in meaningful work’ was the No. 1 day-to-day motivator, and by a huge margin. Managers are really unaware of how important it is for them to facilitate progress every day, and to clear away obstacle to progress.”
So any manager that can give employees a path to progress stands to see increased levels productivity, focus and desire.
This could involve something as simple as highlighting how an employee’s day-to-day tasks are impacting the business on a wider scale. Even the smallest jobs can be seen to have greater value beyond their apparent simplicity.
Instilling a sense of purpose and progress can also be done by simply recognising a job well done. Sometimes, all it takes is a few words of acknowledgement to let people know the work they’re doing has value and meaning.
A continuing trend
While surveys show Millenials aren’t as motivated by money than previous generations, the next generation seems to place even less importance on it,
In a global study conducted by Millennial Branding and Randstad, generation Y (aged 21 – 32) to Generation Z (aged 16-20)
One of the major comparisons was that 28% of Gen Z stated that money would encourage them to work harder and stick with a company for longer, compared to 42% of Gen Y.
Putting it into action
Business models like ROWE ™,The Results-Only Work Environment™allow motivational tools such as autonomy, mastery and purpose to flourish. Apple has a program called Blue Sky that allows certain employees to take two weeks to focus on projects away from their normal duties.
Innovative start-ups are leading the way in this new approach to the way we work, but any business can adopt the strategies that thinkers like Pink and Amabile describe.
They give employees the freedom to find the best way to achieve a task. This involves being able to work outside of the rigid 9-5 pattern, not being tied to a desk and given the chance to balance life with work.
Ultimately, modern businesses need to understand the psychology of what gets the best out of people, especially considering the changing demands and motivational factors associated with the next generation of workers.
We believe this is the future of the relationship between companies and employees. When harnessed in the right way, the results are potentially huge.