Motivation in the workplace — cultivating your team

Jan. 1, 2008
Doctors ask us on a regular basis, “How do I motivate my team?”Good question!

by Cathy and John Jameson

Doctors ask us on a regular basis, “How do I motivate my team?” Good question! Based on significant research of this major area of interest in the workplace — motivation — we will discuss some of the suggestions used by experts in this area.

Both employers and employees seek a work environment where they can be productive and compatible. Today’s employers look for employees who are not only knowledgeable, but also enthusiastic about the growth and development of the business. Employees want to function in an environment that is both personally and professionally rewarding. They are educated, experienced, and possess skills that are transferable to various businesses.

To attract the brightest and best employees, the workplace must be aware of and receptive to the ever-changing desires of the “knowledge worker,” as Peter Drucker describes today’s employees. What are “knowledge workers” seeking in the workplace? What are businesses doing to meet these needs? How do changes in the workplace — including what employees are looking for — affect society as a whole?

Choices in business structure do exist. How does a business alter itself to become more productive through appropriate use of employee talents? How do employers motivate their workers?

Foundations of motivation

In an effort to create a healthy work environment, Karen M. Skemp-Arlt, PhD, and Rachelle Toupence, PhD, suggest that “leadership ability will affect the climate of an organization and, ultimately, its effectiveness.” These researchers base their methods of developing a healthy work environment on the work of Abraham Maslow and Frederick Herzberg, two well-known psychologists who devoted much of their life’s work to management within the workplace.

You may have studied Maslow and his “Hierarchy of Needs.” Let’s review it. Maslow determined there are five levels of human need and that one level of need must be satisfied before a person can become interested in moving on to the next higher level. The levels elevate from the lowest and most basic needs of physiological satisfaction (food and shelter), to safety, social belonging, self-esteem, independence, and self-actualization. Maslow suggests — and most theorists today agree — that unless the three lower needs are satisfied, an individual can never be motivated to stretch and grow and become interested in the growth of the business he or she is working in, or become self-motivated.

Elizabeth Arruda suggests that the levels of need satisfaction outlined in Maslow’s hierarchy can become an asset to the health-care industry in its efforts to attract and retain quality employees. At the basic level, adequate salaries are a must. People need to know they can put food on the table, a roof over their heads, and gas in their cars to get to work. Then, safety on the job is critical, especially for a profession such as ours where we can be exposed to disease and infection.

Training in adequate safety regulations is a must. In addition, Arruda strongly notes a need for “zero-tolerance for workplace violence, discrimination, and sexual harassment.” Safety also refers to the creation of a management style and workplace that is not fear-based. Your employees must not quake in their shoes in fear of you or your tirades.

They cannot be afraid you will throw an instrument across the chair. They also must not be in a constant state of fear that their jobs are at risk. If you have a problem with an employee, face-to-face conversation regarding the situation and a carefully developed plan of problem-solving and performance development is the most effective way to encourage the desired change.

Arruda also notes that “social belonging” needs can be satisfied through congenial work relationships among teammates, supervisors or managers, and doctors. Self-esteem in the health-care professions, including dentistry, involves a desire to do a good job, be recognized for work well done, and receive feedback on performance. At the peak of the hierarchy is self-actualization, when individuals realize their work is important and they can make a relevant difference for both patients and doctors.

Skemp-Arlt and Toupence believe self-motivation is a critical aspect of worker satisfaction and the effectiveness of the work environment. They define motivation as “the complex forces, needs, drives, tension states, or other mechanisms with us that will create and maintain voluntary activity directed toward the achievement of personal goals.”

They suggest that an individual’s performance is related to goal-setting and working toward the accomplishment of those goals. It is vital that the work environment be supportive of this motivational stance. However, the authors suggest that true motivation must come from within and that the responsibility of the employer is to nurture an environment for self-regulation and self-motivation.

Frederick Herzberg described motivation differently by identifying motivators that are related to job satisfaction, and demotivators that lead to job dissatisfaction. He spoke of the intrinsic motivators of achievement, recognition, the work itself, responsibility, and advancement. These motivators are directly related to the work and to the intrinsic satisfaction resulting from performing on the job. These factors have the most significant chance of motivating workers.

“Hygiene” motivators, he said, are the basic principles of “personnel management, administration, leadership, supervision, interpersonal relationships at work, and working conditions.” These kinds of motivators are called “extrinsic” by Herzberg. These extrinsic motivators can prevent dissatisfaction but cannot increase motivation.

It is to any employer’s or manager’s benefit to study and understand these motivational theories as they try to create an environment where people are ultimately productive.

Four categories of motivational strategies

The work of C.J. Synder points to four dominant motivational areas that have proven to be an asset to the work environment:

  1. Personal regard refers to trust, time, and empathy. The best way to incorporate personal regard into the workplace is to be predictable. To do this, the employer must clearly define the vision of the company for its employees, explain its expectations, and focus all decisions on the accomplishment and fulfillment of this vision. Consistency goes along with predictability. In addition, being visible and available to employees becomes an asset to an organization. Research also shows that employees are motivated and more productive if the employer shows an interest in their health and well-being and establishes a wellness program in the workplace.
  2. Communication skills and the commitment to work toward constructive communication can stimulate motivation within the workplace and among personnel. One of the most effective ways to establish this clear communication is by setting goals and communicating those goals so that employees know their role in meeting them. The goals need to be high enough to stimulate progress, but not so high that they are unattainable.
  3. Effective communication also involves regular feedback and participation in performance improvement. Whether that feedback is positive or negative, employees need and want it. They want to know they are being noticed, recognized, and listened to. This kind of open communication and participation leads to two-way discussions regarding goals and ways to accomplish them. This involvement increases motivation due to shared decision-making and mutual participation.
  4. Recognition of work well done is the fourth category. It can be done in private, but it is also effective when done in front of colleagues, teammates, clients, or patients. Face-to-face is the best method of recognition. As an employer, you need to recognize small acts of excellent performance as well as major acts of excellence.

Everyone is different

Remember, in today’s workplace, each person is motivated by something different. As a part of ongoing communication, it benefits the employer or manager to determine just what motivates each individual. The employer or manager then should provide that motivational environment. When individual members of the team are motivated to set and accomplish both personal and professional goals — and when the employer/leader supports the achievement of these goals — the practice cannot help but thrive.

Jameson is an international dental management coaching firm providing instruction and coaching in four vital areas of practice development: communication, business, hygiene and clinical efficiency, and technology. For more information on how to take your practice to the next level, contact Jameson at (877) 369-5558 or visit the Web site at

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