Rethinking workplace motivation: A few myths busted

“The wheel will roll only if you push”

An industry wide survey by the Harvard Business School in the year 2014 had around 600 managers answering the question- “What motivates your employees?” For the researchers Amabile and Kramer, it was a shock to learn that 95% of the managers were unaware of the actual employee motivators and answered the question wrong. The same research group carried out a thorough analysis of the diary entries of 12,000 employees regarding workplace motivation factors. It was found that “money” was not the foremost and sole motivational determinant, unlike what their managers fathomed.


The years that followed saw a minimal uplift in workplace motivation, even in some of the reputed organizations. A study by the organization Interact in 2016 with 1000 respondents established that a shocking 63% of the employees feel demotivated at work due to a stark absence of appreciation and recognition by their managers. A series of surveys by the same organization brought to light that employee involvement can rise by 60% if their contributions are recognized.

A common inference from both the studies is that, organizations have blindly dovetailed money with motivation. This has obviously lead to a few falsified notions of organizational motivation, which, over the years, have snowballed to myths. This article intends to debunk some of the popular myths related to employee motivation in organizations-

Myth: Money motivates one and all


Most of the organizations, more precisely, the managers bank their motivational theories blindly on Maslow’s motivation model. Hence they place an unnecessary emphasis on the low-level needs, “financial” needs being the most important one. In the process, they completely ignore the high-level needs, which comprise of self-actualization, self-esteem and respect from and towards others.

Myth: Designation is the ultimate motivator


Organizations often follow the “carrot and stick” principle and try to fuel employee motivation by promising higher designation, promotion, onsite opportunities, incentives and endless enticing perks. In many extreme instances, employees are promised unexpected and unrealistic benefits right at the time they decide to resign, or step out of a particular project. These promises are not fulfilled in most cases. Even if those are met, the employees cannot often bear the weight of the higher designations and the additional responsibilities that come along. Therefore in the long run, they feel demotivated due to the increased workload they are expected to shoulder.

Myth: Peer competition induces motivation

Agreeably, a healthy competition among the peers generates the necessary inertia within project teams, that helps shoot up productivity and cumulative performance. But in majority of the cases, employees are wrongly compared with their peers, that induces complex and envy, instead of inspiration. So, although the highly appreciated section gets motivated and produces more output, the other section feels demoralized and fails to perform. The overall productivity sags in such cases.

Myth: Motivation is only for the poor performers

This might sound downright contrary to the preceding myth. But let me help you understand. The common belief is that, only a slack performance needs a boost. This is both RIGHT and WRONG! While the superior performers aren’t really in dire need of constant motivation to achieve the needful, little motivational dopes now and then do no harm. Being a manager, you should rightly identify whether it is just the right set of skills or some true motivation that is driving them forth.

Myth: Goal-setting is the key to motivation


Setting a goal and a timeline to achieve a target is supposed to be motivational enough. But here’s one caveat! The goal must be achievable and the timeline should be realistic. If the project circumstances permit, let the employees follow a self-paced workflow. Have smaller goal slots within the overall project goal. Judge the individual efficiency and expertise before doing so. Always remember, targets should be rightly set, not imposed.

Organizations that have demystified the above myths and incorporated the right set of motivational practices have achieved unexpectedly higher outputs, says more recent studies. The right amount of motivation bears a positive correlation with productivity. It’s high time the managers understand this ground reality and steer their projects with a team of highly motivated employees.



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