How to Motivate Employees

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How to Motivate Employees

Motivating employees is a challenge for many managers. Like many things in organizational development & leadership training—knowing how to motivate employees is part art and part science.

What is Motivation?

Before we get too far in to this discussion, let’s define motivation.

Motivation is defined as a set of energetic forces that originates both within (intrinsic) and outside (extrinsic) an employee, initiates work-related effort, and determines its direction, intensity, and persistence.

Why Do Managers Want to Know How to Motivate Employees?

In the workplace, motivation is a critical consideration because job performance is largely a function of two factors: motivation and ability.  In this article, we are talking about motivation but if you are curious in learning more about how to assess and develop ability, we have several different resources, products, and services for you to consider.

Motivating Employees

Human resources and company managers generally do a mediocre job of motivating employees with things like company swag, team building events, Dilly bars, and small monetary rewards such as pay increases or bonuses.  This isn’t to say that these methods should be thrown out or disregarded but it does mean that these are minimum requirements and will not go the distance when attempting to truly motivate employees in the workplace.

The Science Behind Motivating Employees

Here’s some science for you to think about based on research by three individuals you may or may not have heard about before:

  • Maslow.  Some of you may remember Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs from psychology class at college.  When it comes to motivating employees, Maslow argues that the basic needs of employees have to be met first.   This includes things like a fair wage, a safe work-environment, and being treated in a manner that maintains or enhances self-esteem.  According to Maslow, it is only once these needs have been met, that an employee can truly become motivated and a high performer.
  • Herzberg.  Herzberg’s theory is probably even less well-known but builds on Maslow’s theory to some degree.  Herzberg argues that there are maintenance factors (company policies, administration, supervision, working conditions, interpersonal relations, money, status, security) and there are motivation factors (achievement, recognition for accomplishments,  challenging work, increased responsibility).
  • ERG Theory.  The final motivation theory is known as the E (Existence Needs) R (Relatedness Needs) and G (Growth Needs) theory.  The ERG theory argues that an employee’s behavior is motivated simultaneously by more than one need level.  Unlike Maslow’s model, however, the ERG theory includes a frustration-regression process whereby those who are unable to satisfy a higher need become frustrated and regress to the next lower need level.  For example, an employee who is ready for growth related opportunities but is not provided with those opportunities may regress and focus two much effort on their relatedness needs.

The Art Behind Motivating Employees

Now that we have discussed the science behind motivating employees, it is important to discuss the art of motivating employees.

    • Ask your employees what motivates them.  This may seem silly but it can be extremely helpful.  Not only does it show your employee that you care about them, but your employee knows best about what motivates them.
    • Learn everything you can about motivating team members.  Take a class or complete the eLearning option for Motivating Team Members.
    • Autonomy, mastery, and purpose.  Provide employees autonomy, allow them to master their roles, and help them create and understand a purpose for their work.  Listen to Daniel Pink and learn more about how we need to start thinking about motivating employees in the workplace.

Does motivating your employees still seem like a challenge? Start reviewing and implementing these tips on how to motivate your employees and we promise you will see employee motivation levels increase.

By | 2016-10-25T16:34:12+00:00 March 16th, 2014|Blog, Leadership, Organizations|2 Comments


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  2. […] during their fifth year of employment.  Amazon takes this approach because they only want highly motivated employees who love what they do every day.  Isn’t this what every employer should want?  Employees that […]

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