By Brian Weberg
State legislatures across the country are ramping up for the 2013 session with a focus on preparing new members, new committee chairs and new leaders for another challenging year of debate and policy making. New member orientations, briefings and trainings are taking place in just about every capitol. Operating largely below the radar in each legislature is a cadre of legislative staff--hard-working public servants who make it their business to ensure that the new year gets off to a great start.
Most of us at NCSL work closely with state legislative staff, and we have a special and privileged view into their work and workplaces. We witness their high level of competence, skill, knowledge, education and experience. We are also inspired by their remarkable level of engagement, dedication and loyalty to their work and to the legislative institution. And we know that for many, if not most legislative staff, salary increases and promotions that slowed down or stopped four or five years ago have been slow to return. Yet legislative staff seem to carry on, bringing their talent and passion to each new legislative session.
How do they do this? Or, perhaps, the more appropriate question is why? How do high-functioning professionals like legislative staff find motivation in an era of stagnant pay and benefits?
Dan Pink offers some clues in his book Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us. Pink says that research shows that for jobs similar to those held by legislative staff, money only gets you part of the way there. The three keys to motivating and engaging employees, according to Pink, are what he calls Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. Now, he also adds a caution that money remains important as a motivator, but only up to a point. People need to feel fairly compensated, but beyond that threshold, money's impact on motivation brings declining returns. Beyond the fair pay threshold, employees respond more to the intrinsic rewards delivered by being self-directed (Autonomy), applying advanced skills to tough challenges (Mastery) and by making a contribution to a larger good (Purpose).
Pink has prepared this clever video summary of his book:
I think Pink's analysis explains a lot about why and how legislative staff remain so engaged in their work, even during tough economic times. It also provides staff managers and legislative leaders with three important benchmarks they can use to measure and improve the motivational conditions of their workplaces.
At this time of year, when the focus is appropriately on the members and their needs, maybe a bit of time can be carved out to assess whether staff have what they need to bring their very best efforts to the difficult and challenging tasks ahead. As economic conditions improve, legislatures should check to be sure that their pay levels do not lag behind the local job market. But they also should not ignore, according to Dan Pink, the powerful motivational opportunity presented by promoting and encouraging employee autonomy, mastery and purpose.