How to Stay Motivated to Work Hard

What gets you up in the morning and into the office? Is it the pay cheque or is there something else that drives you? I shared some experience from my own career and some tips on how to stay motivated to work hard.

For decades it was assumed that the best way to motivate people was to offer monetary rewards. In the industrial age, job roles where much more mechanical and repetitive, and it made sense that a cash incentive would encourage people to go the extra mile. However, as we have shifted towards a knowledge-based economy, the idea that money is the reason we work hard has become obsolete.

According to behavioural author Daniel Pink, the greatest driver of motivation is powered by our emotions and not cash incentives. In fact, research shows that monetary rewards actually weaken performance. Therefore, whilst money might be the reason we go to work, it isn’t what makes us go that extra mile.

How do our emotions affect motivation?

From school age we’re taught that suppressing our emotions will help us appear more mature and professional. This is not only naive for the modern workforce, but it is also nearly impossible to achieve. As human beings, typically our actions are intended to cause us emotion, usually happiness. Therefore if we are going to do a task, we generally want to receive a positive experience from it, thus influencing our cognitive processing. Taking this into the work environment, if we are constantly provided with negative feedback, or if our hard work is consistently ignored, we may not see the positive benefit of performing, thus decreasing our motivation levels.

In 2014, employee engagement firm TINYpulse carried out a survey across 500 organisations, with a total of 200,000 responses, to identify, ‘The 7 Key Trends Impacting Today’s Workplace’.  Within that survey they covered the topic of employee motivation, specifically asking “What motivates you to excel and go the extra mile at your organisation?” 

The results found that a sense of achievement and having that achievement recognised were strong motivators for employee satisfaction (68%), whilst money and benefits (7%) where much lower motivators. The report summarises that peers and camaraderie had the number one influence on employee motivation, and was the source of 20% of all employees going the extra mile.

Our working environments can greatly affect our levels of motivation, both positively and negatively. According to Forbes the top common causes of workplace demotivation are:

  • micromanagement
  • lack of resources
  • poor communication
  • boredom

Additionally, a study conducted by behavioural economist Dan Ariely found that ignoring the performance of employees is almost as bad as destroying their efforts in front of them.

Motivation is a fire from within. If someone else tries to light that fire under you, chances are it will burn very briefly.”             

– Stephen R. Covey

Stories of professional success (whatever that definition means to you) are everywhere. I’ve attended lots of events where the speaker has sparked my imagination and got me excited to improve on an area of my work. However, whilst these examples may provide some initial inspiration, the motivation to actually put in the work to achieve performance goals has always came from within.

Motivation

We live in a long-hours culture. The 40 hour week is increasing year on year, and in the UK alone the average working week is 48 hours. In many industries we’re expected to take on much more work and responsibility than ever before, there’s always someone else ready to step into your shoes and job security isn’t as stable as it used to be. With that in mind, it can be hard to keep motivated.

I’ve always considered myself to be a self-motivated person. The feeling of being part of something, having a voice, and the sense of achievement when I make progress is what drives me. I have good days and bad days at work, but as most are good, I am able to still experience all of the benefits I value most, and I am motivated to keep going.

Understanding what motivates us (and the people around us) is key to improving our work performance and general happiness. Once we can identify what triggers our happiness (or unhappiness) at work, we can begin to get in the habit of approaching our work differently so that we can improve our performance.

When you wake up each morning, what motivates you?