Work Motivation: 7 ways to motivate employees

What motivates employees to do their best work? Is it money? Recognition? Or is meaningful work more important? We explore what drives people and look at ways to motivate employees.

Work Motivation

Not every task can be interesting or exciting. And no one can be expected to be enthused about their work 100% of the time. But that’s not to say you shouldn’t bother trying to improve employee motivation in your workplace. Highly driven individuals are more likely to go the extra mile, deliver top-quality work and bring fresh ideas to the table.

What is job motivation?

What is job motivation?

Employee motivation is a complex subject that many organizations struggle with. To get to the nub of it, it’s worth beginning with a couple of definitions. describes work motivation as the “level of energy, commitment and creativity that a company’s workers bring to their jobs”.

The APA Dictionary of Psychology defines it as “the desire or willingness to make an effort in one’s work. Motivating factors may include salary and other benefits, desire for status and recognition, a sense of achievement, relationships with colleagues and a feeling that one’s work is useful or important”.

It’s essentially what drives us to keep showing up every day. While some people are more naturally self-motivated than others, everyone needs a reason to achieve.

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Types of job motivation

Types of job motivation

There are two types of motivation in the workplace – intrinsic and extrinsic.

  • Intrinsic motivation refers to motivation that comes from within. It drives a person to carry out a task because they find it enjoyable, challenging or satisfying, not because they’re being paid to do it.

  • Extrinsic motivation is driven by external rewards, like money and praise. In the workplace, employers provide this in the form of pay rises, bonuses and other tangible benefits as well as public acknowledgement of good performance.

It’s important to understand the nuances of motivating a workforce made up of people from different generations and backgrounds. If you fail to match the right rewards and recognition styles to the right employee, you risk losing your top talent. There isn’t a one-size fits all. The way people are motivated may depend on their age or where they’re at in their careers.

Why employee motivation is important

Why employee motivation is important

Worryingly, there are still many companies that don’t quite get the importance of employee motivation. This is borne out by Gallup’s latest State of the Global Workplace report, which found that only 21% of employees worldwide feel engaged in their jobs.

Consider an employee with little or no motivation to work – they’re likely to be slow, lethargic, avoid tasks and get too easily distracted by notifications on their phones. This lack of focus and energy is detrimental to productivity, and can hold back the entire company from producing high-quality work or meeting important targets. What’s more, it can have a negative effect on motivating others in the workplace too, creating a vicious circle of low morale.

A motivated employee, on the other hand, is enthusiastic, driven and takes great pride in their work. They’re also 87% less likely to quit than an unhappy employee. They carry out tasks efficiently, have a positive attitude and want to do a good job, both for their own satisfaction and the company. When you have many motivated employees, this leads to higher productivity levels and lower levels of absenteeism. In fact, another Gallup study shows that a highly engaged workforce reduces staff absence by as much as 81%.

Work motivation isn’t something you can take for granted, however driven and engaged your people seem to be. The moment it drops, revenue and output could soon follow.

Are employees motivated by money?

Are employees motivated by money?

That’s the million-dollar question. Businesses have traditionally used financial incentives as the main way to motivate and retain staff. After all, it makes sense that people will work harder and stay with the company longer the more money and bonuses they earn, right?

At a base level, money enables people to pay their bills and buy the things they need – and they usually want more of it. It also serves as a barometer of how much value their employer places on their services and how they measure up against their co-workers, which can be a great motivator. So, yes, money does matter. But it has to be said that it’s not the be all and end all.

If the Great Resignation has taught us anything, it’s that people are less motivated by money than they used to be. Today’s employees want to feel valued for the unique skills and talents they can bring to a role, and want to make a real difference.

With Gen Z entering the workforce1, having a diverse benefits package is essential. This generation places a lot more emphasis on having a job with purpose than the salary they get paid.

People’s motivations for doing a job do vary, but things like a positive work culture, feeling appreciated and working as a team can be just as important as financial rewards, if not more so. And management style is also key. Leaders with empathy, compassion and understanding are generally better at inspiring team motivation in today’s workplaces. Employees will care more about the organization they work for when they know you care about them.

7 ways to motivate employees

7 ways to motivate employees

The aim for any business is to hire great people and make sure they stick around. So how do you create a work environment where all employees feel energized and inspired? These employee motivation strategies can help propel your troops to greater things:

Set realistic goals

Employees aren’t particularly interested in wider company goals, like profit margins and staff turnover. They want smaller, manageable targets that give them a sense of personal achievement while still adding to the overall objective.

For example, a salesperson is likely to close more deals if they’re tasked with signing up a specific number of new customers a month. It’s important the goals are attainable though, as unrealistic targets can leave employees feeling deflated, burnt out and demotivated.

Recognize contributions

Sometimes all people want is some appreciation for their hard work. If they’ve gone above and beyond on a project, don’t be afraid to dish out praise, either in a group chat, a direct message or in person. Receiving recognition goes a long way to boosting self-esteem and morale.

Recognition is also about acknowledging how people feel and providing a compassionate response to issues such as stress, anxiety and fatigue.

Reward employees for great work

Rewards come in many forms and don’t always have to be monetary. It could be an extra day off, online therapy session or private parking space, for instance.

A rewards program can be an effective tool to celebrate successes and achievements. It allows you to customize rewards to make them more personal and meaningful to every individual. You could even ‘gamify’ a task to make teams compete for rewards. Interestingly, researchers discovered that most people would work harder to qualify for an uncertain reward (such as a 50% chance of getting a £100 gift card) than they do for a certain reward. It’s thought this is because the uncertain reward is more challenging and exciting.

Offer opportunities for growth

Career growth is another vital motivation at work. Leaders who provide employees with opportunities to develop their skills typically have better staff retention levels. Learning should be fun and accessible. Instead of day-long training courses, give people access to a broad range of bitesize learning that can be absorbed in a spare hour or two. This increases knowledge on a regular basis which, in turn, leads to better quality output overall.

Offering secondments to other departments or locations is another way to improve motivation. That’s because it can give employees a fresh perspective and opportunities to interact with different people if they’ve become stuck in a rut.

Give people more meaningful and challenging work

Work needs to be kept interesting to motivate people. Easier said than done, of course, but a role that keeps evolving, with new challenges and objectives, is better for staff retention than one that limits employees to simple or monotonous tasks. When people are bored and uninspired, they’re less inclined to make valuable contributions to the company.

Giving people more autonomy and responsibility to work on projects that excite them is a better way to keep them interested. Strengthening the link between employee motivation and job satisfaction is integral to success.

Provide constructive feedback

Often, motivation dips because employees aren’t clear on what their leaders expect of them. With 65% of employees saying they want more feedback, it’s important to provide constructive and specific advice to let employees know what they’ve done well and where there’s room for improvement. This helps them understand where they stand in terms of their skills and performance, and can give them the incentive they need to push on and fulfill their potential.

Cultivate a culture of appreciation

People want to feel valued and respected by their managers and co-workers. It’s not just about being recognized for the big wins; it’s also about being appreciated for small everyday behaviors that often go unnoticed. For example, organizing team nights out or supporting someone through a difficult day. A simple thank you or kind gesture can be all it takes to boost morale.

Some 53% of employees say they’d stay longer in a company if they feel appreciated. Respect, openness, empathy and clear communication are the foundation stones on which you can build a culture of appreciation.

In a nutshell, when employees are motivated, they’re more engaged and emotionally invested in their work. That’s good for productivity, staff retention and, ultimately, your bottom line.

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