Managing Motivation in Turbulent Times

Motivation -- that way

In these times of economic uncertainties, keeping employees motivated is a big challenge for both managers and HR professionals. Employee motivation has gained new significance in the current business scenarios of economic recession, layoffs and cost cutting.


In an organizational context, employee motivation can be defined as the desire to accomplish organizational goals through optimal use of efforts and resources at hand. A highly motivated workforce is the biggest asset of an organization. They are perfectly committed to the organizational vision and use their full energy to achieve the same.

A successful manager is one who is able to inspire his team to perform effectively. Managers have to understand that the motivational need of each individual varies and they have to adopt a different approach for creating a fully energized team.


Though there are several motivational theories but for the purpose of our discussion we will focus on two of those – McClelland Theory of Needs and Vroom’s Expectancy Theory. Further reading will help you understand each of these theories and how they are applied in the workplace.

McClelland Theory of Needs states that there are three needs which motivate a person. These are the needs for achievement, affiliation and power. Affiliation is the need to be liked and accepted by the team members. The individuals who need affiliation work best in team with high interpersonal interactions. Achievement is the need to excel and achieve the set goals. The individual with achievement need are motivated by challenging work assignments. They are best to deliver on hard goals which make them struggle to an extent. Power is the desire to be influential and in control of others. Such individuals are best motivated by being given a position where they can lead others.

Vroom’s Expectancy Theory emphasize on outcomes rather than needs of individuals. According to this theory, motivation is linked to efforts and performance. This theory proposes that motivation is based upon three variables – valence, expectancy and instrumentality. Valence is defined as the value an employee attaches to the outcome or rewards of his efforts. These rewards can be either intrinsic or extrinsic.  Extrinsic rewards include money, promotion, appreciation and perks/benefits. Expectancy is defined as the belief of a person whether he will be able to attain the desired performance. Instrumentality is defined as the perception of employees whether they will actually receive the promised rewards. Following are the implications of this theory:

  • Ø The Reward & Recognition (R&R) program should be closely tied to the performance metric
  • Ø Employees should be provided requisite training to enhance their capabilities and skills
  • Ø The R&R program should be perceived as fair and transparent


  1. Monetary benefits and financial gains are believed to be the biggest motivator. However many managers presume it to be the only source of motivation. Monetary benefits should be used as a motivating tool coupled with any of the below techniques to deliver significant results.
  2. Recognition and few words of appreciation have the power to deliver motivation which thousands of dollars might not be able to do.
  3. Constant communication with the team members is a key enabler for driving higher motivation levels. Keeping employees informed about any changes, newer strategies and processes ensures that they feel themselves to be a part of larger group.
  4. Higher engagement levels through one-to-one meetings, individualized feedbacks and shared decision making,  in a team help to make employees appreciate their role in the team and also improve opportunities for peer learning, which can definitely act as a big motivator.
  5. Training and learning opportunities help in keeping employees skills set updated and frequent action on their individual development needs. This certainly leads to more productive and committed workforce
  6. Clear career development plans and visibility on what ones manager has planned for the employee’s career progression makes them to strive for better results and putting in extra efforts. Upward mobility and promotions are more important as compared to financial rewards for some individuals.
  7. Challenging assignments, cross-functional responsibilities and leadership roles have been found to be big motivators for career-oriented people in the organization.


None of the above techniques would be effective if it is driven merely as a HR focus area. Line managers need to work in tandem with HR function to ensure high motivation levels for the team. While the onus for delivering results lies with the employees, providing a stimulating environment is the responsibility of the manager. The line manager needs to observe, assimilate and identify each individual’s sources of motivations and accordingly work towards driving higher motivation levels in the team.  A highly motivated team acts like a fuel to accelerate organization’s growth by ensuring employee retention, enhanced productivity and willingness to go the extra mile.

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