I often hear leaders and wellness professionals ask for products and services that will “get people to change” or will “get people motivated.” Here’s the thing: nothing will ever “get people to change” or “get people motivated.” Rather, people change themselves. The best we can do is to create the conditions in which people are more likely to motivate themselves.
So, what can we do? We can follow the lead of Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, who aptly titled his book “Let My People Go Surfing” – as opposed to “Get My People to Go Surfing.”
To transition from “get” to “let” – we must move away from our over-reliance on incentives and penalties. Currently, the average employee incentive has reached a whopping $742, up from $651 in 2016. It’s gotten so high, in fact, that employees are leaving money on the table, according to a recent study.
What the research overwhelmingly and repeatedly shows is that at best incentives will get people in the door, but they will never keep people there. Moreover, there’s evidence to suggest that incentives may perversely undermine the intrinsic motivation and willingness to sustain a behavior over time.
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If the goal is to move beyond incentivizing people to engage in one-time or short-time activities (like filling out an HRA or participating in a challenge) to embarking on a lifelong path of well-being, then we need to stop paying people and start creating meaning. Because, the truth is, our brains are much more than information processors; they are creators of meaning. There simply is no shortcut when it comes to inspiring behavior change. Rather, our task is to do the hard work of tapping into intrinsic motivators, developing thoughtful programs that people actually want to take part in.
Intrinsic motivation is when the motivation comes from within. Here are the keys to unleashing intrinsic motivation, based on decades of research, spearheaded by social scientists Deci and Ryan:
1. Competency: We all have a deep need to achieve and be recognized for it. You’ll hear it on any playground: “Look at me, Mom!” Same is true for adults. (OK, maybe they’re not saying quite the same phrase, but the desire is still there.)
2. Autonomy: What’s one of the biggest drivers of stress and one of the biggest diminishers of authentic engagement? Lack of autonomy. The antidote is to give people choices and provide more opportunities for people to have control over their daily work activities. Let them take charge in what they change and how they change. Again, the idea here is to let people – as opposed to get people to….
3. Relatedness: We are hardwired as social beings. If you want engagement to last, give people lots of opportunities to connect with others.
4. Purpose: What’s the deeper meaning behind the program? And, more importantly, what’s “the why” for each individual employee? If you want to create meaning, follow the lead of Simon Sinek and Start with Why.
5. Play: Finally, you've got to make it fun. The truth is, if it’s not fun, people won’t engage. It's no wonder that every airline has taken the cue from Southwest Airlines, transitioning their safety announcement from serious to playful. So, your task is to help people to engage in their well-being in a way that is playful as opposed to heavy handed.
This is Step 7, out of 10 Steps, drawn from my book Workplace Wellness That Works.
For a deeper dive, and tons of actionable ideas on how you can create the conditions in which people are more likely to motivate themselves, register for the launch of “Got Engagement?” — my new online course about how to meaningfully engage ourselves and others in making positive lifestyle changes.