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How to use intrinsic and extrinsic motivation for workforce planning

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Only a third of UK workers say they are happy in their jobs. HR leaders need to better understand employees' motivators in order to help solve the retention issue.

29th Apr 2022
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One of many sayings the motivational speaker and best-selling author, Zig Ziglar, had was that “the way to get what you want is to help other people get what they want.” 

But how many people truly know what they want? Do you? Do you know the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation? Put simply, this is the difference between someone doing something because they want to as opposed because they feel they have to.  

Understanding that can be a revelation for some people. How many employers feel able to ask that question of their employees or potential recruits? How many would be able to respond or is it a one size fits all, take it or leave it approach? What happens if neither party really knows?

Intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation

My late aunt used to say that “it’s not pride that drives us to work but poverty.” That may have been true in the last century but does that still hold true now? If you remember the furore about removing the £20 Universal Credit uplift, it would appear that HM Treasury and DWP seem to think so but, with over eight million working but also classed as living in poverty, that doesn’t really add up. 

In any relationship there is an element of risk taking. Fear is the biggest driver in all of us, fear of failure and rejection ride high for many people

Research shows that only a third of people are happy at work which means two-thirds aren’t. Denial is not a river in Africa, if you have unhappy people are you getting the best from them? Are they getting the best from you and what does that do to productivity, the customer journey, morale and retention? The same Indeed Workplace Happiness Report states that employees feel that individual happiness at work is a shared responsibility between individuals and the organisation.

Slowing the retention tide

EQ (emotional intelligence) is often cited at the silver bullet for many businesses, something they are constantly searching for. Where do you go to develop that in people? Is that too personal? Is it an employer’s responsibility to help people develop or is it the individuals where the employer hopes to reap some benefits? 

You may have seen that brilliant cartoon where the CFO asks the CEO “what happens if we invest in our people and they leave?” And the CEO replied, “what happens if we don’t and they stay?”

In any relationship there is an element of risk taking. Fear is the biggest driver in all of us, fear of failure and rejection ride high for many people. But being able to develop a relationship where it is ok to be honest, to be vulnerable and open creates a very different relationship. 

Many businesses have an issue with retention and solving that will obviously help recruitment, but why is someone going to stay if many others are leaving? And why will someone join if you can’t retain people? How do you measure that risk?

I’d argue the risk is to double down, keep doing what you’re doing, not consider change and rely on extrinsic motivators including a person’s need to earn a living. 

How can HR help?

The Indeed Workplace Happiness Report found that 91% of people said happiness in their next job is important. So, with happiness being a key motivator, how do you go after the missing million who have left the UK labour market during the pandemic?

Firstly, put yourself in their shoes. They may have been made redundant, their firm or industry disappeared. They may not know what they want to do, where to start or where to get good quality help. Most are not in a position to retire yet and any savings won’t last forever. What state of mind might that create in them? Fear, anxiety, confusion, stress?

If you don’t have the money to pay for a career coach and you didn’t get high quality outplacement you may be a bit stuck. Too proud to go to the jobcentre or not wanting to be put through the rigmarole that goes with it, but happiness is a key motivator. 

Solutions requires a shift in mindset and attitude on all parts. That often needs to be facilitated and coached and that is what, for instance, we have done successfully for individuals over the years. But businesses also need to work on this so where should they start?  

People of a certain generation may bemoan their careers teacher but the younger generation don’t even get to do that

Finding the 'calling'

For the last 13 years, my business has been helping people get the life and career they want, trying to help individuals and businesses get what they need from the system. A big part of that is helping people understand who they are, their motives, drivers and explore whether they have a 'calling', giving them the knowledge and tools to pursue it. This calling is an example of intrinsic motivation and is what is needed for many of the vocational jobs with huge vacancies currently including care, health and education. 

Many people we come across have a limited awareness of the range of sectors and opportunities that are out there. People of a certain generation may bemoan their careers teacher but the younger generation don’t even get to do that. There’s an entire industry (often government funded) around IAG (information, advice and guidance) and a whole suite of qualifications to boot. But too much is theory and not many have actual recruitment experience. 

Whilst some organisations will pay for outplacement, or some individuals usually in a certain earning bracket can pay for career coaching, most people can’t. This leaves them relying on the system and, to qualify (be eligible), you have to be in the system (i.e., on Universal Credit) so, for instance, the missing million who have left employment since the pandemic are not counted. Can we really discount a million people just like that?

Let's make some changes

Those in the system get what comes through employability and skills funding through job centres, colleges and training providers. The elephant in the room here is that the quality is often poor, the results aren’t being measured (something we’re campaigning on) and there is often a mismatch between what employers need, what is actually funded and what providers can actually deliver.

If only a third of UK workers are happy in their work, we have got to put this right. We need to give individuals personal accountability and responsibility. We need to look at what employees’ motivators are, inspire them, support their skillset, increase their wellbeing (intrinsic motivation). Furthermore, we have to help align employers and workers and solve the retention issue (including extrinsic motivation).

As the saying goes, “if it’s to be, it’s up to me.” If we can do that, we can drive change. 

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