What Motivates Employees?


Every person is different when it comes to motivation. Some people have a genuine passion for their work. Others may view the job as a means to receive a paycheck. Still others feel they are on a mission to contribute something to society.

Trying to figure out what motivates different people can be frustrating, especially when you feel certain individuals may be lacking the complete effort you feel should be made in order to maximize productivity for them and the organization.

A good first step you should take with every employee is to simply ask them what it is they want from work and whether they are getting it. Armed with that information you can take some steps to help foster an environment that will maximize motivation and morale. Though each individual employee will give you different answers as to what motivates them, you will find a few common themes that should be essentials in creating a workplace that encourages the best from everyone, including:

Communication. People want access to their leaders and timely, accurate information about what is happening within the organization. It’s important to be accessible, willing to share and listen. Provide a forum for receiving and acting on complaints. Encourage employees’ participation and opinions during staff meetings. I will expand on this topic in my next post.

Feedback. The most frequent complaint I hear within organizational culture is “I don’t get any feedback.” Often times, that is code for “I need more pats on the back.” When you are in management, it seems as if some people never get enough pats on the back. However, managers are frequently guilty of viewing feedback as something that is only given during the annual performance appraisal. I believe in using the performance appraisal as an opportunity for the manager and employee to co-create goals for the next 12 months. Managers and employees should work together to develop an action plan and timeline for achieving those goals, and review progress at least quarterly. Use informal hallway conversations and other one-one-one meeting opportunities to provide feedback, even if it is a quick “pat on the back.”

Growth and Development. Most people want to get better. Employees want an opportunity to grow. It is in the best interest of every organization to help employees take advantage of opportunities to expand their skill base and achieve sustainable growth. Provide opportunities for employees to be involved in training activities, whether it is in-house or off-site. Allow people to take advantage of cross-training opportunities and mentoring or coaching. I have often said that most people appreciate an organization’s investment in their growth much more than a raise.

Recognition. Verbally praise employees for a job well done. Send thank you notes. Recognize them in the company newsletter. Give shout outs to staff on your Twitter and Facebook feeds. When appropriate, a small token of your appreciation such as a candy bar, a plant or some fruit is a nice touch.

Control. Allow employees to be involved in setting goals and impacting decisions that directly relate to their work. Encourage their complete responsibility for completing tasks. Give them freedom to do their job in a way that best suits their individual style, even if it involves a different approach than you might take. There is usually more than one way to reach a goal. Allow flexibility in terms of how the work is done.

Motivation is first and foremost the responsibility of the leaders in the organization. Establish a culture that fosters good communication, feedback, recognition and control, and you will find a workforce that has higher morale and motivation, which in turn has a direct impact on the results that are generated every day.