Self Determination Theory Blog Post SDT

Self-Determination Theory - Performance and Well Being

Apr 07, 2021Editorial Team

Here at Totem, we say they can!

Live to work or work to live?

We know, we know, sometimes it really does feel like a never ending battle between weekdays and weekends. Personal life vs. career. It can be hard to strike that balance.

Even more so if you’re a manager or an employer, juggling your own work life balance with keeping your team engaged and satisfied at work.

The solution is simple, well being isn’t just reserved for our down time - we need to find well being in all aspects of life, including at work.

Here at Totem, we’re all about bringing out the best in people - helping them shine, whether that’s at home or at work. That’s why, in this post, we want to give you some insight into Self Determination Theory (SDT). What it is, what it does, what it can do for you

Let’s dive into Self Determination Theory.

In a nutshell, Self Determination Theory is all about our motivation and personality regarding our innate psychological needs, our reasoning for making choices when you take away external factors and influences. How much of our behavior is self motivated and therefore self determined?

Intrinsic Motivation

Self Determination Theory and Intrinsic Motivation go hand in hand, the two concepts are closely linked. Intrinsic Motivation means doing something just because you feel like it, pure and simple, doing something because it gives you satisfaction and enjoyment

Intrinsic motivation can come from doing the “best bits” of your job. Take Jade for example, our CEO here at Totem, Jade thrives on delivering our fun and positive team building sessions and always returns to the office with a renewed energy and passion for his work.

Extrinsic Motivation

This leads us to extrinsic motivation, on the other end of the scale, which equates to doing something because of an external force

Back to the workplace, think about how well someone will do a task if they are only motivated by extrinsic or external factors

  • “I need to do this because my boss told me to.”
  • “I’m only doing this because I’m getting paid to do it.” 
  • “If I do this, I’ll get to go home afterwards”.

In other words, clockwatching and counting down the minutes until finishing time! 

The goal is to make extrinsic motivation more autonomous or self determined by regulating it through identification, attaching meaning to the action.

Consider the above statements again, and how they can be regulated through identification

  • “I need to do this because my boss told me to.” 

In this scenario, a manager or employer should take the time to explain why something must be done and why it is important to them.

  •  “I’m only doing this because I’m getting paid to do it.” 

It’s a fact of life that everyone needs money, but what do you need that money for? What does it mean to you? 

  • “If I do this, I’ll get to go home afterwards”.

There’s nothing wrong with being motivated by working smarter, harder, more efficiently in order to get home on time to your loved ones or head out to spend some time with your friends. The aim here isn’t to cut corners, it’s to manage your workload more effectively and develop your skills so you can maximize your free time. 

So, you see that simply by attaching personal significance and meaning to an action, you can adjust your mindset, see things in a different light, making the shift from extrinsic motivation to identified motivation, which should weigh less heavily on your shoulders. Note that, to achieve this in the workplace, the responsibility lies with both the manager and the team member. 

Identified motivation is more like doing something because you know it’s the right thing to do, and it’ll pay off in the long run. Take parenting for instance, everyone loves the fun parts, throwing birthday parties, Christmas morning, football trophies and school certificates… However everyone knows this isn’t what parenting is all about, it’s the sleepless nights, potty training, trips to the dentist, it’s hard work, but we recognize its value in the bigger picture. 

The Self Determination Theory (SDT) Infographic

Same goes for the athlete sticking to the gruelling meal plan for the end goal.

It has to be done to get to the good stuff. What’s more, it has personal significance in your life and most importantly it means something to you. Motivation is a complex thing. People can be motivated by a number of factors. This personal significance gives us the energy to go that extra mile

Take exercise for example. 

You’re an athlete - about to face a challenging workout: 

  • Are you doing it because your coach, your manager, said you had to do it? 
  • Are you doing it because you’re getting paid to do it and you’re just trying to get to that next paycheck
  • Are you doing it because your teammates are doing it too? 
  • Or, are you doing it for YOU? 

Consider it on a personal level, you’re about to go out and smash your target for your 10k. 

Why are you doing it? 

  • Did your Doctor, friend, spouse, tell you that you need to get fit and take better care of your health? 
  • Have you entered a competition, where you’ll soon be put to the test? 
  • Are your friends or colleagues on a health kick too? 
  • Or you simply want to clear your mind and get your blood pumping? 

See, we told you motivation is complex. 

The key message here is that when it comes to motivation at work, money isn’t everything.

While we’re the first to admit that everyone likes getting a raise, you can’t deny that it’s just a temporary boost. A bigger paycheck won’t solve underlying issues in the workplace. 

