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Motivating Employees is Key to Managerial Success

One of the biggest misconceptions about motivating employees is that motivation is something the manager does to the employees. Motivation is not an external impetus at all. Rather, motivation comes from within the employees themselves. Each employee is motivated by something. It is the manager's job to find out what that something is for each employee, and to use that to help the employee reach the next level and be successful. It is no secret that using the proper motivational tools for employees will help any business to achieve its goals. In that vein, motivating employees is very important. The key, then, is to know what motivates people. Why do people work? What do they want out of their position or job?

In order to better understand what motivates employees and, in fact, people in general, one need look no further than Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Maslow's Hierarchy breaks down needs, and hence motivations, into five stages. Those stages are: Physiological Needs, Safety Needs, Love and Belongingness Needs, Esteem Needs, and Self-actualization Needs. Basically, each employee under every manager is at a point in his or her life where he or she can fit into one of these categories and be motivated by fulfilling the need associated with that category. The key is that each level builds on the previous one. An employee will not be motivated by a level they have already achieved. Nor will they be motivated by a level far above their current state. Let's take a closer look at each level.

The first level is that of Physiological Needs. This is the need for breathing, food, water, sleep, etc. Most employees are past this level. That is, most of our employees have food, water, a place to sleep and the true basics of life. Therefore they will not be motivated by attempts to fulfill this need - it is already fulfilled. However, if a person were at this level in the Hierarchy, it would be absurd to offer a position in management, for instance, as a way to attempt to motivate that employee. There are many other needs that must be met before this promotion could possibly be as important as an unknowing manager may think it to be.

The second level is that of Safety Needs. At its most basic level, this is an employee who needs to know that his or her person is secure from threat of violence or harm. We may, knowingly or unknowingly, have employees who fit that category. However, when we look at the rest of the needs in this category we see that there is also the need for security of employment, resources, family, health, and property. Employees at this level are look to feel safe in their jobs and to ensure that they will not lose their property - a car or home, perhaps, with a lien against it. As managers, we may not have many employees even in this stage, but it is definitely important to be aware that this stage does exist across many industries and many employees in the country are motivated by needing to feel secure.

The third level is that of Love and Belongingness Needs. This level is where we start to see many of our employees. They are looking to be a part of the crowd. Work, for them, is social. They are secure in their abilities to the point where they know their job is secure, but they are looking for something more than just security and a paycheck, if you will. They are looking to get along with co-workers. Employees at this stage may even be testing out their leadership skills on an informal level. They may also be at a stage where they can help top motivate other employees, perhaps not from a management role, but from the role that they are championing fellow employees to help them perform better. When managers recognize employees in this stage of development, there are many ways to help that person achieve their goals. This employee may be motivated by mentoring a newer employee, or one who seems to be struggling with tasks. This person may also excel when put in charge of some form of internal communication such as a staff newsletter or internal message board. By motivating an employee at this stage, a manager may find a champion who can help to motivate many other employees.

The fourth level of Maslow's Hierarchy is that of Esteem Needs. This level of needs includes things such as self-esteem, confidence, and achievement. These are the things that motivate employees at this level in the Hierarchy. For many managers, this is the easiest level to spot, making it the easiest level at which to motivate people. Employees in this level are looking for more responsibility. They thrive on it. Committee Chair may be a perfect role for an employee such as this. These employees, in fact, may be motivated by a promotion than by the wage increase that comes with the promotion. This is not to say that it's a good idea to forgo the wage increase by any means. However, good managers will understand what is most important to the employee in this category. These employees will be motivated by roles that allow them to gain respect from fellow employees and possibly from their superiors. Added responsibilities, coupled with increased wages will also allow the employee to receive more perceived respect from peers outside of work, thus further driving the employee to work even harder toward company and individual goals.

The fifth and final level of Maslow's Hierarchy is that of Self-Actualization Needs. This is, indeed, the highest level, according to Maslow. This includes things such as creativity, spontaneity, and problem-solving. Employees at this level can be motivated by roles that will help them fulfill these needs as well. These employees have been brought through all of the other levels either in this company or in another, but their brains are ripe for the picking. They thrive on attacking problems head-on and finding real-world solutions to those problems. They have the ability to think outside of the box, as the saying goes, and to find innovative solutions. These employees are motivated by doing these things and will excel in roles that allow them to do so. Managers who can find employees who have achieved this level will find the help they need to achieve goals in a department, or across an entire company.

Overall what is important is to recognize the current level of each employee under a manager and to work to motivate each employee based on that level of need. Fulfill that need, and then move on to the next. This is not a category with which a manager will label an employee and then be done. The need level of each employee changes over time. It is important to recognize those changes and then to feed those needs as well. In order to have a smooth-running department or business that is growing and evolving within the company vision and mission, motivating employees is very important. Properly motivating employees is the most basic building block that will make a manager's job, and life, much easier, yet so many fail to do this fundamental thing. Take time out occasionally to list each employee under you and what you believe to be their level of motivation. Then take steps to motivate each employee based on that. It will make you a much more successful manager.