Is motivation as simple as a cuppa?

Updated: Dec 19, 2020

I was walking my dogs the other day, and on the way passed a man who was high up in a tree with only a harness holding him in place. At first I thought he was doing a bit of exercise, but quickly realized that he was there to do a job, which was to cut down the tree. I said hello, wished him well, and went on my usual dog walk. To my surprise, when I passed him again an hour later I found the man firmly on the ground, and the tree completely chopped down.  


I said to him that I was surprised at how quickly he had completed the task, as in the past I’d seen it take hours to cut down such a large tree.  

With a smile on his face he replied to me “I was motivated by a cuppa, as I knew I would have a nice one when I finished the job.” I walked away thinking, is motivation as simple as this, is it as simple as a cuppa?

So when I got home I decided to ask my son this question, what is your ‘cuppa’ when it comes to motivation? As a normal teenager, he was firmly connected to his iPad playing the latest computer game.


When I was finally able to get his attention and pry him away from the screen, I asked him, what motivates you to try so hard to do well with your computer games?  e said it was a few things, the first being satisfaction, knowing and feeling that he had done well. The second was the achievement of different levels, for the better you do in the game the higher the level and the more items you get (e.g. swords, gold, etc.).


I then decided to get two more perspectives, increasing my sample size, so asked the question to my dogs, Poppy and Java. I asked them, what motivates you to listen to my commands when we are walking in the fields?


Poppy barked back that to her it was simple, it was the anticipation of a treat, which in her case is not a cuppa but a doggie biscuit. But for Java it was different, for him it was all about pleasing me and feeling appreciated for being a well-behaved dog.

So what do these examples say about motivation, and what do they teach us about how best to motivate our employees at our companies?


The first observation is that there are some employees like the tree surgeon and my dog Poppy who are purely driven by one basic thing, whether that is a cuppa or a doggie biscuit. For them, we need to understand exactly what motivates them, giving them that warm feeling through the most appropriate ‘cuppa’. Is it something tangible, like a treat, or could it be as simple as a thank you or some kind of recognition programme?


For others, like my son and Java, they actually have two different motivators, an extrinsic one (e.g. recognition to the outside world for their contributions and achievements) and an intrinsic one (e.g. pride in what they do and achieve). Because of this we have two key factors that we need to understand and address.


The first is similar to the first group, which is to understand exactly what meets their extrinsic motivation, so gives them their ‘cuppa’. The second addresses the intrinsic motivation, which can be a bit trickier as it’s less about how you recognise them and more about the opportunity and support you give them to perform and thus achieve their intrinsic motivation. It’s important to consider this not just when creating motivation and recognition programmes but also when designing jobs.


So no matter the size of your company or the industry you are in, motivating your employees is key to the success of your business.  Just like having an ROI (return on investment) of your HR programs, our employees are looking for their ROI, which for them would be their ROI (return on effort).  


Our job in HR is to understand whether it is a cuppa, a doggie treat, a new sword for their computer game, or a variety of other tools we have available to us. So go out and find what’s best for your business and your employees and . . . have yourself a cuppa once you’ve sorted it all out!

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