The Pleasure And Pain of Motivating Employees


A short while ago, I wrote an article called “The 12 Best Ways to Motivate Your Team” in which I listed a dozen ways you can create a highly motivational environment at work. Although I stand by my argument that “As managers, we can’t really ‘motivate’ anyone to do anything”, it occurs to now me that perhaps an external environment isn’t all there is to boosting employee motivation.


In her terrific TED talk, “Stop Trying to Motivate Your Employees,”Kerry Goyette suggests that the issue isn’t that people are difficult to motivate. In fact, people are ALREADY sufficiently motivated! Our task is simply to unleash that motivation, by understanding who people are and what precisely floats their boat.


The fact is, people aren’t cookie cutter, and nor are their motivational triggers. When it comes to motivational style, one size definitely doesn’t fit all. For example, although we all seek community in one form or another, an extrovert may draw energy from a larger group dynamic, with multiple opportunities for shallow interactions, while an introvert may seek out smaller groupings, with fewer, yet deeper relationships.


According to Goyette, the key human motivators are pleasure and pain. This makes sense, doesn’t it? “Pleasure seekers” might be motivated by ambition, expansiveness, and novelty. They have a nose for the new, for taking chances. A “pain avoider”, by contrast, might be motivated by protecting what they (and the company) already have. They strive to mitigate risk. They notice issues that could cause the team pain.


For example, last night I was watching this great, post-apocalyptic, sci-fi drama on Netflix, “The 100”. The camp, newly arrived on Earth, was divided into pleasure seekers — eager to go out and explore the world outside their electrified fence — and pain avoiders, urging caution and stability. “Let’s stay in the fence, build our camp, and fortify our base before we go exploring! Let’s spare ourselves unexpected pain.”


To unleash motivation, Goyette argues, we have to understand whether our employees are motivated by pleasure or pain. Both are valid motivators! We then must hire for motivational fit. We should ask ourselves: “What are the job duties and responsibilities of this position?” “Is this a pleasure or pain-type position?


Once we have people in the right position, we must then communicate with them in their motivational style.


For a pleasure seeker, you want to talk about what’s possible and not what’s impossible. You get them excited about possibilities.


For a pain avoider, on the other hand, you need to focus on risks, which come in two varieties:
1) the perils of change
2) the risks associated with NOT changing.


A classic question to ask a pain avoider might be, “We want to try something new, and that’s risky. But we also see some perils to staying in the status quo. What can you predict about what might go wrong if we don’t do change? What are the threats of standing pat?”


We CAN motivate people to do their best work! The environment is important. Community is important. Scheduling social interactions outside the workplace (like teambuilding scavenger hunts!) is important. But the best overall blueprint for motivating people may very well be these four steps:


1) listen carefully to how they talk and how they view the world
2) interview skillfully, with the position in mind
3) place the right people in the right job, according to their orientation around pleasure and pain
4) continue to communicate appropriately with each motivational type


Remember, everyone is already motivated. They just need that motivation to be unleashed!


Click on the video below to hear further thoughts from the author, Dave Blum, Founder and President of Dr. Clue, Teambuilding Scavenger Hunts and More