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What We Need To Know To Reconstruct The Workplace

by Deborah Rinner, Chief Learning Consultant, Tero International

A Fast Company article titled "Fearing a Chaotic Post Pandemic Workplace" sites the disruption of the pandemic added an additional challenge in what builds up employee motivation. This potentially dramatic dip in motivation is another reflection of how people's relationship with work, along with their needs and expectations, have changed.

Why is this important to us as we reconstruct the workplace after the pandemic? For employers to understand what motivates has never been more critical.

Drs. Paul Lawrence and Nitin Nohria of the Harvard Business School published a book: Driven: How Human Nature Shapes Our Choices. According to these authors' research, people are guided by four basic emotional needs, or drives, that are the product of our common evolutionary heritage.

According to Lawrence and Nohria, the four drivers of motivation are: to acquire, to bond, to learn, and to defend. These drives are fundamental to everything that we do; these are innate, universal, and hardwired in the brain. Could employers motivate more authentically by understanding these?

Lets look at what each represents.

Drive to Acquire. "This is the drive to seek, take control, retain objects, and gain personal experiences." Employees like enhancement in status, being promoted, gain social power, and recognition from co-workers and superiors.

Drive to Bond is to form social relationships, bonds, connections within, and with other professionals outside the organization. Businesses after the pandemic should become people-friendly built on mutual support systems. Companionship, goodwill, teamwork, and collaboration should be encouraged to enhance personal and professional success.

Drive to Learn. It is the drive to grow, gain new skills, knowledge, and take up challenges. A job should be challenging; work should be stimulating. Assignments should be designed to make employees feel that they are making meaningful contributions. Employees should be assigned a wide variety of tasks and responsibilities to enhance their confidence.

Drive to Defend is to protect oneself against threat and injustice. People like to preserve their status and defend their position. An organization should provide a support system by making sure that the working environment is fair, open, and transparent. Open communication and opportunities to state grievances should be encouraged.

Nohria and Lawrence say that social drives trigger the same part of the brain as the satisfaction of physical needs. "Just the prediction that there will be a reward be it through learning opportunities, collaboration, and new tasks would enhance dopamine levels in the brain and provide an incentive. Now more than ever these social drives are vital."

All too often motivating employees' results in plans to incentivize using a very narrow scope such as solely monetary gains. Given the research, the best employers will widen their scope of how they think about motivation and use what we know about what drives people to perform and engage.

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