Don't Motivate Your Workforce!

Peter Hunter

In a hospital ward, I once overheard the ward sister saying that she knew she was supposed to motivate her staff, but just did not have the time.

Like most managers, she believed that nothing would happen without her input and that she was responsible for absolutely everything. The problem was that while she was perfectly happy to accept responsibility for the good things that happened, she was never prepared to admit she was responsible when something did not turn out right.

She talked about employee motivation as if it was her job to hand it out in measured doses to each and every one of her needy staff. But in her mind, she was so busy running the ward that it was unreasonable to expect her to take care of the needs of every single staff member. She was quite comfortable with the knowledge that she was not doing it, but still believed it was part of her job.

This is a very common attitude. Many managers become comfortable knowing that they don’t do anything for employee motivation because they feel that they cannot spend all of their time holding the hands of their staff.

What these managers do not realize is that their employees are already motivated. It is part of our human nature: when they drew their first breath, they had the motivation to draw another soon after. And then another. Soon, their whole lives actually became about getting better at what they did.

What really motivates and engages us is simply being born! We are born into the collective human unconscious which drives our desire to be good at what we do. After we are born, our personal consciousness develops and we respond by trying to do what we do well to satisfy our collective unconscious need. By doing things well, we know that we are creating the best possible environment in which to raise the next generation.

The strength of this desire and our ability to do well varies from one individual to another. Our own desire to do well is modified by the environment in which we find ourselves.

We all want to win the race. If we find ourselves pitted against an Olympic athlete, we know that we are unlikely to win – so we look for other ways to create the environment in which we can be acknowledged for our own contribution. We may end up coaching the athlete and therefore take some of the credit for their performance. Finding that we are not physically suited for athletic competition, we may pursue a career as an academic, an artist, or raising a family. We find a way to compete in an entirely different field of endeavor to satisfy our need to be valued.

Whatever we do, we will be looking for a way that we can make the most of our own abilities in order to best provide for the next generation and our own families. Without any outside stimulus, without any input from management, our collective unconscious has hardwired our desire to be the best we can, to be motivated and engage with what we are doing and the resources we are given.

When employees first turn up at a job interview, they bring this natural desire to do their best. They are prepared to share that desire to help the organization to improve, earn more money, and to increase that organization’s share of the market – and therefore, satisfy their own desire for stable long-term employment.

It does not usually take very long for a new employee to realize it if the organization is not capable of listening to his or her ideas. If the employee learns that his input is not welcome, he proceeds to pack away all of his education and experience that he had been prepared to share so freely. He reverts to the mindless automaton who responds to direct orders, but does nothing more.

When this happens, management blames their workforce for being unmotivated and moans about having to motivate their employees. Because time is always an issue, they often spend valuable resources paying for someone else to do it for them. They send the workforce to attend employee motivation courses without realizing that no matter how pumped they get, the staff will be coming back to the exact same environment that de-motivated them in the first place— an environment that was probably created by the same manager who is blaming them for being unmotivated.

Don’t waste time trying to motivate your workforce. They are already motivated.

Find out what you are doing that is de-motivating your workforce, and then stop doing it.

First published March 2011 in the Cranfield Express.