UK is in a great motivation crisis

The leaking roof or the dripping shower? Which catches your attention first? There’s something inherently myopic about the way we often look at risk – we tend to focus on what is in front of us because it looks like the biggest threat.

It’s this that has led leaders to task HR professionals with addressing the Great Resignation. Yet, in all the webinars and workshops I’ve been delivering over the last six months, there’s been a bigger employee challenge – surpassing even pressure, workload and work/life balance issues – motivation.

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Motivation is a key part of employee engagement. A prolonged lack of motivation can be a signal that our employees are languishing – there, but not really there. Just like presenteeism, it’s silent and invisible.

What’s coming through loud and clear is the question: why does work matter? There’s a palpable loss of purpose.

There are two types of motivation:

  • Intrinsic – performing tasks for their own sake because they feel good to us
  • Extrinsic – performing tasks because we will receive a reward or avoid punishment

Of the two, we know that connecting our employees to their intrinsic motivation creates a more intense and sustainable movement towards achieving their goals. Here are a few things HR managers can do.


Create a unifying vision for renewal of purpose

Organisations have been through significant change over the last couple of years.

HR should encourage leaders to articulate a new unifying vision for the future that can re-connect their people to a clear purpose at organisational, departmental and team levels.

Recognise the importance of meaning for wellbeing

The M in Positive Psychology’s PERMA model of wellbeing stands for meaning. So how can HR use the organisation’s wellbeing mechanisms and channels to initiate discussion in a safe space about the role of meaning at work?

Whether it’s looking at the meaning people derive from their work post-pandemic or exploring how to make job roles, tasks and relationships more meaningful, HR should also encourage managers to explore meaning as a topic in one-to-ones with staff.


Marry character strengths with technical skills

When people feel that their work enables them to be their authentic selves, it energises them, feels naturally rewarding and creates the conditions for their optimal performance.

To support managers on a post-pandemic job-crafting initiative, HR can review employees’ in-role learning over the last two years and assign new tasks and responsibilities that reflect the marriage of their employees’ character strengths, e.g. bravery, perseverance, curiosity, creativity, with their technical skills.


Connect the dots between autonomy and workplace flexibility

Providing our people with greater autonomy over how they work is a well-recognised lever for increasing employee engagement. At a time when businesses are considering hybrid working, some are dictating how, when or where their employees should be working, whilst others are seizing it as an opportunity for experimentation.

HR can work with leaders to ensure the approach to hybrid working empowers people to make their own choices and is a motivator, albeit within an agreed framework.

The traditional approach of offering rewards, perks or incentives to elicit performance can only go so far. If we’re going to turn the tide on this crisis of motivation we need to renew our people’s sense of meaning, purpose and mastery at work.


Aarti Anhal is founder of organisational psychology consultancy Before Nine.