How to Capitalize on the 4 Types of Employee Motivation

By Emily Roner | Updated: 10 Jul, 2018

Understanding different types of motivation is the key to keeping your team engaged. Often, companies try to encourage employees with perks like flextime, recognition, wellness benefits, etc.

However, providing a mix of intrinsic and extrinsic incentives is not enough. How competitive your workplace is, plays a huge role in what drives employees. When leaders consider that, they’re able to adapt employee responsibilities to harness individual strengths.

In this article, we’ll break down the two main motivation styles among competitive and non-competitive teams and how you can leverage them to keep everyone in your organization engaged.

Types of Motivation in Competitive Workplaces

In competitive environments, there are two types of people - those who are driven to win and those who fear losing. While these are opposite sides of the same coin, those two groups of people have different motivations and behaviors. As a leader, it’s vital that you know which category each of your employees fit into so you can assign them work that keeps them motivated.

Performance Approach (A.K.A The Winning Mentality)

Individuals with a performance approach love competition and thrive under the pressure to reach challenging goals because they can’t resist the psychological high of winning.  These employees are typically your top performers because they are willing to take risks, work long hours, and generate as many creative solutions that it takes to earn results.

While these individuals sound like perfect employees, you must be prepared to keep up with them. They need to win. If you stop setting goals for them, they’ll get bored and lose motivation. These employees may also create team conflict if they think their colleagues are holding them back.

If your organization’s success depends on team outcomes, you should develop individualized milestones for your top performers. Giving them smaller projects that contribute to the team’s overall objectives will allow you to harness their talent while giving them the progress-driven satisfaction that fuels them.

Performance Avoidance (A.K.A The Fear of Failure Mentality)

Unlike their performance-oriented peers, the sole goal of individuals with the performance avoidance mentality is to avoid losing, failing, or experiencing any other kind of harm.

Though these employees sound like low performers, their risk-avoidance mindset makes them hyper-aware of potential problems before they occur. In their efforts to avoid making mistakes, they tend to be detail-oriented employees who are great at process-driven tasks that require accuracy. As a leader, you can harness their talents by asking for their opinions about potentially risky decisions and giving them projects with clear objectives that they know they can meet.

When teams contain individuals with a mix of these approaches, the benefits leaders hope to achieve from a competitive culture may cancel out. Team members with a performance approach become your stars who consistently reach greater heights while team members with the performance avoidance approach become stressed and perform at mediocre levels.

Rather than create a team culture that is entirely competitive or relaxed, pay attention to what individuals needs and give it to them.

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In highly competitive workplaces, it’s easy to see who has a performance approach and who has a performance avoidance motivation style because the former are high-achievers while the latter is always stressed and produce sub-par outcomes. However, if your culture doesn’t trigger people to either of those extremes, it can be difficult to tell how to keep your team motivated.

What Motivation Looks Like Without Big Goals

Whether your entire department lacks a goal-oriented culture or you lead support staff whose success depends on doing consistently high-quality work as opposed to periodically reaching new goals, it’s important to understand what motivates employees when there isn’t a big goal pressuring them to be productive.

Psychologists say that without other incentives, two desires motivate people to work hard: the desire for mastery and the passion for performance.

Here at Prialto, we appeal to both of these desires to keep our team of personal assistants engaged, productive, and happy with their jobs.

Here’s how:

Support Employees’ Desire to Achieve Mastery

Some people have a natural need to increase their competence, achieve personal goals, continuously improve. Psychologists refer to those needs as mastery goals, and they are what motivate people to invest substantial time and energy into projects and learning opportunities that they may not achieve tangible benefits from.

Here is how to tell if your employees have this motivation style:

  • They seek out educational and professional development opportunities.

  • They pursue individual goals.

  • When working on tasks that they are passionate about, they go above and beyond expectations.

We support our personal assistants' mastery goals by giving them on-going training, encouraging them to pursue learning opportunities and having our Account (or as well call them “Engagement”) Managers mentor them. Investing in the professional development of support staff and other employees whose jobs aren’t competitive is well worth it. We’ve found that these initiatives has had a significant impact on the quality of service our assistants provide.

Give Staff Plenty of Opportunities to Achieve

Other employees are motivated by how others in their organization perceive them. Researchers refer to this as performance-oriented motivation because people behave similarly to those with the performance approach. The difference is, rather than being driven to continuously accomplish new goals, they just want to be well-respected by others.

Here is how to tell if your employees have this motivation style:

  • They are most engaged in meetings where they have the opportunity to talk about their success.
  • They are only interested in information that directly pertains to their tasks.
  • They light up when given recognition.

Having staff who is motivated to stay at the top of their game allows you to obtain some of the benefits of a competitive culture without stressing out workers who don’t possess a strong desire to win.

We motivate our performance-oriented assistants by providing opportunities in meetings, team email blasts, and individual check-ins for them to share their successes and for our managers and clients to recognize their excellent work.

Maximize Your Team's Productivity

Your team's productivity matters now more than ever. Empower them to focus on building your business by letting them offload all of their tedious, non-strategic tasks. Learn how by checking out our free guide How to Give Your Team Leverage with Virtual Assistants. In it, you'll learn: 

  • What kinds of time-saving tasks your team can offload
  • How we work with you to maximize the ROI of our service
  • Our process for securely leveraging your systems