In our research, we came across an interesting article discussing what really motivates workers. Ask most managers and you’ll get mostly the same responses: positive encouragement, clear goals, contests, recognition, etc.. According to Teresa Amabile of Progress Principle, these ideas are all wrong.

The Power of Progress

Via the Harvard Business Review:

progressAsk leaders what they think makes employees enthusiastic about work, and they’ll tell you in no uncertain terms. In a recent survey we invited more than 600 managers from dozens of companies to rank the impact on employee motivation and emotions of five workplace factors commonly considered significant: recognition, incentives, interpersonal support, support for making progress, and clear goals. “Recognition for good work (either public or private)” came out number one.

Unfortunately, those managers are wrong.

Having just completed a multiyear study tracking the day-to-day activities, emotions, and motivation levels of hundreds of knowledge workers in a wide variety of settings, we now know what the top motivator of performance is—and, amazingly, it’s the factor those survey participants ranked dead last. It’s progress. On days when workers have the sense they’re making headway in their jobs, or when they receive support that helps them overcome obstacles, their emotions are most positive and their drive to succeed is at its peak. On days when they feel they are spinning their wheels or encountering roadblocks to meaningful accomplishment, their moods and motivation are lowest.

You can proactively create both the perception and the reality of progress. If you are a high-ranking manager, take great care to clarify overall goals, ensure that people’s efforts are properly supported, and refrain from exerting time pressure so intense that minor glitches are perceived as crises rather than learning opportunities. Cultivate a culture of helpfulness. While you’re at it, you can facilitate progress in a more direct way: Roll up your sleeves and pitch in. Of course, all these efforts will not only keep people working with gusto but also get the job done faster.

Let’s take this idea a step further… if it is true that making progress is indeed so powerful, then we can apply that psychology in different ways. Sure, as a company or as a manager of a team, making progress on work goals will help your team be more engaged, productive, and happy. At the same time, a company or manager can foster an environment that helps employees make progress towards other, personal goals that they have. Not only would that progress result in happier, more productive employees, but they would also be more loyal to a company that cares about their personal goals.

This work-life balance can be encouraged by companies and managers who have the tools. ZIDIWORK was designed to give companies and managers the tools to support employee progress, both professionally and personally.