If you wish to contribute or participate in the discussions about articles you are invited to join SKYbrary as a registered user



From SKYbrary Wiki

Article Information
Category: Human Behaviour Human Behaviour
Content source: SKYbrary About SKYbrary
Ambox content.png
The present article is under construction.
Reader enquiries are welcome, contact the editor: editor@skybrary.aero.
Ambox content.png


Motivation can be described in several ways, including the following two:

  • the reason, or reasons, one has for acting or behaving in a particular way – these reasons could also be called motivations, or motivating factors or triggers, and
  • the general desire or willingness of someone to do something – this definition is probably connected more closely with an attitude (positive or negative) than any specific “motive”.

Other words that can often be used in the same context as motivation, or motive, include: incentive, stimulus and impulse.

Motivation is goal orientated; sometimes “towards” the specific object of our goal, and sometimes, less specifically, just generally “away” from our current situation. At a basic human level we may be motivated by hunger to go and make a sandwich, or by coldness to put on a jumper. Both of these actions are specifically goal orientated. However, if we were in an uncomfortable situation, e.g. a noisy environment, or we felt under-confident within a group, then we may just be happy to be anywhere else – it wouldn’t really matter. At the basic level these two different scenarios can be compared with the “Carrot and the Stick” respectively; we move towards things we like and away from things we don’t.

Aviation and Motivation

Within the aviation environment, motivation can be considered as an on-going process that includes:

  • initiating, or activating, motivation – how we get started (often achieved by imagining a successful end result).
  • guiding motivation – how we use feedback to measure our progress and ensure we are travelling in the right direction.
  • persisting motivation – how we overcome obstacles and cope with setbacks (re-setting the end goals if necessary).

Each of these motivation processes can be modulated by “intensity”. Intensity determines how much energy and urgency we put into achieving our goal, and how many obstacles we are prepared to overcome. Intensity is governed by our evaluation of importance – how important do we consider the task to be. It is this last point that organisations and managers (motivators) need to consider when motivating a workforce – persuading employees of the importance of a goal.

In determining the importance of motivation in aviation we need to ask the questions:

  • what goals are we trying to achieve, and
  • how do we want employees to achieve these goals – i.e. in what manner.

The first goal above can be considered as something specific that can be measured when achieved, and the second is less well-defined, but can be “observed” i.e. we can “see” if someone is working professionally, or safely, with discipline and focus, care and attention.

Clearly the range of goals is broad, from the simple - fitting a component in accordance with the instructions, to the complex - completing a shift in air traffic control without endangering any aircraft. So, for the purposes of this Article, and purely as an example, it may be useful to consider the following two goals, one specific and the other more general:

  • all employees following standard operating procedures (safety rules, task instructions, job-cards etc), and
  • all employees communicating, behaving and working safely.

In other words, what motivates employees to:follow or break the rules, and work safely?

Leadership & Motivation

How to achieve these goals of employees following standard operating procedures and working safely (all the time) is down to leadership, resourcing and trust; in other words it is a culture-based concept, and like culture motivation can be built on structure within an organisation, from policies through controlling the workplace environment to practices.

Using a “stick” as motivation will see employees find a variety of solutions to avoid punishment i.e. there is no control over the outcome; something common to organisations with negative safety and organisational cultures.

Whereas using a “carrot, or carrots” as motivation can be connected to specific outcomes and therefore control of the result is much easier; something common to positive safety and organisational cultures, backed up by a just culture.

The question is what carrots are most effective? The most frequently cited and strongest rewards that people find motivating in the workplace[1] include:

  • a sense of achievement
  • recognition from colleagues for good work
  • enjoying aspects of the job in itself
  • a sense of responsibility
  • a sense of career advancement, and
  • a feeling of personal growth.

This list is completely detached from financial rewards; people will sometimes work relentlessly hard regardless of financial reward (because it is satisfying and the right thing to do). In fact financial rewards, in the form of bonuses, eventually act as de-motivators as they lose their value and create jealousy amongst colleagues[1].

How are aviation organisations and workplaces structured to facilitate the above carrots? Whenever meetings of senior managers are convened to wave a stick, then maybe not at all. Organisations can learn to facilitate managers to motivate by considering the following:

  • wherever possible (i.e. safe) give employees the freedom to do the job their way – this requires clear goals, boundaries and standards to be agreed
  • the above statement will give employees more responsibility and ownership over their work
  • provide feedback to employees so that they have a concept of what is good performance – this will instil pride
  • provide perspective to employees so they can understand their role and contribution within the greater organisation and operation, i.e. what difference they are making.

Harvard psychologist Richard White has invented a word to sum this up, he calls it Effectance[2].

The above motivating measures do not refer to either carrot or stick, instead they are about creating a supporting environment, which needs to include resources and training.

The Motivated Individual

Provided the organisation facilitates positive motivation in its workforce by providing the right structure and environment, then individual employees are more likely to contribute, cooperate, perform and achieve: and enjoy their work.

Some professionals are more likely to be self-motivated, irrespective of the company they work for and regardless of the task. This can be through professional pride connected to a certainty of career progression, and to some extent job security.

Other workers, i.e. temporary and unskilled workers may require more creative motivation techniques from leaders; however, job satisfaction, recognition and responsibility are still key factors. For this group, low reward, few career prospects, and lack of job security can all have a negative impact on individual motivation.

Employees will occasionally omit to follow standard operating procedures, this can be for a variety of reasons:

  • confusion (especially poorly written procedures)
  • ambiguous instructions
  • lack of clarity with goals
  • lack of knowledge
  • under-resourcing (equipment, manpower, time)
  • conflicting interests (commercial, safety and personal)
  • disinterest
  • etc.

It is important that an organisation’s Safety Management System is capable of investigating each case and developing strategies that reduce future risk, including motivating tactics to encourage adherence to procedures and professional working practices.

Work nowadays can demand more from employees than ever before, and yet in many societies work plays a less important role in an individual’s life (in terms of satisfaction)[3]. Therefore organisations will more likely motivate employees when they can blend employees’ personal goals with work and organisational goals.

Finally, everyone can become demotivated through routine and excessive demands. Therefore, opportunities for rest and recuperation need to be offered and used. In addition to re-charging our batteries, change and variety at work can be used to motivate.

Related Articles


  1. ^ a b Persaud. Dr. R. 2005. The Motivated Mind. London. Bantam Press.
  2. ^ Haidt. J. 2006. The happiness Hypothesis: putting ancient wisdom and philosophy to the test of modern science. London. Arrow Books., Random House.
  3. ^ Gostick. A. & Elton. C. 2007. The Carrot Principle: how the best managers use recognition to engage their people, retain talent, and accelerate performance. New York. Free Press.

Categories: Human Behaviour