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Up your work motivation by finding the value behind the task

January 26, 2021 - 19 min read

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What is motivation?

How do I find motivation?

Why does motivation matter?

Increasing motivation at work

Am I motivating my employees enough?

What is motivation?

We commonly define motivation as the reason we have for behaving or acting towards something we need and or care about. It could be as small as a dry throat motivating you to get a glass of water to calm your thirst. It could be as big as a commitment to a friend to do an Ironman together motivating you to swim in the bay before dawn  every day. In this way, motivation is a force that spurs us to action and to see things through to completion. Motivation is how we get things done when we have an objective we care about. That sounds logical and easy, except that we are also exceptionally good at losing motivation, even when we know we need something. 

Think about the last time you procrastinated. Think about the last time you failed to accomplish a task or goal. It could be something like preparing your tax returns or starting to practice meditation. Would you say you didn’t do it because you decided it was not important anymore? Probably not. Most people would recognize that they failed to start or complete the task because they didn’t feel motivated at the time. 

It is easy to believe that motivation is a feeling that shows up when we need to perform, leaving us waiting for that magical sensation to appear. When it doesn’t, we’re left to blame all of our missed deadlines or wishes for the lack of it. So what is motivation?

How do I find motivation?

Motivation is all the factors that encourage individuals to be committed to and interested in doing something over time. The feeling of intense interest and desire to act can be momentary. It lets you know you are going in the right direction, but the different aspects that drove you to feel that way are the ones that will maintain your actions. 

These factors can be different from one person to another. Find them by answering these questions:

  • What do I value?
  • Why do I value it?
  • What makes me feel vital?
  • What makes me feel committed?
  • What makes what I am doing purposeful? 

In coaching I have come across many people who didn’t feel motivated at work. The first symptom was a sense of loss of meaning. So when we face demotivation in the workplace, we need to start by asking what is the value behind the task.

Motivation is highly related to the meaning we assign to what we are doing. Many times that meaning is not related to the immediate results of our work or to the specific task. We assign meaning based on a larger outcome or bigger purpose we see in the work. 

For example, you can feel passionate about building your own business but also dislike the marketing activities. You might be highly motivated to do unpleasant marketing tasks because you know how much your business growth will depend on them. Connecting the task of promoting your business to your goal of growing it, and reminding yourself of that connection, can keep you going with better energy and attitude. 

As human beings we are vulnerable to many factors that can affect our mood and disposition to face work every day. Let’s imagine a person who did not sleep because the neighbor’s dog was barking, got stuck in traffic, and spilled coffee all over her clothes. How motivated do you think she feels today? Probably not much. Yet if she feels fully aligned with the company, committed to a larger outcome, and basically enjoys what she does, she may dig deep and find some motivation for the day. With all of that in place, she is more likely to do her best to get in the right mood and attitude to accomplish her tasks.

When employees don’t feel as committed or connected to part of something important, when they can’t relate to the mission of the company or simply can’t see the importance of their role at a bigger scale, they often lose motivation. 70 percent of American workers say they’re stuck in a job in which they are completely disengaged and 30 percent of that group actively hate their jobs. Disengagement and hate? Those words don’t typically go with motivation, at least not toward the activities a person needs for work. 

Hate for a job is at least a strong feeling and could motivate an individual to finally take action. They might escalate and drive improvement in a situation or dynamic that has become unworkable. Hate might also force them to be honest about their own mismatch and misalignment with the organization and move on to work and a workplace that better fits their values and aspirations. 

Some of the most common demotivators at work are fairly mundane and even trivial. They seem addressable but the degree to which they are experienced is symptomatic of a larger disconnect in purpose, meaning, and values.

Most common causes of workplace demotivation

  • Micromanagement
  • Lack of progress or growth opportunities 
  • Job insecurity 
  • No confidence in company leadership
  • Poor communication
  • Unpleasant coworkers
  • Boredom  

Although all of these factors are huge motivation killers, they are likely to affect us less when the person feels a deeper connection to what he or she does. 

Notice also what isn’t on the list of demotivators:  “difficult projects,” “ambiguity and uncertainty,” “long hours,” and “high expectations.” Although these factors can create stress for the individual, it is the type of stress that facilitates growth and learning. As long as the work or outcome is somewhat interesting or important to the individual, challenges, complexity, and stretch assignments tend to be far more motivating than easy or predefined work.  

Tapping into individual motivation through curiosity, desire to make more impact, and inclination to connect with others on something larger than themselves creates a vitality that benefits both the organization and the individual.


I want to be excited. I want happiness. I want meaning. Of course, I want money, I need to have my basic needs covered. But, you know, after, I mean, how much money is it going to take for you to start getting bored of that?

Fred Kofman

Why does motivation matter?

How motivation benefits the organization

  • Meet and exceed the company’s goals. Without a motivated workplace, companies could struggle to deliver on promises to customers, fail to execute daily operations, and let opportunities for the future slip away--talent will avoid demotivated workplaces.
  • Higher productivity. Happy employees experience 31 percent higher productivity. Improved employee satisfaction which can lead toward a positive growth for the company.
  • Championship. Motivated employees are often emotionally connected to their companies. Emotionally connected employees are 3 times more likely to become brand ambassadors.
  • Delighted customers. Workers put in extra effort leading to more output and better solutions. 
  • Quality. Quality improves as staff take a greater pride in their work.
  • Committed, experienced employees. A motivated workplace leads to higher level of staff retention and reduced turnover.

How motivation benefits the individual 

  • Self-efficacy and confidence in one’s ability to succeed at challenging work tasks
  • Increased proactivity and creativity 
  • Optimism and positive attributions about the future of one’s career or company
  • Hope and redirecting paths to work goals in the face of obstacles
  • Resilience in the workplace and bouncing back from adverse situations 

Stay up to date with new resources and insights.


