The topic of motivating employees is important to managers and supervisors. Despite the importance of the topic, however, several myths persist, especially among new managers and supervisors. Before looking at what management can do to support the motivation of employees, it’s important first to clear up these common myths.

Myth #1: “I can motivate people”

You can’t motivate people any more than you can empower them. Employees have to motivate and empower themselves. However, you can set up an environment where they can do so. The key is knowing how to set up the environment for each of your employees.

Myth #2: “Money is a good motivator.”

Certain things like money, a nice office and job security can help keep people from becoming less motivated, but they usually don’t help people to become more motivated. A key strategy is to understand the motivations of each employee.

Myth #3: “Fear is a very good motivator.”

Fear is a great motivator – for a short time. That’s why a lot of yelling from the boss won’t seem to “light a spark under employees” for a long time.

Myth #4: “I know what motivates me, so I know what motivates my employees.”

Not really. Different people are motivated by different things. I may be greatly motivated by earning time away from my job to spend more time my family. You might be motivated more by recognition of a job well done. Again, a key strategy is to understand what motivates each employee.

Myth #5: “Increased job satisfaction means increased job performance.”

Research shows that increased job satisfaction does not necessarily mean increased job performance. If the goals of the organization are not aligned with the goals of employees, then employees aren’t effectively working toward the mission of the organization.

Myth #6: “I can’t comprehend employee motivation: It’s a science.”

There are some basic steps you can take that will go a long way toward supporting employees to motivate themselves toward improved performance in their jobs.

Basic Principles to Remember

1. Motivating employees starts with motivating yourself.

It’s amazing how, if you hate your job, it seems like everyone else does, too. If you are stressed out, it seems like everyone else is, too. Enthusiasm is contagious. If you’re enthusiastic about your job, it’s much easier for others to be, too. If you’re doing a good job of taking care of yourself and your own job, you’ll have much clearer perspective on how others are doing in theirs.

A great place to start learning about motivation is to start understanding your own motivations. The key to helping to motivate your employees is to understand what motivates them. So, what motivates you? Consider, for example, time with family, recognition, a job well done, service, learning, etc. How is your job configured to support your own motivations? What can you do to better motivate yourself?

2. Always work to align the goals of the organization with the goals of employees.

As mentioned above, employees can be fired up about their work and working hard. However, if the results of their work don’t contribute to the goals of the organization, then the organization is not any better off than if the employees were sitting on their hands. It may even be worse off! Therefore, it’s critical that managers and supervisors know what they want from their employees. These preferences should be worded in terms of organizational goals. Identifying the organization’s goals is usually done during strategic planning. Whatever steps you take to support the motivation of your employees, ensure that employees have strong input in identifying their goals and that these goals are aligned with the organization’s goals.

3. The key is understanding what motivates each employee.

Each person is motivated by different things. Whatever steps you take to support the motivation of your employees as a group, they should first include finding out what it is that really motivates each of your employees. You can find out by asking them, listening to them and observing them.

4. Recognize that supporting employee motivation is a process, not a task.

Organizations change all the time, as do people. Indeed, it is an ongoing process to sustain an environment where each employee can strongly motivate him- or herself. If you look at sustaining employee motivation as an ongoing process, then you’ll be much more fulfilled and motivated yourself.

5. Support employee motivation by using organizational systems (for example, policies and procedures). Don’t just count on good intentions.

Don’t rely on cultivating strong interpersonal relationships with employees to motivate them. The nature of these relationships can change greatly, for example, during times of stress. Instead, use reliable and comprehensive systems in the workplace to help motivate employees. For example, establish compensation systems, employee performance systems, and organizational policies and procedures, to support employee motivation. Establishing systems and structures also helps ensure clear understanding and equitable treatment of employees.