paper - motivation

Intrinsic Motivation
Establishing Intrinsic Motivation Among Employees Resisting an In-Depth Work Analysis
Michael J. Walk
University of Baltimore
Intrinsic Motivation
Establishing Intrinsic Motivation Among Employees Resisting an In-Depth Work Analysis
Recently, the CEO of the Worthless Paper Products Corporation (WPP) has asked F.
Taylor Group, Ltd. (FTG) to conduct time and motion and systems-analysis studies in an effort
to improve WPP’s efficiency and output. FTG began its study in the department of data
processors and clerks. The intense and prolonged nature of the observations and data gathering
led to severe problems with absenteeism (i.e., on a single day, 10 of the 26 employees were
absent). Unless the problem with absenteeism is curtailed, not only will WPP lose valuable
production due to missing employees but also FTG will have to discontinue its current study in
order to move on to other departments. If this occurs, the time and money already put into the
analysis will be wasted, and the data will be useless. Also, if preventative steps are not taken
now, other departments may experience similar complications with the study.
The Investigation
In an initial investigation, telephone interviews with the absent employees revealed their
negative feelings about the study. Some employees reported feeling nervous, tense, and tired.
Another reported feeling like a “guinea pig.” Another employee indicated that he or she
suspected that management was conducting the study to force the employees to “do more with
less.” It became apparent that employees were not aware of the purpose or goals of the study,
had overwhelmingly negative opinions of the study, and were very resistant to not only the study
itself but also the impending changes that may result.
Possible Solutions
In order to address the problem of absenteeism, several options are available to the
department’s management. For example, punishment could be used against the resistant
employees—they could all be suspended, laid off, or receive some other form of consequence.
Intrinsic Motivation
While this option may provide some emotional release for the frustrated manager, it is quite
costly in the long run. The destructive outcome from such a mass punishment cannot be
overstated: non-fired employees might feel extremely high levels of anxiety, and the department
will incur substantial costs for hiring and training new employees.
Another option explored by management was to hire temps until the study was
completed. While this approach solves the problem of not having enough employees to complete
the study, it completely undermines the purposes of the study—to gather data from the current
employees, the ones who know the job and have developed entrenched ways of completing their
tasks. An analysis conducted on temporary employees will only be valid as long as those
temporary employees are working. When the original employees return to their jobs, the findings
of the study will not adequately apply to them, and the employees will perceive any changes
resulting from the study as designed by and for others. That is, the original employees will have
had limited involvement in creating and will have only limited investment in implementing the
suggested changes.
I recommend that management use Deci & Ryan’s (1985) theory of intrinsic motivation
in order to guide the intervention for this department. In particular, self-determination theory
(SDT; Deci & Flaste, 1995; Ryan & Deci, 2000) provides the necessary insight into the problem
at WPP. According to SDT, children, students, employees, etc., are likely to resist the attempts of
others to control their behaviors—either through omission (e.g., not completing the tasks) or
commission (e.g., rebelling, fighting, etc.). The employees at WPP have begun to experience
their work environment as controlling. That is, the study has left them feeling like objects under
the control of others rather than feeling self-controlled. Since perceived internal control has been
Intrinsic Motivation
shown to be related to both work motivation and job performance (Broedling, 1975), it is no
wonder that the employees are losing the motivation to work under the current conditions. In
fact, Lepper & Greene (1975) have demonstrated that surveillance tends to decrease intrinsic
motivation in a task (and the WPP employees have all been undergoing intense surveillance).
In order to effectively address the motivational problem at WPP, several objectives must
be met. First, the feelings of the employees must be acknowledged and brought into the open.
