HUMAN RESOURCES

HR Policy: The trouble with motivation...

It is a widely held assumption that motivating people belongs among managers' core competencies and that there is a direct, positive link between employee motivation and performance.
These are just two of the myths about the concept of motivation - and I am not going to disprove them. On the one hand, it is true that motivating employees is considered a vital skill and managers are expected do that, but if you ask managers to define motivation they have trouble finding an answer.
Motivation is thus often understood as something that makes people happy, satisfied, and positively related to performance at work. However, there is another common misinterpretation of motivation, one which occurs when people link it directly to higher performance.


Stanislava Luptáková

It is a widely held assumption that motivating people belongs among managers' core competencies and that there is a direct, positive link between employee motivation and performance.

These are just two of the myths about the concept of motivation - and I am not going to disprove them. On the one hand, it is true that motivating employees is considered a vital skill and managers are expected do that, but if you ask managers to define motivation they have trouble finding an answer.

Motivation is thus often understood as something that makes people happy, satisfied, and positively related to performance at work. However, there is another common misinterpretation of motivation, one which occurs when people link it directly to higher performance.

While it is true that most motivated people perform at a high, above-average level, if they do not have the necessary skills or resources (e.g. tools and equipment) they will never reach a good standard of performance no matter how much they want to perform well. And the same is true the other way round - not all high performers are also highly motivated individuals; they may just be routine performers with superior job tools.

The task of motivating should be divided between both managers and the organisation as a whole. Managers perform tasks and activities aimed at improving performance as well as enhancing job satisfaction on an everyday basis. They are more efficient if there is a reliable system within the organisation that enables them to address employees' needs, differentiate between their performances, and reward their efforts.

Support tools help managers motivate employees effectively and form the macro-organisational concept of motivation. Macro motivation is based on a well-balanced set of human resource activities such as job design and job analysis, recruitment and acquisition of human resources, development and retention of talented employees, performance management, and a compensation system. To fulfill their motivational function, all these activities should support each other and form an imaginary loop, where information gathered from one activity is used for all other relevant activities.

As an example, information gained from job analysis can be used for performance appraisal, recruitment, compensation, and/or training. Or, information from performance appraisal can be used not only for direct or indirect rewards, but also for further skill development. Training can be offered both to enhance knowledge and skills of employees and to enlarge the talent pool consistent with a company's strategy. These are just a few examples of "organisational communication" - in other words, examples of how information can be used consistently to create a system for organisation and a reliable source for employees that enhances job satisfaction and motivation.

When the criteria used to evaluate employees is based on a job and linked to a job, then the probability that managers or organisation will discriminate or create job dissatisfaction is very low. Such systems of human resource activities can serve as "safety nets", allowing managers to make their decisions over something that underlines procedural justice. It also represents a set of rules, procedures, and activities with which employees can feel comfortable, especially when their performance is evaluated and rewarded.

A system of human resource activities not only boosts organisational efficiency, but thanks to its clarity and potential fairness, creates a sense of belonging among employees and communicates expectations. It also enables employees to direct their efforts towards meeting company goals.

Stanislava Luptáková is a lecturer at Comenius University's Faculty of Management. Her column appears monthly. Send comments or questions to Stanislava.Luptakova@fm.uniba.sk.

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