Thought Leadership Blog

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Can Employee Engagement Techniques Conceal Intrinsic Demotivation?

For any labor intensive employer, the study and practice of employee engagement is critical to business success, and as engagement success is relative to alignment of individual motivators, employee engagement must begin with the selection process. Without such commitment and proper toolsets, even the best engagement practices will erode, and demotivation shall ensue. Many instances of employee demotivation are entirely avoidable.

The study and acceptance of employee engagement practice is longstanding. Motivation remains an inherent component, if not synonym, to engagement.  Motivation drives behavior in all workplace aspects including invention, performance, time-to-learning, collaboration, litigious behavior and attrition. Where employers successfully optimize motivation, organizational success is simultaneously optimized.

Maslow’s popular “Theory of Human Motivation” emerged in 1943. ERG and other theories quickly followed in support and expansion of common principle.  Behavior modification experts continue to study motivation and demotivation as keys to engagement.

As we study engagement, the essential differences between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation must be keenly understood. Intrinsic motivation comes from within and represents a belief system shaped over lifelong experiences and culture. Extrinsic motivation is shaped and manipulated within a specific situation, such as the employer workplace. Extrinsic motivation is that which we focus upon in workplace engagement practices.

Extrinsic and intrinsic motivators each significantly impact workplace performance and retention. Research validates that manipulation of extrinsic motivation creates only temporary impact when intrinsic motivation is unaligned. So, what then occurs when we apply extrinsic motivation bandages to intrinsic motivation damages? We create only a temporary cure and a smokescreen unless we quickly change the employee’s core beliefs.

Whereas short term motivation is better than no motivation, a false sense of security can lead to disaster. Disaster is averted by better understanding intrinsic motivation of employees at the onset. Once we have concealed without addressing the problem cause, problem recurrence is likely.

In best talent management models, an employer’s pre-hire behavioral assessment exercises will archetype intrinsic motivators. Where we hire people who are already intrinsically motivated to succeed in our environment, we mitigate loss of motivation along the way. We then deploy our best employee engagement practices to earn a win. To succeed, engagement techniques must be supported by credibility of promise and sustainability of cause and effect.  

Employee engagement cannot be successful without a well-aligned employee selection model. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, ERG and later studies each discuss “needs” as motivators and the reversion principle to explain demotivation. According to these well-accepted findings, motivation is defined by stages of needs fulfillment. As needs are fulfilled, new goals are pursued. Motivation regresses when a need suddenly becomes unfulfilled.  Employers can safeguard against such threats only by both assessing and addressing engagement needs. Failure to do so forsakes substantial business opportunity.

Behavioral assessment is a talent acquisition tool that can identify intrinsic motivation pre-hire. Specifically, by investigating the unique intrinsic motivators of pre-hire candidates and then ensuring new hires properly align with company mission and future vision, we ensure the sustainable effectiveness of our engagement practices.  By deploying lifecycle talent assessments, employers are empowered to optimize engagement by hiring appropriately intrinsically motivated people. Employers are then further empowered to benchmark motivation throughout the journey, reliably measuring success of engagement practices and adeptly predicting outcomes with sufficient advance time to insert behavioral modification toward optimized success. HRS highly recommends assessment tools which deliver lawfully compliant, valid and actionable data. Assessment tools must earn employee buy-in to successfully kick off the employee engagement journey.

Please contact HRS for validation studies and discussion of specific models. 


Jessica Ollenburg - Thursday, January 30, 2014