Second, the employees must be educated as to the purpose and goals of the research. Third, the
employees need to feel self-determined in their participation in the ongoing research. Fourth, the
employees need to feel self-determined in their participation of the changes proposed as a result
of the research. Finally, this program of self-determination must be propagated throughout the
rest of the WPP departments in order to avoid similar problems occurring because of the FTG
study. The success of this intervention is supported by the findings of Gagné, Koestner, and
Zuckerman (2000), who found that giving the rational for doing a task, offering some choice in
how to do the task, and acknowledging feelings for the task facilitated acceptance of large-scale
organizational change.
The intervention will entail calling off the FTG study for one or two days and notifying
all employees of the hiatus and the need for everyone to come to work to discuss the study. It
would be beneficial for representatives from FTG to attend the meeting—especially someone
able to develop confidence and rapport between FTG and WPP. A work day should be set aside
with the purposes of gathering the employees together to discuss what has been happening within
the department since the FTG study started as well as department’s performance before the study
began. Issues concerning what has been going well and what hasn’t been going well should be
brought to the table.
Intrinsic Motivation
The first goal of this meeting would be to identify with the employees’ concerns and
feelings about the study. According to Deci, Connell, and Ryan (1989), in order to foster a
feeling of autonomy, managers and other people in power must be sure to take the subordinate’s
frame of reference. That is, “They must understand and acknowledge his or her needs, feelings,
and attitudes with respect to the issue or situation at hand. When this is the case, the target person
will be more trusting of the context and believe that it will be responsive to his or her initiations
and suggestions” (p. 581). This is what Deci & Flaste (1995) call “autonomy support.” When
employees perceive more autonomy support from their managers, their intrinsic needs are more
likely to be met, and this predicts performance (Baard, Deci, & Ryan, 2004), adjustment (Baard,
Deci, & Ryan, 2004), employee satisfaction (Deci, Connell, & Ryan, 1989).
The second goal of the meeting would be to educate the employees about the study and to
have them see that the study will benefit the department and their individual jobs. It is important
that the employees receive information about the study and perceive the study as something that
will provide them with much-needed information. In the words of Deci, Connell, and Ryan
(1989, p. 580), “Experiencing an input as informational fosters self-determination, whereas
experiencing it as controlling diminishes self-determination.” Employees should be informed
about the purposes and objectives of the study, how much longer data will be gathered, and what
will be done with the results.
The third goal of the meeting will be to get the employees to choose to commit to
participating in the rest of the research. Even though the employees, in reality, have very little
choice as to whether or not the study will be conducted, they need to be provided some form of
choice within the constraints of continuing the study. I cannot recommend exactly what forms of
choice should be given to the employees, but I can offer some possible suggestions. For example,
Intrinsic Motivation
the employees could decide to implement a plan in which, if feeling stressed by the study, an
employee would be allowed some free time away from the study. Or, perhaps the employees
would choose to have one day a week that would serve as a “study break.” That is, FTG can
conduct investigations all the days of the week except, for example, Friday. The important thing
is that the employees decide how to meet the goal of completing the study. Several studies show
that when participants set their own goals, commitment to those goals is much greater than when
the goals are set by others (e.g., Locke, 1996, as cited in Ambrose & Kulik, 1999; Williams,
McGregor, Sharp, Levesque, & Kouides, et. al, 2006).
Finally, as a result of the meeting, the employees need also to be interested in the study
results and be commited to creating their own ways to deal with work areas that need
improvement. The changes should not be decided upon by management alone; the employees
themselves need to participate in the change planning, and the intent for management to include
the employees in the decision making process should be continually restated.
It is also my recommendation that WPP be proactive in dealing with the motivational
problems created by the FTG study. While it is unclear if any other departments up to this point
in time have participated in the study and/or experienced similar issues to those of the data
processors and clerks, it is quite likely that other departments will have to deal with related
motivational problems among employees. Management should, even before the FTG study
begins in subsequent departments, follow the intervention plans discussed herein. If employees
are informed of the study rationale, are given a chance to have their feelings and opinions
understood, and are given an opportunity to choose and set their own goals and objectives, WPP
will avoid more costly delays in improving work efficiency.
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