For self or company gain? Why employees' motivation matters

A blindfolded employee during a team building activity at Botanical Gardens in Karen. [Patrick Vidija, Standard]

When sports people win in global competitions, they drape their national flags around their shoulders and, as exhilarated citizens cheer in celebration of their athletes’ success, their countries are credited with the medals won.

“I am happy to turn out for my country,” they say. “This win belongs to my beloved people.”

So the country ranks high in global standings because a number of its citizens, a very tiny fraction of the population representing it in the sport, have won podium places and some prize money.

But are the athletes running for their countries or themselves? Is their motivation to have the country top the charts, or are they primarily motivated by their desire to have their own names in history books, and to pocket some money while at it?

Personal goals

Do employees in organisations work hard because they want their companies to be the finest on the land, or is their biggest motivation personal goals and 'selfish' career development?

Octagon Africa Head of Human Resources Monicah Karanja says employees could be working hard because a rise up the ladder, or a company growing bigger and making more money, is likely to promise bigger, better salaries.

It is motivation to grow their skills and better themselves as professionals, however, that produces the best results, she says.

“Performance of an employee can be someone working for salary or for career growth. When someone is working for career development, they will perform better at work because they have self-motivation,” Ms Karanja says.

Senior managers have to be keen to identify what their workers are after or what motivates them as well, so they can create an environment in which such employees can thrive or, if need be, shoo them away if unaligned to the company’s ethos.

“That is the reason why it is always important for employers to identify what the employees’ short-term and long-term goals are so that they are able to identify whether the employee fits in with the organisation and where they can effectively utilise the employee,” Ms Karanja says.

An employer who makes employees feel appreciated and loved is likely to have more motivated, focused and productive workers.

When they feel part of the project, and they believe it makes them better professionals, employees are more likely to subscribe to an idea with ease.

A monetary promise, while important, is not as likely to improve the productivity of an employee as would the prospect of career development, which many are actively pursuing.

"Money is not a sustainable motivator. Recognition among peers by an employer motivates the employee; makes the employee feel their work is recognised," Ms Karanja says.

It boosts their energy and improves productivity. Proper learning and development strategy within an organisation, one that helps employees meet their career growth, also helps a lot.

"You identify where this person fits and once you identify the gaps out of your learning and development strategy and policy then you can have a programme that feeds into helping this person achieve their goals.” 

Such an employee, while putting in effort with an aim to develop their own career, is also glad to see the employer, who is doing so much for the benefit of the employee, happy and thriving.

If anything, it is in the success of the organisation that the employee will have their own fortunes.

But what happens when an employer provides such a good environment that the employee can greatly grow in professional stature with an eventual possibility of exiting once they feel they have outgrown their roles at their company, or the company itself?

Deliver quality

Ms Karanja says that once a company has employees that deliver high quality, an exit is not worrying as there is always a worthwhile replacement drawn to the company by a reputation born out of the work of the departing employees.

As such, employers should not fear the exits of those they have so diligently trained.

“It is far more dangerous to have an unmotivated workforce than one whose career growth is so good you fear they will bolt. Employees come and go, but if the output of your employees is of good quality, then you will attract the same (kind of quality),” the HR executive says.

“If you are concerned in investing in people who leave then it means you are willing to work with a mediocre workforce and it will be translated to your output and productivity.”

There are few employees who will work just for the thrill of the money, with many happy to look a mix of factors including a company’s culture and potential for growth.

For athletes, many will be happy to hear their national anthems sung once they win especially if their countries have invested in training facilities for them, and covered some of their crucial expenses.