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Principles of Workplace Motivation

 |   |  Performance Management, Feedback, Professional Learning


Merriam-Webster defines motivation as providing a justification which makes a person want to do something (n.d. motivation). Most people know this, but few really understand the fundamentals of motivating people in the workplace. Many employers believe that monetary incentives alone are sufficient motivators for people to come to work. When we look at research, however, it is noted that salary is only a stimulus for those who have not reached the point in their career where they have enough money to pay their current bills. Once people reach the point where they can pay all their expenditures without having to sit down and crunch the numbers, monetary incentives diminish tremendously as a factor in workplace motivation. Before we discuss motivational protocols for the workplace, let’s take a deeper dive into motivation.

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Photo Credit: DepositPhotos.com

According to Daniel Pink (2009), true motivation is a derivative of three distinct intrinsic factors. These three key factors are independence, self-determination, and contribution. In his book, Drive, the author defines each of these internal incentives as follows:

  1. Independence: This factor is the aspiration to oversee one’s own life and direction. Pink suggests that people need to feel independence in one or more of these four facets of life--which I have named the 4 P’s. They are pace, projects, processes, and partnerships. Adults want the freedom to decide when they work, the amount of time they spend on a project, and the frequency at which they accept new tasks. The also want to be able to select the tasks they complete, and the process they use to accomplish tasks. Lastly, people prefer to work in partnerships of their choosing.
  2. Self-determination is the drive to complete a task or goal and get better at it. During this factor, people are so engaged they move in a sort of rhythm and flow which glides them through the tasks until a goal is achieved. Pink (2009) asserts that independence can be achieved when people have the right mindset, practice endurance, and are willing to reach for infinity. As a school leader, it is imperative to survey staff to determine their beliefs regarding ability, effort, and goal-setting. Achieving goals takes an intense amount of effort, and an abundance of time to accomplish many of the goals that we aspire to achieve. The last principle is reaching for infinity. In Mathematics, an asymptote is defined as a curved line that comes haphazardly close to infinity but never reaches it. Reaching for an infinite goal takes a tremendous amount of self-determination. As educational leaders, if your goal is to increase workplace motivation, self-determination is a tool that will inspire and increase staff engagement.
  3. Contribution is the last of the three intrinsic factors of true motivation. It is defined as the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves. When people have mastered the first two intrinsic motivators and combine them with a feeling of purpose, there are no limits to what can be accomplished (Pink, 2009).

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PositivePsychology.com offers school leaders the following strategies that can be used to increase motivation:

  1. Optimistic Support: During times of change, staff may be reluctant to talk to their administrators when they make mistakes due to the growing levels of uncertainty when implementing new technology, strategies, or curriculum. School leaders will need to work to reduce this awkward anxiety and intimidation using optimistic support. Optimistic support is what psychologists have coined as positive reinforcement and can take on many forms. Teachers can be given verbal praise, increase in leadership opportunities, and special gestures of gratitude when goals or milestones are met.
  2. Professional Development: When staff appear to be unmotivated, leaders should figure out a way to determine staff mindset regarding their instructional capacity. Administrators should assess educators' knowledge of district-mandated and school-wide initiatives. This could be done by meeting with staff, having them take a survey, or simply providing scaffolded training for all staff. Equipping your staff with the skills and knowledge necessary to be successful is of the utmost importance.
  3. Targets and Feedback: Adults need to be provided with clear, consistent, and focused targets. These targets should be defined, and action steps should be given to help educators understand what they are working to achieve. Targets and goals help employees feel connected to the organization. When contributions to an overall goal are recognized, people begin to feel that their work is valued. This recognition inspires dedication and hard work.
  4. Set Goals and Provide Feedback: Everyone needs feedback and teachers are no different. When you provide feedback to teachers, it provides a frame for creating collaborative goal-setting. Goals give people purpose, set them on the road towards self-direction, and opens the door for the four P’s to be realized.
  5. Provide a Comfortable Work Atmosphere: The type of environment that employers create either inhibits or facilitate motivational practices. Employers should seek to empower teachers to be innovative and try new ideas. In the Harvard Business Journal, Eric Garton reported that we spend between $125 billion and $190 billion a year on psychological and physical healthcare related to employee burnout. During distance learning, burnout could result from increased workloads as teachers assume the responsibilities of other staff when they are absent from the workplace. Employers should survey staff to determine what each one needs to help them move towards a work-life balance, to find out which incentives to focus on, and social opportunities to offer the staff.
  6. Collective Tasks: When possible, employers should create spaces for teachers to work in collaborative groups, share strategies, and work through team-building activities. Activities and spaces like these must be intentional and routinely aligned to a school’s workplace framework. A sense of belonging and feeling of being connected to a school’s community can help teachers adopt the shared vision of the school, increase engagement, and improved motivation.

Motivation is a complicated progression to define and problematic to fully comprehend. The science of motivation informs us that reasons are inner understandings that can be classified into desires, perceptions, and feelings that are impacted by underpinning circumstances like environmental incidents and social situations. These internal and external stimuli lead us to how we can intercede to enhance motivation. Depending on the motivational predicament we are purveying, we can devise intercessions which point to either physical or mental needs, distinct intellectual phenomenality linked with motivation stasis, or psychological idleness in addition to modifications to the atmosphere to generate an ideal framework for improved motivation.

Now more than ever it is imperative for school leaders to focus on workplace motivational methods. Students take their cues from educators. If teachers are not motivated and enthusiastic about teaching, then our students will not be persuaded to concentrate on learning. Ultimately, this could have detrimental effects on the academic growth and achievement of a school. One of the greatest responsibilities of educational leaders have is to emphasize inspiring strategies that will motivate staff to stay focused and continue working towards the shared mission and vision of a school.  



Employee burnout is a problem with the company, not the person

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

“Motivate.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary

The Science of Improving Motivation at Work

17 Motivational Tools, Worksheets, and Activities

Jami Fowler-White

About the Author
Jami Fowler-White

Jami Fowler-White is the CEO of Digital PD 4 You, LLC. She is also an Educational Specialist who began her career as an elementary school teacher at the age of 21. Within her career, she spent ten years molding and educating young minds, earned National Board Certification in the area of Middle Childhood Generalist, and served as the Technology Coordinator for her school. From there she went on to spend the next nine years, as an Instructional/Professional Development Coach were her primary role was to help teachers strengthen their knowledge of content pedagogy and research-based teaching strategies which could be used to increase student achievement. During this time, she also helped to train other Instructional Coaches within her district, served as a Tennessee Candidate Support Provider/mentor to National Board Teaching Certification First-Time and Renewal Candidates in her state, and became a charter member of the Tennessee Core Advocate Network in the area of Foundational Literacy. After serving as an Instructional Coach, Mrs. Fowler-White was promoted to the role of Assistant Principal at her school, went on to renew her National Board Teaching Certification, is currently serving as a mentor to National Board Teaching Certification candidates across the United States, and is a charter member of the of the National Board Network of Minoritized Educators. Additionally, Mrs. Fowler-White is also a proud member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated and currently serves as an Assistant Principal in Shelby County Schools in Tennessee. If you are interested in reading other material written by Mrs. Fowler-White, she recently published her first book entitled, Educator Reflection Tips: How often do you reflect on your practice, publishes a blog, and is a podcast host.

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