It might seem obvious: when people have experiences that allow them to meet their fundamental needs, such as being authentic or belonging, their work motivation increases.

Except that it’s not so obvious. Vicky is one of several leaders I’m currently coaching whose time is consumed by managing difficult relationships. Energy is drained by constantly shepherding people who are wrong fit, poorly performing, overly competitive…..

They’re down in the weeds. They’re running damage control. They go home exhausted. Because their organisation’s top leaders just don’t get that what’s at the heart of engagement and performance is so fundamentally affected by emotional experience.

By far the biggest impact on positive (or negative of course) experiences is relationships. It’s the quality of the interactions we have day-to-day that ultimately undermines or sustains engagement. When people have experiences that confirm their needs they feel positive and optimistic. This in turn creates a surge of energy. When people feel energised, they are motivated to work more, better, faster….

This has recently been confirmed in research by Green, Finkel, Fitzsimons & Gino. 

Day to day interactions with others either vitalise or drain energy. When interactions are positive and allow authentic self-expression, they create a surge of energy. Positive relationships are the fuel for high levels of motivation and engagement.

What are your tips for supporting positive emotional experiences at work? My Lead Like a Coach program is designed to help leaders create positive relationships; find out more here.

How to make positive relationships really pay off in teams.

One way that we can increase positive relationships is by working on the team.  Leaving aside poor performers and people with bad attitudes for now (and I KNOW that can be hard to do!) recent research on team-building exercises by Australian researchers Julien Pollack and Petr Matous provides some good advice on how to improve work relationships.

They are critical of the team building events that end up with everyone feeling bored or disgruntled.

To get on well, team members need to talk regularly and be comfortable to raise the harder stuff with each other.  There needs to be plenty of psychological safety for this to happen.

In their research they asked:

‘How often/comfortable are you talking to each member of your team?’

Then engaged team members in ‘targeted self-disclosure activities’.  They shared personal information about themselves, in a structured, safe way. (Not too much, not too little, just right…)

As people get to know each other better through disclosure, they communicate more about work, and that has benefits to the team.

How might you increase disclosure with your team (in a safe way)?

Feeling authentic is now more important than ever

Fulfilling environments let people express themselves freely and feel authentic: I show up as I am and am accepted.

Old motivation theories work from the principle that the needs we have motivate us to work in order to fulfil them.

In their research mentioned above, Green et al turned this around. They identified that positive experiences at work FUEL motivation.  Organisational practices that go beyond providing safety and security also fulfil needs for self-expression and authenticity. They have particularly powerful motivational potential.

These are the same expectations that underpin inclusive cultures. When people feel that they can be themselves and be authentic, they feel like they are appreciated for their uniqueness: they belong.

While the research didn’t address inclusion – I’d love to see this added to the mix. It seems just the right fit. Leading from a frame of authenticity promotes inclusion.

Three critical features of work engagement:

  • It is a positive emotional experience
  • It is an energy force
  • Relational interactions are a primary source of emotional energy

People pursue greater purpose and do great work. What could you do more of to encourage greater authenticity at work?

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