How to Motivate the Staff

What is Motivation?

There are several ways to define motivation. Wikipedia defines motivation as “the experience of desire or aversion—you want something, or want to avoid or escape something.” Psychology Today defines motivation more simply as “the desire to act in service of a goal.” Thus, motivation has both an objective side – a goal or thing you aspire to – and an internal or subjective aspect—it is you that wants the thing (or wants it to go away).

Motivation can be extrinsic—one is inspired by forces or incentives outside oneself, such as money, praise, awards, recognition, and benefits; or, it can be intrinsic—one gets the inspiration, or the desire to improve, from within, such as for getting high on the emotions of joy, relief, achievement, sense of accomplishment, and reassurance.

Theories of Motivation

There are several theories of motivation that have been proposed over the years by psychologists and practitioners. Here are four important ones (Mark, 2019) that will let you get a handle on how to go about motivating your staff to perform better and deliver the results you are looking for at your school.

I. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

One framework to understand motivation is the one put forth by the American psychologist Abraham Maslow in his 1943 paper “A Theory of Human Motivation”. It is referred to as the “hierarchy of needs”. According to Maslow, we are motivated to better ourselves and work toward reaching our full potential—self-actualization—by progressively encountering and satisfying several levels of needs, starting from the most fundamental. It says that individuals’ most basic needs must be met before they become motivated to achieve higher-level needs. The hierarchy is made up of 5 levels:

1. Physiological needs – ones needed for survival, such as food, water, and shelter.
2. Safety needs – these include personal safety, financial security (say in the form of insurance), and health and wellbeing.
3. Love/belonging needs – these are the needs for family, friendship, and other such close relationships.
4. Esteem needs – this is the need to feel a sense of competence and accomplishment, and be respected by others.
5. Self-actualization needs – the need to become the most that you can be by realizing your full potential.

So, as per this theory, in order to motivate your staff, you should support them in other aspects of their lives outside work—offer flexible working hours to give employees time to focus on their families, generous maternity leave, and pay them well to make them feel financially secure. To help them rise to higher levels of motivation and functioning, help your staff understand the meaning of their roles during a staff retreat. This will make them realize the importance of their job to the school and to the students they are helping. By realizing the value of their roles, the staff will feel respected and motivated to work harder. Give them adequate training and development opportunities to better their knowledge and skills as teachers so that they can rise to their full potential and achieve self-actualization.

II. Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory

This theory of motivation (also known as motivation-hygiene theory) was put forth by psychologist Frederick Herzberg in the 1950s.

Based on his research, Herzberg found that two factors influenced employee motivation and satisfaction, namely:

1. Motivator factors – These are factors that lead to satisfaction and motivate employees to work harder, such as enjoyable work, recognition at work and career progression. The absence of motivator factors does not necessarily cause dissatisfaction.
2. Hygiene factors – The absence of these factors can lead to dissatisfaction and a lack of motivation. Examples include appropriate salary, company policies and benefits, relationships with co-workers and managers. The presence of hygiene factors does not increase satisfaction and motivation but merely prevents dissatisfaction.

As per this theory, to satisfy and motivate your staff, you should appreciate and support them. Give them feedback and ensure they understand how they can grow and progress in your school.

To prevent job dissatisfaction, ensure that the staff feels that they are being treated well by giving them the best possible facilities at work and adequate pay. Pay attention to your staff and be supportive in your relationships with them.

So, first, address the issues that can lead to dissatisfaction – the baseline benefits being offered by your school that satisfy the hygiene needs of your staff. Then focus on each individual to give them what they want out of their association with your school.

III. Hawthorne Effect

First described by Henry Landsberger in 1950, the Hawthorne Effect is named after studies done in the 1920s and 30s on the influence of changes in physical conditions on productivity of employees at Western Electric company in Hawthorne, Chicago. The researchers found that employees worked harder in response to the attention being paid to them, rather than the actual physical changes themselves.

So, as per the results of this study, to motivate your staff, you should provide them regular feedback, and let them know that you know how they are doing and what they are up to. Showing your staff that you care about their working conditions and them as persons may also motivate them to work harder. Encourage your staff to give you their feedback and suggestions about all issues and matters related to their work.

IV. Expectancy Theory

This theory says that people will choose their behavior depending on their expectations about the outcomes of their behavior. For instance, we might work longer hours if we expect that we will be paid more on account of that. Of course, this is also influenced by how likely we perceive those rewards to be. Thus, workers are more likely to work harder if they have been promised a pay raise if they work more (perceived as very likely) than if they merely assumed they will get one (perceived as possible but not very likely).

So, to motivate your staff, you should set them achievable goals and provide rewards that they actually want. Rewards don’t necessarily have to be in the form of pay raises or bonuses. Rewards in the form of opportunities for promotion, praise, and “employee of the month” recognition can all go a long way in motivating your staff.

Job Satisfaction

A report funded by the Manpower Administration of the U.S. Department of Labor and published in the 1970s (Quinn, et al., 1974) found that these ten factors gave the most job satisfaction to the white-collar workers surveyed (in order of importance):

1. Interesting work
2. Opportunity to develop special abilities
3. Enough information to get the job done
4. Enough authority to do the job
5. Enough help and resources to get the job done
6. Friendly and helpful co-workers
7. Opportunity to see the results of work
8. Competent supervision
9. Responsibilities clearly defined
10. Good pay.

Other factors that gave them job satisfaction were things such as:

• Good job security
• Freedom to decide how to do your work
• Getting a chance to do the thing you do best
• Enough time to get the job done
• Fewer conflicting demands made on them
• Challenging assignments
• Not assigned excessive work
• Good fringe benefits
• Pleasant physical surroundings

Looking at the above lists you can easily figure out what opportunities and challenges, financial packages, perks and benefits, and resources you need to provide to your staff to keep them highly motivated to do as good a job as they can.


To go about trying to motivate the staff, you yourself as the school leader, the principal or vice-principal, need to do a lot of self-introspection to figure out what it is that is driving and motivating you as you go about fulfilling your leadership role. As Simon Sinek put it in his TED talk “How great leaders inspire action” (, to inspire and motivate others, first you need to ask yourself “why” you do what you do—“And by “why” I don’t mean “to make a profit.” That’s a result. It’s always a result. By “why,” I mean: What’s your purpose? What’s your cause? What’s your belief? Why does your organization exist? Why do you get out of bed in the morning? And why should anyone care?”

Once you figure that out, the “why”, Simon Sinek says, “The goal is not just to hire people who need a job; it’s to hire people who believe what you believe. … if you hire people just because they can do a job, they’ll work for your money, but if they believe what you believe, they’ll work for you with blood and sweat and tears. … And it’s those who start with “why” who have the ability to inspire those around them.”

Call to Action

Butterfly Fields has been working closely with the teachers of over a hundred schools across India. So, we know what makes them tick. Contact us to share that knowledge and enlighten you further on how you can go about motivating your staff based on our own experience of running an award-winning and successful company that Butterfly Fields has evolved into.


Mark, 2019. 5 Psychological Theories of Motivation to Increase Productivity. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 28 Nov 2019].
Quinn, R., Staines, G. & McCollough, M., 1974. Job satisfaction: Is there a trend? Manpower Monograph No. 30. 1st ed. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Labor.

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