Is motivation as simple as a cuppa?

I was walking my dogs the other day, and on the way passed a man who was high up in a tree with only a harness holding him in place. At first I thought he was doing a bit of exercise, but quickly realised that he was there to do a job, which was to cut down the tree.  I said hello, wished him well, and went on my usual dog walk. To my surprise, when I passed him again an hour later I found the man firmly on the ground, and the tree completely chopped down. 


I said to him that I was surprised at how quickly he had completed the task, as in the past I’d seen it take hours to cut down such a large tree. With a smile on his face he replied to me “I was motivated by a cuppa, as I knew I would have a nice one when I finished the job.” I walked away thinking, is motivation as simple as this, a cuppa?

So I spent the rest of the day questioning a few people, asking them what their ‘cuppa’ was when it came to motivation. The first person I asked was my son, who was firmly connected to his iPad playing the latest computer game. 

Satisfaction and doing well

When I was finally able to get his attention and pry him away from the screen, I asked him, what motivates you to try so hard to do well with your computer games? He said it was a few things, the first being satisfaction, knowing and feeling that he had done well. The second was the achievement of different levels, for the better you do in the game the higher the level and the more items you get (e.g. swords, gold, etc.).

The next person I spoke to was Cat Lewis, who is the internal communications manager at my company. She has been doing an absolutely amazing job with our employee engagement platform and I asked her what motivates her to keep making it better and better.

She again said that it was a few things, the first being the pride she has in producing the best communications as possible, and second the opportunity to be recognised by her peers for what she has been able to achieve.

Public recognition and acknowledgement

We run a quarterly ‘Thank You’ awards, which she has won numerous times in recognition of her work and she said she is constantly driven to win more awards. She went on to make the point that the win was not necessarily for the financial aspect of the award, which is £100, but for the public recognition and acknowledgement of her contributions.

The last person I asked this question to was my dog Poppy. I said to her, Poppy, what motivates you to listen to my commands as I use them to get you to do tricks and return to me when you are off running in the fields?  She barked back to me that it was simple, the anticipation of a treat, which in her case is not a cuppa but a doggie biscuit.

Understanding what the 'cuppa' means

So what do these examples say about motivation, and what do they teach us about how best to motivate our employees at our companies? The first observation is that there are some employees like the tree surgeon and my dog Poppy who are purely driven by one basic thing, whether that is a cuppa or a doggie biscuit. 

For them, we need to understand exactly what motivates them, giving them that warm feeling through the most appropriate ‘cuppa’. Is it something tangible, like a treat, or could it be as simple as a thank you or some kind of recognition programme?

For others, like my son and Cat, they actually have two different motivators, an extrinsic one (e.g. recognition to the outside world for their contributions and achievements) and an intrinsic one (e.g. pride in what they do and achieve). 

Understanding two key factors

Because of this we have two key factors that we need to understand and address. The first is similar to the first group, which is to understand exactly what meets their extrinsic motivation, so gives them their ‘cuppa’. The second addresses the intrinsic motivation, which can be a bit trickier as it’s less about how you recognise them and more about the opportunity and support you give them to perform and thus achieve their intrinsic motivation. 

For example, if Cat wasn’t given the freedom, tools and support to develop our communications portal, she’d never be able to achieve her intrinsic motivation. It’s important to consider this not just when creating motivation and recognition programmes but also when designing jobs. 

So no matter the size of your company or the industry you are in, motivating your employees is key to the success of your business. Just like having an ROI (return on investment) of your HR programmes, our employees are looking for their ROI, which for them would be their ROI (return on effort). 

Our job in HR is to understand whether it is a cuppa, a doggie treat, a new sword for their computer game, a Thank You award, or a variety of other tools we have available to us.  Go out and find what’s best for your business and your employees and . . . have yourself a cuppa once you’ve sorted it all out!

Debra Corey is group reward director at Reward Gateway.

This article was provided by Reward Gateway.  


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