The view from the top is always worthy of the fight to get there

The view from the top is always worthy of the fight to get there

The psychological force of employee motivation will not only determine the direction of a person’s behaviour in an organisation, their effort and their persistence, but its impact on the business as a whole. More than ever in our rapidly changing workplace, managers need to understand employee motivation and act on it before loyalty is lost, according to cognitive neuroscientist and business psychologist Dr Lynda Shaw.

Gallup estimates that actively disengaged employees cost the U.S. $450 billion to $550 billion in lost productivity per year. So what exactly does keep us engaged and motivated?  There are two basic types of motivators and both play an important role according to Shaw. The first is internal motivation which is to do with pride, work ethic and a passion for the work itself.  Shaw explains: “This type of motivation comes from within ourselves and pushes us to always do the best we can.  Intrinsic motivation often stems from curiosity and something we enjoy.  It enables self-development which on the surface seems selfish, but is in actual fact the way we develop a broad range of transferable skills to overcome different types of challenges.”

The second type is external motivation, which include rewards such as money, a nice office, promotions etc. Therefore, extrinsic motivation is inspired by specific rewards.  Both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is associated with the activity of the neurochemical dopamine.

Research done by McKinsey & Company found that for people with satisfactory salaries, some nonfinancial motivators are more effective than extra cash in building long-term employee engagement.  Shaw says: “We know for example that praise from managers, attention from our leaders, and our opinions and our ideas being heard can be as effective or even more effective than the short term boost of pay rises, bonuses or shares in the company. Treating our employees with dignity and respect seems to outweigh giving them cash in hand to motivate them.”

Showing you trust your employees is another motivator, whether it be working from home when they need to, taking on a role that maybe outside their comfort zone or taking things to a whole new level as business mogul Richard Branson who employs over 65,000 individuals has done.  Last year the Virgin boss announced that his staff can take leave from their jobs whenever they want as long as it does not have a negative impact on the business, giving employees both flexibility and the responsibility of deciding when they can take time off.

“There has been a lot of research into a brain chemical called oxytocin, which enhances pro-social behaviour and one area is that of trust.  Experiments show that when people feel trusted they produce more oxytocin in the brain.  And the more oxytocin they produce the more they become trustworthy and of course, the reward centres in the brain are activated too thus helping us feel great.  To add to this delicious cocktail when we trust someone they trust us back.”

With a third of our day spent at work, Shaw says it is imperative that we enjoy it but not necessarily give in to gimmicks.  “There is pressure on bosses to provide the workplace with slides, juice bars, chef catered lunches, segways and team holidays, because a handful of certain large wealthy companies have been able to do so.  Most companies can’t afford these sorts of gimmicks but team-building activities chosen by the team, Christmas parties and pizzas being bought in when employees are having to work late are deemed to show employees that they are appreciated and also help them build social/ work relationships as well.

“There are many dynamics to consider to build a successful team, but one of the key areas is that of emotional intelligence (EQ).  Each team member needs to understand and consider the others as well as themselves.  Therefore, the more a team gets to know one another in a relaxed creative environment the more efficient and healthy they will be.

“I always say to CEO’s when I am running workshops, employee motivation is about a two-way relationship.  An old phrase comes to mind and seems appropriate: ‘You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’.

 Tips for employee motivation 

  1. Take an interest in the future path of an employee’s career – it will improve their attitude if employees feel like you care about their career. Work with each employee to create their own personal development plan.


  1. Listen to your employees it shows that you respect them as individuals and that they are valued as part of the team.


  1. Figure out your employees’ personalities so that you can make the right motivational choices. For example, some people love to be praised in front of others whereas others would be embarrassed.


  1. Encourage your employees to be creative and also when appropriate to laugh with them at their mistakes. This will mean that they won’t be afraid to take calculated risks. It’s a waste if employees have great ideas but are afraid to voice them.


  1. Once in a while, you have put work aside and do something nice for the people who work for you. So order a pizza or let everyone leave early on a Friday every once in awhile. Provide incentives and a little competition never hurt anyone!

Dr Lynda Shaw is a cognitive neuroscientist and business psychologist and works with senior leaders and their teams who want to better understand emotional responses of clients and colleagues and harness this power to drive business growth, profits and dramatically improve long term working relationships.  Lynda achieves this through professional speaking, business development workshops and 121 sessions.  





Robert joined the HRreview editorial team in October 2015. After graduating from the University of Salford in 2009 with a BA in Politics, Robert has spent several years working in print and online journalism in Manchester and London. In the past he has been part of editorial teams at Flux Magazine, Mondo*Arc Magazine and The Marine Professional.