Funny image of businessman chased with carrotA workplace can facilitate, foster, and enable flourishing, or it can disrupt, thwart, and impede it, says motivation expert Susan Fowler in a cover story for Personal Excellence magazine.

In Fowler’s experience, the motivation practices used in many organizations have undermined engagement more often than they have engaged employees. Fortunately the new science of motivation has identified three psychological needs—Autonomy, Relatedness, and Competence—that can help managers create the type of environment where employees thrive.

Autonomy.  Diverse studies over the past 20 years indicate that adults have a psychological need for autonomy. For example, productivity increases significantly among blue-collar workers in manufacturing plants when they are given the ability to stop the production line. Similarly, the productivity of white-collar workers in banking firms has been shown to increase in workers who report a high sense of autonomy.

Autonomy doesn’t mean that managers are permissive or hands-off, but rather that employees feel they have influence in the workplace. Empowerment may be often considered a cliché, but if people don’t have a sense of empowerment, their sense of autonomy suffers, and so does their productivity and performance.

Relatedness. Relatedness is the very human need to care about—and be cared about, by others. As Fowler explains, “It is our need to feel connected to others without concerns about ulterior motives. It is our need to feel that we are contributing to something greater than ourselves.”

Fowler encourages leaders to help their people find meaning, social purpose, and experience healthy interpersonal relationships at work.

“Beliefs such as, ‘It’s not personal; it’s just business’ diminish an aspect of work that is essential to our healthy functioning as human beings—the quality of our relationships” says Fowler.  She reminds managers that applying pressure to perform without regard for how that makes people feel actually limits performance.

Competence. People are naturally motivated to learn, but managers often undermine employees’ desire to grow and learn new skills by assuming that people need to be incentivized to learn—either through rewards or punishment.

As a leader Fowler suggests seeing learning and growth in a new light by asking about, and providing opportunities, for people to grow and develop. “What did you achieve today?” What did you learn today?” How did you grow?” are great questions to ask when combined with opportunities to use strengths and develop new skills.

Create an Engaging Environment

In closing her article, Fowler stresses that it is a mistake to think that people are not motivated. In her experience, they are simply longing for needs they cannot name. The greatest thing a leader can do is create an environment that allows people to satisfy these needs, grow, enjoy their work, and build lasting relationships.

You can read Fowler’s complete article in the September issue of Personal ExcellenceWhy Motivating People Doesn't Work.. and What Does Book Cover .

Also be sure to check out the website of her new book, Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work…and What Does, which is available for presale now and will be available in bookstores on October 4. You’ll find great resources for leaders–and you can download a free chapter to learn more!

3 Psychological Needs Leaders Must Address to Create an Engaging Work Environment

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