Anyone who has ever accepted a counter-offer from their existing employer whilst in the process of trying to resign for a new job can tell you first hand. They soon find themselves back on the job market when more money didn’t magically solve the fundamental issues at play.

Data from Gartner (formerly CEB) shows that 50% of employees who accept a counteroffer leave within 12 months.

“It’s almost like when you’re in a relationship and you’ve decided you want to break up, but your partner does something that makes you stick around a little longer...Employees who accept a counteroffer are most likely going to quit at some point very soon.” 

Brian Kropp, Group Vice President and Chief of HR Research at Gartner.

As we mentioned earlier, motivation is not black and white, like all the best things in life. 

We are only human, of course some of us are motivated by societal factors, things like salary, social proof, social status. And it’s okay to be motivated by these factors! As long as they’re not the main thing getting you out of bed in the mornings. 

Performance and well being levels will increase with the addition of just one simple thing:

What we’re looking for is autonomous motivation, a.k.a. being motivated for the right reasons.

Autonomous motivation is proven to support performance and well being at work.

As long as autonomous motivation is present in some form, whether that’s 30%, 50%, 70% of the time or more, you will see an improvement in levels of performance and well being. 

Staff turnover provides a stark indicator into how your workplace measures up when it comes to autonomous motivation. Don’t let it get to this stage, talk to us at Totem about getting your team members to feel engaged and fulfilled, with a sense of connection and belonging.

So, how to achieve this in YOUR workplace?

There are 3 universal basic needs that must be fulfilled in order for someone to be motivated by autonomous motivation. These 3 basic needs motivate us to act and are essential for our well being, so we can learn, grow and function optimally.

First up, affiliation - the innate desire to be part of a team and belong somewhere. It’s only natural to want to “find your tribe” and believe that we are all linked, to seek human connection, form relationships and bond

This is where team building and relationship building tools can really make a huge difference, as well as bringing in coaches, facilitators or experts in HR. Things like being on first name terms with your co-workers, making sure new team members get a proper welcome, team building days or company retreats. Giving employees the opportunity to work with different teams in different locations, anything to help strengthen the bonds between team members and increase the sense of belonging

In fact, as workplaces shift from promotion based career progression to growth based career progression, people are working together more than ever before. This means that our roles at work are overlapping and becoming more collaborative as our skill sets become more diverse. Data shows that people are driven by developing their career more generally and improving their overall employability rather than simply striving to get that next promotion or pay rise with their current employer on repeat. As a result, employees are becoming ever more valuable and are not easily replaced. The costs involved in replacing employees continue to rise, advertising, interviewing, training, etc. and the job market becomes increasingly competitive. 

Our next basic need is for competence - if I invest energy and take action, is the result in line with what I wanted to achieve? We can experience competence by doing what comes easily and naturally to us. Asking ourselves, what am I good at? This is why it’s in our interest to discover our personal areas of genius, our natural strengths. Team building games and activities are ideal for helping team members discover what qualities their team members most appreciate in them. Sometimes people need a little nudge to help them realise what they’re good at. The realisation that our colleagues recognise and value our work not only generates a real sense of belonging and connection but employees are engaged and enthused by their projects

The third and final and arguably most important basic need is for autonomy - this means taking action independently and by yourself, having an impulse and being able to act on it. What’s more, it means your actions should be aligned with your values, that you’re taking action in the direction of your own value system. Taking action not in line with our core values wouldn’t satisfy our need for autonomy. We need to be able to follow our impulses to use our natural strength(s), to be more of *that*, whatever our personal area of genius is. The aim of the game is to “be yourself to the maximum” at home and at work. 

If you are a coach, consultant, facilitator or work in HR, keep these 3 basic needs in mind at all times, above all when designing activities and sessions for your clients. 

Did you know? 

Employee engagement is now such a hot topic that entire companies are built around it. Claro Analytics (formerly Joberate) helps companies anticipate which employees may be thinking of leaving, they use data to hone in on departments with high “likely to leave” ratings, so they can get to work on team building and overall employee engagement, often bringing in external experts. Claro Founder and CEO, Michael Beygelman, compares this date science to the way in which credit scoring allows us to predict who will and who repay debts and loans.

Everything we do here at Totem has been designed to work on these 3 basic needs.... from our “Feel Good” card game suitable for all ages to our team building delivered to companies large and small.

It’s true what they say you know, Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life”. By honing in on our natural qualities and areas of genius, above all with a strengths-based leadership approach, performance and well being really can live in harmony for optimal functioning at work.

And so, it’s time to ask yourself are YOU living for the weekend, and most importantly - what are you going to do about it?

More articles