Motivational States: Understand and Shape Employee Motivation

It’s hard to measure employee motivation in the workplace. Different people are motivated by different things at different times. Given this changeability, how do we create a motivational strategy that will benefit the entire organization?

A psychological tool called Reversal Theory can help. This theory provides a list of eight motivational states that managers can use to understand and shape employee motivation. Here’s a summary:

  • Serious State: Motivated by achieving important goals and outcomes.
  • Playful State: Motivated by having fun with interesting work and enjoying the process.
  • Conforming State: Motivated by doing things the right way, at a high level of quality using clear standards.
  • Rebellious State: Motivated by finding new ways to do things, to think differently
  • Mastery State: Motivated by gaining knowledge, strength or power, for yourself or to build up someone else
  • Sympathy State: Motivated by caring and showing compassion, either for yourself or someone else.
  • Other State: Motivated by serving others – customers, colleagues or the greater good — and by being part of a larger team or organization
  • Self State: Motivated by development, improving or taking care of yourself

People are motivated by different states at different times. Managers can shape motivation by understanding what drives an individual employee and then creating an environment that supports that.

For example, when you talk about a new project, do you choose to talk about the goal and outcome? How it will help customers? How it will create new and creative services? How it will build employee skills? How much fun it will be?

Different statements will motivate different people at different times. Creating a motivationally rich environment means talking about all the different motivational states. A diverse motivational toolkit is the best strategy for building motivation in the workplace.