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How To Achieve Motivational Balance In Your Career

Written by:Jonas Lang, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 

After people have passed the initial career hurdles and are into a stable and comfortably paying job for a couple of years, it is common for them to start reflecting on where they are. Is this position fulfilling for me? Does it motivate me to get out of bed each morning for the next years? Can I sustain my energy or do I slowly burn out in what could feel like an endless repeating cycle of similar tasks? One concept that can help you to stay energized is the concept of motivational balance.

What is motivational balance?


In a nutshell, motivational balance describes a fit between your explicit motivation (what you believe you should do or achieve and desire) and your implicit motivation (what you really deep down want and desire).In practice, this means that the conscious and the implicit elements of motivation are in a desirable configuration which typically means that either both are either present or absent. Motivational balance can be achieved for different types of motivation.


For example, one important motive is the motive of having influence or power. Some people consciously believe they should and need influence. In contrast, others have an implicit desire to have influence and be involved in key decisions. Problems can occur when a person believes he or she is power motivated but when they finally attain a position they do not have the actual energy to carry out the behavior because they lack an implicit desire and motive for it because they do not really enjoy influencing people. Likewise, it can also be problematic if a person has a high power motive and is not fully aware of it. The person may fail to ever attain a position of power but feel frustrated by the lack of influence. Being low on both types (explicit and implicit) power motivation is not necessarily a bad thing because the person can then be motivated by something else like, for example, a correspondence between explicit and implicit achievement motivation (a desire to work on a challenging task and to improve one's ability).


How can you identify motivational imbalance?


The first step is likely to measure motivation and become aware of the misfit. This can be achieved using psychological measures and an expert psychologist. However, you do not always need one. Another strategy can be to look at the life history or employment history of a person.


For example, a person with low explicit power motivation and high implicit power motivation may describe feelings of anger about decisions higher up the hierarchy. The employee may feel a deep desire to have influence without being fully aware of it. However, you can of course identify such anger in yourself and reflect on it. Likewise, people frequently may get into leadership roles but may feel that making wide-ranging decisions about others is not what really fulfills them. As another example from another domain: A person with high implicit achievement motivation but a lack of awareness of it may end up in a job that is not really challenging and then resort to resort to all types of challenging hobbies like video games, difficult puzzles or maybe a sport they play outside of work to get back a feeling of being challenged.


How can you achieve motivational balance?


After pinpointing potential reasons for lack of energy at work or felt discomfort, one possible step is to think about ways to change or reinterpret the current job. For example, the employee can learn to identify situations that can satisfy their natural desire to have influence or to work on challenging tasks and be successful and also learn to explicitly ask for these types of assignments or tasks. Especially in team settings, there are frequently many possibilities to distribute work and being aware of the tasks that provide fulfillment is thus an important asset.


Another strategy is of course to change the position within the organization or even leave the organization. These types of transformational decisions are typically a last resort after reinterpreting the current job or career does not work. Also in these types of transitions, motivational balance can be a helpful concept that can help one to understand why a particular task may not feel fulfilling. People who do not feel fulfilled by their job frequently go through an identity crisis when they realize that the career they choose is not what really does fulfill them and need to figure out for themselves why this is the case. Realizing that a fundamental misfit between the types of tasks that one experiences as fulfilling and the types of tasks that initially thought would be fulfilling can of course be difficult but at the same time also provides a clear basis for searching for something that is more fulfilling.


How can business organizations help their employees to achieve motivational balance?


Organizations can actively help employees to become aware of their motivational profile by offering assessment, training, and coaching that takes the full range of motivation into account. Another strategy is to generally develop certain flexibility when it comes to the distribution of work tasks, and to encourage employees to figure out what type of tasks they like doing by just trying them. It is common that employees get certain labels or roles like "the organizer", "the technical person", "the social butterfly", etc. and then only get tasks within this role. Many times these role descriptions may correspond to the employees explicit motivational profile but not necessarily to the employees implicit one. By encouraging flexibility and trying out other roles it is possible to help employees in achieving motivational balance and give them the freedom to do so.


So is motivation all it takes to succeed?


Unfortunately, the answer is no. Motivation and in particular motivational balance can certainly help to build the skills to succeed so in a way motivation can also drive the development of skills. Hugo Kehr has developed a theory in which he extends the motivational balance concept and suggests that balance between implicit motivation, explicit motivation, and perceived skills leads employees to become totally absorbed into a task ‒ a state that also sometimes is described as flow motivation. So in this perspective, the perception of having the skills improves the experience.


Nonetheless, it is important to be aware that motivation has its boundaries. Certain cognitive skills can be improved through training but only up to a certain degree. Not everybody has the innate ability to be the next Albert Einstein. Likewise, certain motor skills required to be an elite athlete cannot really be learned. This being said, many people potentially underestimate how much motivation can actually do for them. You may not become the next Einstein but you can probably become very successful just from figuring out how to best use your motivational energy through motivational balance.


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Jonas Lang, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Jonas is a work and organizational psychologist and has from early on in his career developed keen interest in accurately measuring what nobody can see ‒ psychological and organizational characteristics like engagement, motivation, skills, or abilities. He has published more than 60 papers in leading academic journals including many articles on psychological and organizational measurement. Jonas has also worked as an Associate Editor for the American Psychological Association's Journal of Applied Psychology. He has also won the Jeanneret Award for Excellence in the Study of Individual or Group Assessment from the Society of Industrial and Organizational Psychology. Jonas is a work and organizational psychologist and has from early on in his career developed keen interest in accurately measuring what nobody can see ‒ psychological and organizational characteristics like engagement, motivation, skills, or abilities. He has published more than 60 papers in leading academic journals including many articles on psychological and organizational measurement. Jonas has also worked as an Associate Editor for the American Psychological Association's Journal of Applied Psychology. He has also won the Jeanneret Award for Excellence in the Study of Individual or Group Assessment from the Society of Industrial and Organizational Psychology.

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