Can They Still be Motivated?

In the literature, we find in principle two different types of motivational factors: The intrinsic motivation and the extrinsic motivation. The intrinsic motivational factors have as their goal a direct satisfaction of needs. Deci and Ryan attribute intrinsic motivational factors to the satisfaction of ingrained needs. Extrinsic motivational factors serve to indirectly satisfy needs. If we thus seek our motivation outside of our work life, then the money which we earn is an extrinsic motivational factor. Not the work itself motivates us, but rather what we can do with it that motivates us. Since we know the Two-Factor Theory of Frederick Herzberg (1959), we have learned that we were reaching our limits with extrinsic motivation factors. Is thus money truly so unimportant in our work life?


All too often, in my opinion, this issue is discussed in a much too generalist sense. Firstly, as humans, we are not all the same. We all have our own motivational factors, our own values and interpretations. In addition, on a meta-level, we can observe trends in recent generations. Today’s studies already document that the extrinsic factors have been increasing since the Baby-Boomer Generation while intrinsic factors have been decreasing. What this means for individual industries which are strongly based on volunteer workers: Anyone can figure this out easily. Generation Z is today much more difficult to motivate for such work. Often, I hear that money isn’t important to Generation Z. I consider this to be a fallacy. Money has lost importance for many in this generation, but simply only because many of them already have money (through inheritances and for other reasons).


These observations must also be taken into consideration during our change process. It is still the case that these processes are managed by representatives of the Baby-Boomer Generation and Generation X. They have other value systems than the new generations and thus other motivational factors. Generation Z lives in a situation of emotional detachment to companies and analogously also to all other organizations which are not directly part of their direct private sphere. For them, this state of detachment thus constitutes normalcy. If we do not explicitly address the changes being felt by this generation, we will lose them faster than all others and that has nothing to do with their age.


With regards to creating the path towards sufficiently motivating our employees, this path leads only through our compensation system in our brains – and that is generically so and above all of importance during a transformation process. The compensation system consists of a series of areas and nerve connections. The main player in the system is the “feel-good” hormone dopamine. Thus, scientists also speak of a mesocortico-limbic dopaminergic compensation system. The mechanism is simple: An external trigger causes the limbic system to react. It generates an urge which the cerebral cortex identifies as being a conscious demand. It then gives the instruction to the body to satisfy this demand. But it is not the reward itself which triggers the feeling of happiness in the brain, but rather the concept of the reward activates the dopamine system which then develops a profound demand for it. That’s enough about neurology.


In order to motivate our employees, we need firstly the knowledge about this trigger and it is very individual and secondly the ability to communicate the new state as being something appealing, exciting and thus motivating. The narrative (as already discussed in a blog article) has special importance in this regard. The description of the target state must contain motivational incentives for our generations. Thus, we must describe the target state multiple times and from different perspectives. Again and again, the same stories don’t help us much in this regard.


Conclusion: We should begin to understand that humans are different from each other. We live in a time in which four generations hold responsibilities at a company. During the transformation process, we need all of them and thus we must motivate all of them to embrace the respective transformation process. We will succeed only if we communicate and discuss the future scenario in a differentiated manner. Successful changes today need more than ever target group-oriented communication.

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