What NHS nurses can teach us about intrinsic motivation

August 2, 2017

What NHS nurses can teach us about intrinsic motivation

Recently, we talked about the impact of public sector pay caps on retention for NHS nurses. But while we found that the NHS has a serious recruitment and retention problem right now, we also discovered something else. We saw how passionate and motivated our next generation of nurses are – because they are more interested in saving lives than they are in earning money.

I was speaking about this topic with Simon Kilpatrick recently – a business psychologist from Intrinsic Links. And he told me that it can teach the private sector some very important lessons in terms of motivating their own staff.

NHS nurses are intrinsically motivated

First, I asked Simon why all student nurses I’d spoken to seemed so full of motivation, and so ready to take on such a challenging career path.

This kind of pure determination is far more common within areas like the NHS frontline” explains Simon, “because these are the kinds of careers that attract people who are deeply and intrinsically motivated to do something meaningful – like save the lives of others.

You might remember one of my previous interviews with Simon, where he explained how intrinsic motivation comes from within, while extrinsic motivation comes from external factors like salary and perks. In that earlier interview, Simon told me how intrinsic motivation gives people a deep sense of satisfaction when they complete a job well for its own sake. And so I asked how we might learn a lesson from NHS nurses, to help our own employees feel more pride in their own work.

Develop a culture around the bigger values you are providing your end users

It doesn’t matter what job role a person does” says Simon. “If you can help somebody connect what they are doing with a worthy overall mission, then they will feel a bigger sense of purpose – and in theory, intrinsic motivation levels should increase.

Simon explained that this can be difficult – especially in companies where the value you are providing is not always obvious. Take Gripple, for example. Gripple manufactures tiny products that are a small but significant part of many projects.

Gripple – the understated success story

To the untrained eye, Gripple’s product might seem quite understated. It is certainly not the first thing you notice when you walk into a room. And unless a small Gripple fixture is physically pointed out to you, you may never know it is there, or that it even exists.

But employees at Gripple all understand that their company’s value goes far beyond the routine production of tiny metal components. Speak to any employee at Gripple, and you’ll hear enthusiastic stories of how it is Gripple that helps vinyards to produce excellent wines – or how it is Gripple that helps to illuminate the dazzling Atlantis Hotel in Dubai.

Employees at Gripple, no matter what their level, seem intrinsically motivated to help their product succeed. And it seems that much of this is due to their culture being aligned with the stories and experiences their products help create.

Avoid silos by opening up communication and sharing your company’s vision

So how can we create this wonderful, strong culture? One that revolves around the stories and experiences our company is enabling? Simon says that it starts with good managers, who are confident in their communication.

The first step is enabling good communication channels” he explains. “When staff can communicate, they can share stories, visions, ideas and experiences. So you must have an open door policy – one where employees feel comfortable talking to their management team, without fear of retribution. Managers should also make a conscious effort to share with employees the wider impact their company has on the world! Think about what your product or service contributes to the economy, or to society. This will boost employee buy-in, and give their roles more purpose.

By doing this, Simon explains that you can also avoid organisational silos – which can be very damaging.

People can become ‘silo’d’ within their remit” he tells me. “They become detatched from the rest of the company, operating in their own little bubble. Their bubble could include just themselves, or maybe their own team. But you must break these bubbles, and encourage people to see the overall value they are contributing to the world – this is how you inject intrinsic motivation at all levels of your business.

About Simon Kilpatrick

Simon is a business psychologist, and founder of Intrinsic Links. He is also a lecturer of psychology at Leeds Beckett University. His company helps to teach positive psychology and management techniques that build great teams and top performers. You can visit Simon’s website here: www.intrinsiclinks.com

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