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Motivation at Work - What Makes Employees Go the “Extra Mile”?

The likely business benefits of a motivated workforce are familiar to most business students (why is it that almost every exam answer involving employees gravitates to motivation?).

But what is it that encourages or motivates workers to go beyond the confines of their role and job description? What factors make staff go the “extra mile”? A recent survey of over 3,000 employees provides some excellent evidence for students.

What is “going the extra mile”?  In short, it is where employees do more than what is expected of them. That might mean:

Giving more attention than usual to customer needs

Finding and communication ways of working more effectively or improving quality

Taking accountability or responsibility

Having these kind of “engaged employees” is potentially a source of competitive advantage and can also be invaluable when a business is going through a process of change (e.g. restructuring or downsizing).

By definition, motivating factors (“motivators”) vary from firm to firm and across different industries. Employees in service businesses have different (perhaps more) opportunities to attend to customer needs than those operating in the primary or secondary sectors. The organisational structures and cultures of businesses also vary widely.

The results of the survey found three questions that had the greatest impact on whether employees will go the extra mile:

I understand what is expected of me in my job (93% of extra milers agreed with this)

I believe that the company is well led (83%)

I feel free to communicate upwards through the company (74%)

So, a clear understanding and appreciation of job role comes out as the most important factor in prompting employees to go the extra mile.

Understanding job role isn’t simply about being aware of the day-to-day activities and responsibilities. It is about employees understanding how they can contribute to the goals of the business, a clear understanding of what is expected of them, and also how they can share in the success of the business if their help achieve those goals.

The role of business leadership is also identified as a strong motivator, which is pretty unsurprising but still important. Good leadership instills a sense of mission & purpose in employees. An employee is unlikely to go the extra mile for a boss who they don’t trust or respect.

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