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The 3 Psychology Principles that Drive Motivation at Work

In the modern era, motivation can be a tricky concept. It seems that few and few people have it. So, what can you do about it in the workplace? 

Psychology research from the 1970s still stands l relevant today. Richard Ryan and Edward Deci pioneered what is known as self-determination theory. Self-determination outlines several drivers of human motivation that can be built into a job or a team culture to make work more motivating.

The remainder of this article will outline the three drivers of motivation according to self-determination theory — autonomy, competence, and relatedness — and explore ways to leverage them each. Here we go.

1. Autonomy

Autonomy refers to how much people feel like they’re agents of their own lives and that they’re freely able to make their own choices. In the context of work, autonomy thus relates to people feeling like they have a say in what they work on and how they do it. They don’t feel micromanaged; they feel empowered by their leaders to self-manage their responsibilities.  

Creating a sense of autonomy in your employees could come from mutually assigning objectives and establishing deadlines, incorporating the wider team in decision making more often or giving people more freedom on where they work. 

2. Competence

Competence refers to our desire to seek control and experience mastery over a task. It speaks to our natural desire to be learners, to be growing and to be making progress in our lives. In the context of work, it could be making progress in one’s career, progressing towards a set of objectives or even just working for an organization that is making progress.

Creating a sense of competence in your employees could come from giving them more random positive feedback for their work and showing that their efforts are making a difference. 

3. Relatedness

Relatedness refers to our desire to connect with others, interact and care for other people. In the context of work, this relates to feeling like one is part of a team, working collaboratively and making a difference.  

Creating a sense of competence in your employees could come from engaging in team activities or framing the team’s work in a way that makes it clear who is being helped by your organization’s actions.