How to motivate your clients using self-determination theory 

I know how hard it can be to stay motivated!

There have been plenty of times when I’ve struggled to stick at things – from drinking water and getting quality sleep to reading and writing detailed reports and assessments. I’ve been guilty of finding excuses or practising avoidance because I lacked the drive to see these tasks through.

When working with your clients, you’re probably experiencing some of the same avoidance issues – there’s a real lack of motivation to find a job.

What is motivation?

Motivation is the process that starts, guides, and maintains goal-oriented behaviours. Motivation involves a range of biological, emotional, social, and cognitive forces that result in us behaving in certain ways.

Essentially, it’s the force that causes you to take action, usually to gain pleasure or avoid something painful. And while finding the motivation to start or stop doing something can be easy, maintaining that level of motivation to see something through to completion or achieve a particular goal is more difficult.

Self-determination theory

Psychologists Richard Ryan and Edward Deci first proposed the concept of Self-Determination in their research published in 1985 – Self-Determination and Intrinsic Motivation in Human Behaviour.

Self-determination theory suggests that “people are motivated to grow and change by three innate and universal psychological needs, and they can become self-determined when their needs for competence, connection, and autonomy are fulfilled.”

Applying the theory with your clients

Traditionally, the industry uses a carrot & stick approach by relying on the mutual obligation requirements. This approach uses extrinsic motivators, that is, offering a reward or a punishment based on whether or not a person takes action.

This approach doesn’t take into account the internal or intrinsic motivators that a job seeker has, and so the outcome is often the same – lack of commitment to take action and follow through.

So how can you use SDT with your clients?

Autonomy: People need to feel in control of their behaviours and goals. This sense of being able to take direct action will result in real change and plays a major part in helping people feel self-determined. Work with your clients to set goals that are right for them and link these goals to their values. Bring in their strengths, personal qualities and skills and show them how they can use them when applying for jobs and performing interviews.   

Competence: People need to gain mastery of tasks and learn different skills. When people feel they have the skills needed for success, they are more likely to take action to help them achieve their goals. Developing the fundamental psychological work-readiness skills like confidence, resilience and self-esteem will help clients develop the growth mindset they need to achieve competence.  

Connection or relatedness: People need to experience a sense of belonging and attachment to other people. Often, your clients may not have a connection to many people that make them feel positive about themselves. You can be a positive anchor for your client by making them feel they are being cared for while on their employment journey.  

Imagine if you could easily and effortlessly apply the concepts of self-determination theory and nudge your clients toward positive employment outcomes?  

Bounce Job Coach Certification is the ideal professional development course for anyone working with job seekers. The Certification is based on the most effective behaviour change science and helps participants develop powerful and practical coaching skills.  

Job Coach Certification

The Way Finders Academy is where you go to become a certified Bounce Job Coach. The course is delivered through our expertly-developed learning platform inside the Academy. Bounce Job Coach Certification is the must-have training for anyone working in employment services.


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