Increasing motivation at work

How to increase and maintain self-motivation?

  • Renew your motivation.  Motivation needs to be refreshed, sometimes daily. When we don’t get an immediate reward, or experience pleasure by avoiding a tedious task, it is important to remind ourselves why what we are doing is relevant or contributes to something more relevant. How? Take it to the next level and always find the bigger purpose. Replying to an annoying client is unpleasant and could even make us feel angry.
    However, being aware of the fact that we value being seen as polite people is self-reassuring.
    Even better, being aware of the role we play as representatives of the company can make us feel responsible and proud. 
  • Make it enjoyable. Enjoyability is not always possible! Yet, it is pursuable. What are you doing or saying to enjoy more/less your work? Do a self-check every now and then to detect the kind of things you are focusing on: is it only the negative stuff? Also, try to identify and cut negative talk about work. We easily give in to the bad habit of complaining, resulting in an energy drain. Remember: We go in the direction we choose to focus. Negativity quickly sours the mood and demotivates others in the workplace.
  • Focus on quality. Be aware of the value of your work and what it reflects about you. Take pride in your craftsmanship, even when the situation prioritizes quantity--make your work the best it can be in the circumstances. Many times, we set countable goals, such as finishing 20 invoices. When we do so, we focus only on reaching the number and are less likely to pay attention to what we are doing and enjoying the process. 
  • Let role models inspire you. Having someone we look up to can be a powerful way to get motivated. However, it can also be frustrating if we only focus on what they accomplished and forget the HOW. Don’t envy the person; don’t idealize. Learn more about what took them where they are and let them inspire you. Whether they are a co-worker or a famous CEO, learn their stories.
  • Organize your goals. It may seem obvious, but sometimes we forget to break down our goals into manageable actions. Smaller, frequent wins can create momentum, as long as they are meaningful, clearly pointing toward the longer term objective. Especially when we have too much on our plate, we tend to lose focus of what and why exactly we were doing things. To stay connected to your goal, you must have a clear vision of how every step you take is taking you closer. 

How to increase team motivation

  • Demonstrate interest. Ask, listen and deliver. If you want to motivate a team member, ask him or her what they care about? What do they need to feel included? In order for your employees to feel heard it is not enough for you to make questions, but to actually listen, provide feedback and demonstrate with actions that you take them into account. 
  • Coach and support. When employees don’t need to worry about controlling perceptions of managers and colleagues, they are more likely to openly ask for feedback and provide feedback. The energy of freely working together without politics or maneuvering is incredibly rewarding and motivating. Coaching leadership and context support, promote psychological safety in the workplace. This allows you to create a trust based relationship with your employees, thus increased satisfaction and motivation for both sides. 
  • Value individual and team contributions at a broader level. Raise awareness of the impact each team member has at a bigger level by talking about how their work influenced the management goals, for example. How is every role related to accomplishing the company’s mission? Ask them questions that generate reflection and facilitate a broader view of how their actions impact and contribute to the global operation of the company.
  • Build a positive work environment. Both motivation and demotivation can be contagious, which one will it be? Create a positive environment by setting the example. Say hello to everyone, ask them about their families, make jokes, bring appetizers to the meetings, and be vigilant about maintaining your own, authentic, enthusiasm and motivation. It is okay to dip or be discouraged occasionally but model for your team how you continue to find your own motivation.
    Be aware of your employees and their wellbeing within the company. Encourage your team members to work together and support each other. Help them see how they can benefit from learning from their colleagues and coaching each other, with healthy competition.
  • Empower your employees. Trust them and motivate them to take some initiative. Allow them to bring ideas and give them freedom to make decisions without having to consult you, leaving always the door open for questions and coaching. Invite them into the planning and goal-setting process
  • Address employees' quality of life. Support work-life balance by knowing your employees and letting them put their family and health as a priority. If someone asks to arrive late to attend their daughter's recital or to attend a medical appointment, say yes. Thankful employees are more likely to overachieve.  On the other hand, make sure that the demands are challenging enough to avoid boredom, but feasible enough to allow your employees to have a life after work. 
  • Career path. Make every step meaningful. Whether to learn or to apply for a promotion, your employee should feel that everything he or she is doing will translate into growth and experience. Make sure you have talked to them about their future and to coach them into turning work into a learning process that feels meaningful.

Stay up to date with new resources and insights.


Am I motivating my employees enough?

One of the best ways to measure the effectiveness of your motivation techniques is by frequently asking yourself some questions about your team:

  • Are they taking initiative?
  • Are they united as a team?
  • Do they provide feedback?
  • Do they show interest and engagement during meetings?

Other, more traditional, ways to measure motivation can be informative but are often lagging measures. By the time you see them, it’s too late. However, they can still provide insight that helps you understand the full picture.

These formal ways to understand and shape motivation include:

  1. Performance reviews. They will not only allow you to measure performance, but to motivate them by going though the details of what is working for them and what isn’t. they are also a great opportunity to talk about the impact of their work and understand what they value and makes them feel motivated. 
  2. Employee motivation and engagement surveys. When anonymously answered, they tend to be a great reflect of the workplace environment. Combining a quantitative questionnaire and some open questions will allow you to pick up a good sample of what your employees motivation and engagement stand at.
  3. Employee turnover and absenteeism. Are you having a high rate of employee turnover or absenteeism? These two important metrics raise flags that reflect the motivation and satisfaction of our workforce. 


Published January 26, 2021

Paulina Cal y Mayor Galindo

BetterUp Fellow Coach

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