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Employee Motivation - 20 January 2009

I live opposite the Wayside Chapel – a crisis centre in Kings Cross that looks after Sydney’s down-and-out. One of the regular characters in the area has been the homeless man in the photo, John O’Connor, who’s been living on the streets for 20 years. On countless occasions I've seen John’s emaciated and sore-ridden body passed out – all due to his heroin addiction.

People generally become addicted to drugs because of two reasons:

  • They’re trying to get away from pain; and
  • They’re trying to move towards pleasure

 

The pain they’re getting away from might be the memory of child abuse, low self-esteem, and mental illness. The pleasure they’re moving towards could be euphoria, enhanced confidence, and even forgetfulness. And because both of these worlds are extremes, addicts become motivated to do the unimaginable just to reach the pleasure zone.

The degree to which your employees are addicted to their work follows a similar principle. Employee motivation is derived entirely by your capacity to help your employees get away from a specific pain and move towards a specific pleasure.

This might be getting away from the pain of:

  • Boredom – being sick and tired of a routine, repetitive, and mundane job
  • Stagnation – feeling despondent because career development is non-existent
  • Inequity – watching colleagues earning comparable wages for doing half as much

And it could be moving towards the pleasure of:

  • Talents – utilising as much as possible the skills and passions inherent within them
  • Connection – having real and meaningful relationships with colleagues and managers
  • Recognition – being genuinely appreciated both verbally and financially for a great job

It’ll differ for each employee. Your job as a motivating manager is to get them addicted by figuring out the pain they want to escape, the pleasure they desire, and the steps that lie in between.

On Christmas Day in 2007, John was at the Wayside Chapel when another homeless man walked in wearing only a pair of shorts, looking worse-for-wear to say the least. Yet John took his shirt off and gave it to him. Unfortunately, John died a few months ago. But the lessons of his short and sad life live on even for those of us in business.


 

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