What’s Up with Employee Satisfaction? 5 Themes from Motivation 2.0

by Kenyon Blunt on April 21, 2010

Kenyon Blunt

Today I take a slight detour from my usual subjects of marketing analytics and multichannel marketing.  Three converging events have me questioning employee satisfaction.  While I was on vacation, I read Daniel Pink’s new book, Drive (). Then, I stumbled across a blog from Harvard Business School, Why Are Fewer and Fewer U.S. Employees Satisfied with Their Jobs? (http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/6404.html. And, coincidentally, we did our biannual employee engagement and satisfaction survey at SIGMA Marketing Group. Only 45% of workers in the U.S. are satisfied with their jobs, according to the Conference Board, so what did I gain from this immersion in employee motivation that can help me as a manager improve employee engagement?

There are 5 themes that resonate from my learnings:

  1. Intrinsic motivation is real. Pink does a great job of explaining how Motivation 1.0 (carrots and sticks) no longer works.  Once employees have their basic needs met (similar to Maslow) then intrinsic motivation becomes a better motivator.  The art of doing one’s job well is far more likely to create job satisfaction than external rewards.
  2. Employees crave autonomy. When given a chance to work on a meaningful project of their choosing, employees rise to the challenge. The Harvard article describes how designing jobs to give employees greater control over their work leads to less stress and better health.
  3. Mastering your work keeps you fresh. This is Daniel Pink’s second theme, but it has really been driven home for me with my immersion in social media marketing.  Attempting to master new marketing skills is keeping me fresher and more enthused about my work than I’ve been in years.
  4. Workers can take steps to improve their own satisfaction. Employee engagement is not solely the responsibility of management.  It has to come from the bottom-up as well.  Workers need to find those things that motivate them and develop plans for doing more of them in their current roles.
  5. Financial results and layoffs are still key drivers of employee engagement. 2009 was a tough year for many of us in marketing and analytics.  It’s difficult for employees to be engaged when they’re wondering about their jobs.  Also, layoffs typically bring more demands as former workers’ loads are heaped upon existing assignments.

It’s been an eye-opening month for me.  These 5 themes and what I’ve learned from my research are definitely changing my thinking and outlook on employee satisfaction.

About the Author:

Kenyon Blunt is the CEO at SIGMA Marketing Group.  Connect with Kenyon on  or follow him on .

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Hinda Incentives April 30, 2010 at 11:32 am

I would say that layoffs are still key drivers to engagement. It’s hard to stay motivated at work when you inherit more work from a layoff while still wondering if you may be next.

Intrinsic motivators are good and key for performance. However, you can’t rely on intrinsic motivators alone. Using some extrinsic things that align with those intrinsic motivators are good ways to improve that engagement.

Kenyon Blunt April 30, 2010 at 3:22 pm

We did see a direct correlation with engagement and the layoffs we did last year when the economy tanked. Also, we’ve seen it improve this year as things have rebounded. I agree about the mixture of extrinsic and intrinsic motivators; a combination seems to get the best results.

Colleen W. July 12, 2010 at 7:31 pm

John Dewey wrote, “The deepest urge in human nature is the desire to be important.” A great way to help employees feel important is to gather and implement their suggestions. Totally top-down management is not very motivating– employees feel important when their ideas are honored. This might fit under #3 on autonomy. Here’s an article on Employee Engagement & suggestions: Why Acting on Employee Suggestions Boosts Employee and Customer Engagement

Loyaltyworks Incentive Programs July 28, 2010 at 1:00 pm

In this market I’m actually a little surprised that the job satisfaction numbers in your study are not worse. In an environment where businesses are challenged to keep their doors open it’s understandable that they would struggle to allocate the time and resources to ensure that Mazlow hygiene-like factors are satisfied…as well as to be attentive to their employee’s intrinsic motivation / self actualization needs. Not that it is right, just understandable. More and more I’m buying into the predictions of mass employee defection and a talent war when the job market begins to improve.

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