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What Makes People Work? The Answer May Surprise You

Motivation comes from the inside out. For centuries, from sports to battles to business, management styles have been waged and lost trying to spur on this driving force that makes a winning team. Even in the brave new world of business in the mobile and computer age, the question still hangs in the air. What makes people work?

The answer is more straightforward, and more complicated, than you’d think. It’s not necessarily money, though incentives often work. It’s not even security, though that’s basic ground to cover.

It’s a frame of mind. In the breakthrough classic, “The Human Side of Enterprise,” Douglas McGregor showed that behind the actions of every manager is an assumption about human behavior. Rethink those assumptions, and change the dynamics of the working world.

Work effort happens naturally

McGregor found the expenditure of physical and mental effort in work is as natural as in play or rest. If given the freedom, people will exercise self-direction and self-control to meet their committed objectives. External threats are definitely not a carrot, and may not even be an effective stick.

Commitment counts

Commitment really is its own reward. Just ask any bride or groom, for example. The more people feel that the rewards associated with their achievement rose from a core sense of commitment and responsibility, the better they work.

Most workers seek creative responsibility

The average human learns to not only accept but seek responsibility under the right conditions. McGregor saw that the capacity to exercise a relatively high degree of imagination, ingenuity, and creativity in the solution of organizational problems is widely, not narrowly, distributed in the population.

So how does a manager help encourage employees or contractors to embrace self-motivation? It takes a human approach.

Walk a mile in the shoes of your employee

What really makes up an employee’s day? How can you give them tools to be more flexible and effective at everything they do? By placing people in roles where they can use their abilities to full advantage plus make progress towards the realization of personal goals, work satisfaction skyrockets.

Create a flexible environment

Instead of a heavy-handed management style, utilize the flexible technology of the 21st century to keep everyone on track in a transparent and self-motivated way. Time cards will never go away, for example, because they help employees and managers agree on hours worked. But instead of a rigid punch in and out system in the office entryway, you can allow workers to clock in and out on an app while on the go. With GPS stamps and exact time tracked to specific job codes or projects, there’s real-time management built in, but in a way that gives workers self-styled freedom to work the way they will naturally.

Design a feedback loop

Managers who fail to greet employees lead to high degree of de-motivation and disloyalty. So start there. Greet people by name. Show that you care. Then offer objective appraisals, reward programs, and positive reinforcement.

At the end of the day, self-motivated employees work smarter, and harder.



Contributor at Fundera
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