3 Ways People Cope–Instead of Flourish–at Work

Business man sleeping“Not looking out for the emotional well-being of our people hurts individuals and organizations in terms of increased illness, stress and disability claims—not to mention the opportunity losses of productivity and creativity,” explains motivation expert Susan Fowler.

Surprisingly, when Fowler talks with leaders about what is motivating them on their current tasks and responsibilities, people recognize right away that much of it falls into a Disinterested, External, or Imposed Motivational Outlook.

  • A Disinterested Motivational Outlook is where you just don’t care, and you are going through the motions.
  • An External Motivational Outlook is where people justify their actions for an external reward—money, incentives, power, or status.
  • An Imposed Motivational Outlook is where behavior is driven by fear, shame, or guilt.

But that comes at a cost, especially when people realize the amount of emotional labor they have been using to constantly self-regulate—finding ways to avoid feelings of pressure, stress, anger, disappointment, guilt, or shame.

As Fowler explains, “We spend inordinate amounts of time just overcoming our feelings of being imposed upon, or just overcoming the emptiness that comes from external motivation. It’s like we are using all of our emotional labor on low-level tasks just to muck around with low-level motivation.

“That might help us cope but it’s not helping us experience the energy, vitality, or sense of positive well-being that comes with higher levels of motivational outlook. Those come from mindfulness, developed values, and a noble purpose, for example.”

The search for a higher quality of motivation

In the Optimal Motivation™ program that Fowler has created with her co-authors David Facer and Drea Zigarmi, the focus is on teaching people a way to have a higher quality of life where they don’t have to use as much emotional labor.

“If you have clarity on what you value—for example, a life purpose, or a work purpose—and if you understand what brings you joy and what you love to do, then you have a higher quality of life and well-being. You may still require some emotional labor from time to time to self-regulate, but it is emotional labor that you’re willing to do because you see how it is related to higher quality motivation.”

That’s important says Fowler because people driven primarily by external motivators don’t achieve the sustainable flourishing and positive sense of well-being that you get with higher levels of motivation.

Fowler explains that as a leader, you need to think beyond imposed and external motivators. How could you invite choice? How could you help people build relationships? How can you increase competence?

“You never want to be the one encouraging a person’s need for external rewards.  Don’t settle for motivational models that try to find other ways to manipulate or trick people into giving more. Why not take the conversation to a different level? ”

To read more of Fowler’s thinking on cultivating a motivating work environment, check out her interview in the June issue of Ignite!, Don’t Settle for Less When It Comes to Personal Motivation.  You’ll also see information about a free webinar Fowler is conducting June 19 on The Business Case for Motivating Your Workforce.  It’s complimentary, courtesy of Cisco WebEx and The Ken Blanchard Companies.

10 thoughts on “3 Ways People Cope–Instead of Flourish–at Work

  1. David, Really good points to cogitate about extrinsic versus intrinsic motivation! Job dissatisfaction is at a high because of a stagnant to slow growing economy. Employees have to stay in jobs where they may not be happy.
    In education, motivation is a huge vocabulary word, for educators as well as students! Lol! It’s a hot topic because we’re always asking ourselves, “How can I motivate that student to WANT to learn?” A consideration may be to look at these motivation outlooks as a toolbox where one may have to utilize external motivation in one situation to maximize productivity for a certain project. Ultimately, altruism is a great goal but it may take some stair-stepping to get employees there because everyone seeks some form of payoff.
    Your thoughts?

    • Hi John–thanks for your comments. I think you’re right that the stagnant economy of the past few years has really brought the issue of motivation to the forefront as organizations look at alternative ways to keep people engaged at work. (They lost their favorite tool when external rewards like money and promotions were taken away.)

      If there is a bright lining, it’s that it has encouraged people to look for more genuine sources of motivation–that’s not a bad thing!

  2. David, That was a thought provoking piece. Thanks My company has done some work with Blanchard

    We should grab a coffee sometime. It would be nice to catch up


  3. Pingback: What People Really Want | Manage your life

  4. Interesting post David.
    We have been doing some work with our teams looking at developing shared values. I took the process which is described in The Baptist Health Care Journey to Excellence and modified it for our context. We asked the staff to come up with a set of values which we could share across the team. We then had a vote on them to see which ones we could all sign up to.
    It’s early days yet but I hope we have taken the conversation about what we’re about to the next level as you suggest.

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