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Updated: Feb 1, 2021

Welcome to our first eZine for 2021!

Let’s get straight into some interesting research. Recently, Harvard recently conducted an interview with over 600 CEOs with the single most important question being:

“What is keeping you awake at night during this pandemic? “

The overwhelming response was the concern how to keep employees motivated during the worst global pandemic in 100 years, as every facet in life came crashing down on them.

Cost cutting at work, disruption with domestic schedules, social distancing and the overall uncertainty had a direct impact on employees’ work productivity, health, and the ability to stay optimistic.

Now more than ever it is vital for teams to be motivated by their management and to find meaning at work. People are generally guided by four basic emotional needs which in turn drives motivation. It is referred to as the ABCD of human motivation:

Acquire: Self-explanatory in terms of assets, but even intangibles such as social status.

Bond: The ability to form connections with groups or other people

Comprehend: The need to satisfy curiosity and to understand the world around us.

Defend: The ability to protect against external threats and to promote justice

A person’s job needs to address all the above to keep them motivated, but it is important to note that balance is required between two pairs of emotional needs.

Acquire and bond are on opposite sides of the spectrum, in that the one drives competition whilst the second one speaks to co-operation. Management needs to balance these two by providing the employee with both personal rewards as well as team accomplishments.

It has been proven that without management oversight, employee relationships can quickly either become “dog-eat-dog” overcompetitive, or totally collusive thru bonding. Either of these scenarios will damage the company’s performance.

Looking at the other pair of emotional needs, are Comprehend and the need to Defend. They are also on opposite sides of the spectrum in that comprehension requires a willingness to be open for learning and exploring new opportunities whilst Defend is much more closed in terms of protecting territory, assets or status.

Once again, without management carefully balancing these two opposites, either one of two possibilities can play out. An employee can become intoxicated with experimentation and R & D, without any business strategy whatsoever. Alternatively, they can become territorial and resistant to change or new information.

The trick is to balance these two emotional needs by management allocating resources and rewards for new learning activities or certifications, whilst rewarding traditional performance.

The question thus begs how COVID-19 has intensified or complicated the four main emotional needs. It is worth examining the following:

· When people work remotely, implicit ways of gathering information and reassurance is lost. Leaders need to over communicate and reinforce expectations.

· Comprehension and Defensive emotional drives have intensified owing to the pandemic.

· Remote work and cost cutting have made it more challenging to meet Acquisition and Bonding needs, thru the traditional means such as pay raises and team outings.

As can be seen from the graphic above, the four main emotional drivers are represented in this ecosystem. There are several best practises that leaders can implement to strengthen each of these.

How to improve the need to Acquire:

· Management can sharply differentiate between good vs average/poor performance.

· Rewards must be directly linked to performance.

· Remunerate as well or better than your competitors.

· Team members should receive recognition or rewards where earned.

· Management needs to demand high performance.

· Performance should be evaluated by clear expectations.

Celebrate even the smallest wins in an organisation and remember that even small tokens of appreciation go a long way with an employee. Gift vouchers, fruit baskets or even time off are great motivational drivers.

How to improve the need for Bonding:

· Best practice sharing should be encouraged amongst employees.

· Teamwork and collaboration should be valued and encouraged.

· Friends and mutual reliance between colleagues should be fostered.

Digital fatigue in the form of Teams, Skype or Zoom is very much a real thing. Consider using remote telecoms for non-work-related activities to foster morale. Remote working has also provided opportunities for mentorship, assignment rotations and cross-team collaboration more than ever before.

How to improve the need to Comprehend:

· Ensure the employee understand their role and value within the organisation.

· Provide opportunities for the employee to skill up or to acquire new education.

· Empower team members & provide challenging assignments.

Companies that can address this need satisfactory will benefit from a highly motivated work force in return. A huge amount of content is readily available owing to experts, educators and institutions going online during the pandemic.

How to improve the need to Defend:

In human beings, the need to Defend is primal and normally combined with a sense of justice or fairness. Psychologists refer to this as the “fight or flight” principle. People need to know that they have fairly acquired their job and that it will not be unfairly taken away.

In a company, this is normally managed by HR processes such as performance management.

Management however can meet this emotional need by:

· Encouraging employees to speak up in the organisation.

· Treating their employees fairly regardless of rank

· Creating a work environment where people feel psychologilly safe.

Once again, it cannot be overstressed how important communication is during this time.

Leaders and management need to normalise the need to ask for help and to offer help pro-actively before it is asked for.

Until next time, stay safe out there and thank you for your continued loyal support!

Warm Regards

Johan de Villiers


First Technology Western Cape

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