Fulfilling psychological needs key to boosting employee satisfaction

"Why Motivating People Doesn't Work… and What Does" by Susan Fowler (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, $24 95).

Despite management's numerous tactics and efforts to motivate employees, surveys show disengagement as high as 70 percent. Why? Management keeps pushing the same buttons (i.e. incentives, the carrot/stick approach) and expects different results. Fowler asserts that these traditional buttons are "motivational junk food" because once the incentive is given or the stick is avoided, employees lapse into their old habits.

Her research shows that the key to engaging employees involves satisfying their psychological needs. "Human beings have an innate tendency and desire to thrive." No one wants to come to work and be bored and disinterested. Management can tap their thrive psyche by focusing on three core psychological needs:

Autonomy — It shapes actions and attitude. When we're told what to do and how to do it, we're no longer in control of our actions. When we feel like we don't have choices, motivation wanes. Regardless of workplace or personal context, people want to be heard. Managers need to give them a voice (choice?). People desire continuous improvement; if they continually improve, so will the organization.

Relatedness — How many times have we heard "It's not personal; it's business"? Business is personal. We need to know that what we do matters. When we know we are contributing, as opposed to just doing a job, our connection to colleagues, the team and the organization increases.

Competence — We find "joy in learning, growing and gaining mastery." Focusing on training opportunities that mesh with challenging assignments shows that the company considers learning a long-term priority. When encouraged to learn, we become more curious, creative and innovative.

The bottom line: "Motivating people does not work because they are already motivated — they are always motivated." What managers must do is align employees' "want to thrive" self-interest with their jobs and organizational goals.

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"Millennials & Management: The Essential Guide to Making it Work at Work" by Lee Caraher (Bibliomotion, $25.95).

When many older managers buy into the brash, lazy-yet-entitled stereotype of Millennials, they're actually using it as an excuse to resist change. They cling to the older-generations' notion that newbies should follow the traditional corporate script that dictates paying their dues and not make waves.

Millennials, on the other hand, see themselves as confident, capable contributors who grew up viewing change as normal. They want to do things that matter. For them, work isn't a paycheck; it's a way to complete who they are. And contrary to the Me-oriented generalization, they believe in teamwork; they're social beings who make and maintain connections through texting, FaceBook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, etc. They use their connections as resources, too.

Given their level of socialization, communication is the key to managing Millennials. They "expect, and indeed crave, constant constructive (read positive) feedback loops." While many older managers say, "I don't have time to hold their hands," they should remember that coaching remains an integral part of their job.

Caraher offers advice on phrasing feedback so it comes across as positive: Start with the facts on which everyone can agree. Replace why (Blame) with how (Fix it). Replace you with we; this shows the willingness of the manager to work with the employee on the how. Replace yes, but with yes, and because the but always means no.

Millennials also want a career path. By creating a path that incorporates learning opportunities and exposure to senior management, managers can show Millennials the potential for growth in their jobs and the firm.

The bottom line: Millennials are the future of the firm. They see Point A as history and Point B as the innovative, productive, outcome-driven future. What manager wouldn't want to get to Point B?

Jim Pawlak is a nationally syndicated book reviewer.