Motivation and Engagement: The Real Story [Guest Post]

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motivation and engagement

When our daughter was 3 1/2 years old, she wanted her ears pierced. She constantly whined and pleaded, but her mother didn’t feel she was ready to take care of them herself. I tried to convince her she really didn’t want to have her ears pierced. “They use a big needle. It’s going to hurt,” I’d say. But she was not to be deterred.

One day our beautiful little girl came bounding in the front door and across the living room.

“Daddy, look!”

I was shocked. A crimson stain was spreading across her t-shirt as little drops of blood fell from her ear. With the help of a friend, she had managed to shove studs through her ear lobes.

She was motivated.

Employee engagement is a common concern these days and to really address engagement, leaders must understand motivation as there is a critical connection between them. Lack of engagement usually occurs because employers are not meeting the needs which are motivating their employees. Though motivation is often seen as something a superior can do to a subordinate, in fact it’s an internal drive to meet a need. While it is possible to change behavior with external influences, that isn’t real motivation.

Real motivation which leads to engagement is internal to each of us and to achieve it, leaders must strive to understand their team members and the needs that motivate them. Fortunately, this doesn’t require a deep psychological investigation because there are a few common motivational needs. Help your employees meet these and engagement will follow. For instance, everyone has basic needs like food and water and a reasonable level of safety. On a higher level, one of the most important needs is a need to belong. But it’s more than just being named as part of a team. People need to feel they are a valuable, and valued, part of that team. Meeting that need is fundamental to engagement.

In more than 25 years of studying motivation, I’ve found these basic motivational needs to be common for all generations, though each may see them differently. Older generations grew up in a time when belonging simply meant they were part of the workforce, while younger generations desire more overt recognition of their value to the team.

Creating a motivational climate is the basis for an engaged workforce. Just like our daughter, today’s workers will do what they feel is necessary to meet their needs. Although they probably won’t poke holes in themselves, they may leave your company for what they see as greener pastures.


Bob Mason is a speaker, trainer, and author. After a career in the U.S. Air Force, he formed a company to provide leadership development for supervisors and managers in the corporate world. He is the author of four books on leadership including The Art of Not Motivating. Learn more at

Brad Mishlove