Jonathan Zneimer, practice director at Lane4: HR’s motivational role is vital in tough times

Bonuses and their link to motivation levels are age-old topics of debate in business and HR circles. With the rocky economic climate ensuring bonus payments are a rarity, how can employers keep staff engaged and productive in tough times? Organisations are made up of people who are motivated, extrinsically and intrinsically, to differing degrees. For some people, working is about paying the bills and securing financial reward; for others, doing a good job and being part of a company’s long-term vision are motivating factors.

For employers and HR teams, the recession actually represents an opportunity to understand staff better and to really find out their strength of motivation. Elite performers and world-class talent will almost certainly be motivated by more than just money. They will not only strive to be the very best they can, but also work towards long-term goals they set themselves years before. For these people, money is necessary and good to have, but secondary to fulfilling their potential.

Developing a thorough understanding of employee motivation requires getting close to people, and so HR’s role as communicators and coaches has never been more vital. They are now responsible for delivering harder messages, while demonstrating empathy and support for colleagues in tough times. Tapping into people’s motivation and drivers is critical.

Fundamentally, motivation depends on three key factors: autonomy, belonging and competence. People want to feel independent and able to achieve their goals. They also want to belong to and be part of a brand of which they are proud, as well as be in a job that matches their capability and capacity. Another motivating factor, although less obvious, is people’s desire to be themselves at work and for that identity to be in some way aligned to that of their employer. Leaders and managers have an important role in understanding employees’ identities and the impact this has on long-term engagement.

If no bonuses are being rewarded, employers must keep focused on what they can control to ensure staff can still feel autonomous and competent. Strong relationships with line managers and leadership visibility will be key to this and coaching skills must be used to provide the support and challenge needed to perform at the highest level.

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