What motivates you?

Keeping the staff motivate is among the most daunting task faced by the HR professionals in an organization. One of the most easiest way found by the HR in stimulating motivation is hiring an external trainer / coach who give a fancy presentation or let you play games in a day long training sessions.

Similarly, we recently had a motivational training session in our organization in which the speaker inspired us by sharing his experiences, referring to motivational books and showing us videos of individuals that displayed exceptional motivation in their life. The one particular video that I remember was of Amir Khan for his movie Dangal where in the same movie he has to play a role of fat old father and wrestler. During the session and sometime after that as well we felt a new sense of encouragement and motivation in our work. But after few days, and weeks I don’t seem to remember much of the training and the concepts that we learned in it. Now when I reflect / remember/recall  that session, a question keeps on popping in my mind that what actually motivates any individual and how to maintain sustainable motivation?

In a typical work environment, the following experiences might motivate you:

  • Learning new things
  • Come up with a creative idea to tackle a difficult problem
  • Working in a team
  • Leading a successful team
  • Overcome challenges
  • Completing your tasks on time, meeting deadlines
  • Coaching and counseling your subordinates or at times peers

Completing a task on time for the first time will motivate you but the level of motivation in completing the same task on time the next time will drop and eventually you won’t be motivated in completing the task. So, there are things that motivates us at a particular time, but their impact is short-lived, and we need a constant push to maintain high motivational level.

Classical Motivational Theories

So, what actually are the things or tasks that really motivates you in your work or personal life and have a long-lasting impact. Before we go in further detail, I want to reproduce two very basic / simple motivational theories Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs and Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory of Motivation.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs[i]


Abraham Maslow an American psychologist is one of the most influential psychologists of 20th century. His biggest achievement was the development of hierarchy of needs. His hierarchy of needs is a motivational theory consisting of a five tier model of human needs, represented by a pyramid.

Maslow stated that the lower 4 needs once satisfied will go away and our activities become habitually directed towards meeting the next set of needs that we have yet to satisfy. These than become our salient needs. However, growth needs continue to be felt and may even become stronger once they have been engaged.

Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory of Motivation[ii]

FHerzbergsrederick Irving Herzberg another American psychologist one of the most influential names in business management presented the two-factor theory of motivation. According to Herzberg, there are some job factors that results in satisfaction while there are others than prevent dissatisfaction. He termed the job factors the caused satisfaction as motivators and those that prevent dissatisfaction as Hygiene Factor.

The basic idea of both these theories is that there are certain needs or factors that are basic or elementary in nature (Maslow’s lower 4 needs and Herzberg’s Hygiene factors) and these needs or factor do not itself motivates. However, the absence of these factors will cause de motivation. These factors create a base line case on which motivation is built on.

However, the things that actually motivates are those for which the person is passionate about. He does it for his/her own self and not to earn money or please others. These can stimulate from some highly creative or challenging work that keeps him / her moving. In the video showed in the motivation session, Amir Khan requested the director to first shot the scenes in which he is fat and old and then shoot the slimmer and more fitter Amir Khan. The logic behind that was if he shot the slimmer part first and then the fat part at the end of the movie he would not have any motivation or urge to be slimmer.


Motivation at Work

In a survey conducted, where experienced mid management staff was asked to rank what motivates them the most in a work place. The respondents were asked to rank on a scale of one to five the following factors that are encountered the most in a workplace. The below graph shows the percentage of highest rank received by each factor:


Challenging tasks and job role were among the most important factors that motivates employees at work well above the salary and the title they are given. This is particularly relevant for experienced professionals who have started earning a reasonable pay. After earning a reasonable amount that gives a reasonable lifestyle, pay does not remains the motivator.

The preferences for males and females separately were as follows:


The results show that salary only 14% of the female employees ranked salary as their top motivator to do job. In contrast 40% of male employees ranked salary as the top motivator, this is particularly true in the subcontinent environment where men are thought of as the main bread earner of the family.

Whereas the below charts show the percentage of respondents that provided 1-3 ranking (lowest motivator). This shows that the employees care the least about the company they work for.


Happiness in life

Same group of respondents were also asked about what are the things or factors that brings happiness in their life. Among the six factors provided which included Money, family, education, travel, religion and social work – Family and friends was ranked the most important factor that brings happiness in an individual’s life. The results of the survey were as follows:


The gender wise break down was not different, which is reproduced below:


Interestingly the females here again were least bothered about the money which is left for the males to be worried about.


To conclude it is clear that employees are more concerned about what they do then for what and for whom they do it. Even a person earning a handsome money in a top most MNC may not be motivated to do his / her job unless he is given a role that he likes. Job roles and challenging tasks are the also the ones which provide sustainable motivation which keeps the individual inspired to work harder and smarter to achieve his / her own full potential.

Similarly, in personal life, family and friends are the top most factor that keeps the individuals happy and fulfilled. There is no replacement for these relationships in your life.


[i] McLeod, S. A. (2018, May 21). Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Retrieved from https://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html

[ii] The article is Written By “Prachi Juneja” and Reviewed by Management Study Guide Content Team. https://managementstudyguide.com/herzbergs-theory-motivation.htm



5 thoughts on “What motivates you?

Add yours

  1. Excellent writing Aamer. Great work!!

    One thing to add, employees might also feel more motivated, or in simpler terms, more satisfied in an environment where policies are applied irrespective of grade and/or staff level. Standards that can be relied upon and are not easily bypassed for any individual.
    In short, degree of fairness in an organisation might also reveal the level of motivation within the employees.


  2. Great piece Aamer!

    I totally agree with your points and with faizan aswell that environment is an important factor.
    To add to that, a culture that is open to opinions from all levels and where everyone is willing to listen, encourages and motivates the employee to contribute and reach out. A place that nurtures its employees and treat them well whether financially or non financially and keeps strong control on behavior (compliance related matters) gives them satisfaction.
    As richard branson have said: train your employees well enough so they leave, treat them well enough so they dont want to!

    Liked by 1 person

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