Glossary of HR Terms

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Employee Motivation

Strategies for Enhanced Workplace Motivation

How to Motivate Employees for a Better Workplace Environment

Most organizations operate on processes, deliverables, and goals. After all, everyone has a job to do and expectations to meet. But giving orders isn’t enough to be a great leader or to build a great organization. Today’s managers need to know how to motivate employees.

Motivation isn’t the same as employee engagement, but if your workers aren’t motivated, they probably aren’t engaged — and that means bigger problems with productivity, performance, and turnover. According to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace: 2023 Report, only 31% of U.S. employees are actively engaged. That means nearly 70% of your workforce is suffering from mediocre or low engagement — and at risk of low or waning motivation.

Learn more about this concept, the common types of motivation, and how to motivate employees as a manager.

Defining Workplace Motivation

Motivation explains why people think, speak, and act the way they do, including in the workplace. Being motivated (or not) depends on a range of psychological, emotional, and physical factors that influence an individual’s willingness and ability to perform at their peak.

At a basic level, motivation can be an emotional response to a situation or environment. When employees feel motivated, they’re more likely to be engaged in their work and to be productive. Improving workplace motivation requires understanding each worker’s individual needs, wants, and values so you can create a great employee experience that builds on your company culture.

Extrinsic and Intrinsic Motivation

There are multiple kinds of motivation, usually grouped into extrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation.

Extrinsic motivation in the workplace is seen when employees are influenced by an external factor — such as rewards, recognition, or threats. Tangible rewards include bonuses, promotions or honors, while threats can include embarrassment or firing.

Intrinsic motivation is about an employee’s internal desire to do something, although managers can influence this. For example, employers can foster intrinsic motivation by creating a work environment that allows for autonomy, mastery, and purpose. A recent meta-analysis found that intrinsic motivation is strongly tied to positive employee outcomes and fewer negative outcomes.

Extrinsic Motivation Subtypes

Each category of motivation has multiple subtypes. Here are a few that fall under the umbrella of extrinsic motivation.

Reward-Based Motivation

This type of motivation is based on giving rewards in exchange for a desired behavior, such as the successful completion of a task. These rewards can be tangible, such as a bonus or raise, or intangible, such as employee recognition or praise. The goal of reward-based motivation is to encourage employees to put forth their best effort, especially toward short-term goals, by using positive reinforcement.
Sales commissions and goals-based annual targets are common workplace examples of compensation being used as a motivator by managers, for example. Employees’ actions and efforts can be tailored to what gives them the best chance at making the most money.

Power-Based Motivation

Power-based motivation can be positive or negative, depending on the circumstances. Strong leadership, where a team rallies behind its head, is an example of positive power-based leadership. The leader exerts control over the team to drive them forward.

This type of control can also be negative, however, especially when the leader is coercing or bullying employees. This type of motivation can also lead to a decrease in intrinsic motivation, as people only feel motivated to act because they have to.

Fear-Based Motivation

Fear-based extrinsic motivation is a type of motivation where individuals are motivated to avoid negative consequences or punishment.

Fear-based extrinsic motivation is often used to ensure compliance and obedience. In the workplace, this might manifest itself when managers threaten to reassign employees, reduce their pay, or even fire them if they fail to do what’s asked. A less intensive version of this motivation subtype is setting deadlines with consequences.

Despite its drawbacks, fear-based extrinsic motivation can be effective in certain situations, such as when accountability is required, or in certain high-stakes situations where a task needs to be completed quickly and accurately.

Intrinsic Motivation Subtypes

While intrinsic motivation comes from within, managers and others can influence whether employees feel intrinsically motivated and whether they access this feeling. Here are a few common subtypes.

Achievement-Driven Motivation

Achievement motivation relates to people’s psychological drive to accomplish challenging tasks and excel, such as a person’s desire to reach a goal or break a record. The motivation is intrinsic, even if extrinsic rewards such as a prize are sometimes involved.

Achievement motivation commonly manifests itself in the workplace, such as when an employee works tirelessly to achieve mastery or to develop an innovative product or process. These employees go above and beyond what is expected because they’re excited by the pursuit.

Autonomy-Driven Motivation

Autonomy motivation is a type of intrinsic motivation that’s based on an individual’s ability to make choices and direct their behavior. In the workplace, this can manifest as people taking ownership of their work, taking initiative, and being creative.

Autonomy is a powerful way to increase employee engagement and reduce employee churn rate. Managers can empower this motivation by giving employees room to choose how they approach tasks and which to prioritize. Another way to encourage autonomy is by being open to your employees’ ideas about improving the organization.

Purpose-Driven Motivation

This kind of motivation is based on a desire to make a meaningful contribution and to help others. It occurs when someone pursues a goal that’s meaningful and important to them. People motivated by purpose will pursue something even if it doesn’t necessarily bring immediate reward or recognition.

In the workplace, purpose-driven motivation can be seen in an employee who chooses to go the extra mile to help a customer, to improve the world, or for some other sense of mission. Some organizations explicitly style themselves as purpose-driven to attract these types of employees.

3 Benefits of Having Motivated Employees

It’s unsurprising that a motivated workforce is better than an unmotivated workforce, but you might know exactly why. Here are just a few of the benefits companies realize from having motivated employees.

Increased Productivity and Performance

Motivated employees are more likely to be engaged and more productive, with one study finding a 13% increase in productivity among call center staff. A motivated workforce includes people who are driven to achieve business goals for a variety of reasons, whether that’s extra compensation, recognition, personal fulfillment, or other reasons.

Reduced Employee Absenteeism and Turnover

Gallup research tells us that engaged employees are less likely to suffer from absenteeism and turnover. Engaged workforces are often highly motivated, meaning they want to be at work and want to be part of your organization for the long run. Disengaged employees are less likely to be motivated, and their job satisfaction is often lower, too.

When your employees are motivated and engaged, you don’t have to spend as much time and money on hiring and training new staff. Increasing motivation can be among the most cost-effective employee retention solutions.

Higher Levels of Innovation

One way motivation manifests itself is in employees who want to go the extra mile to get things done at work — including innovations and discoveries.

Motivated team members are driven to find solutions to challenges. They actively engage in problem-solving processes and are eager to experiment. This determination to overcome obstacles often leads to innovative breakthroughs. While extrinsic motivation, such as monetary rewards, can drive innovation, Dentsu found that making the work less boring was an effective motivator for internal innovation.

3 Strategies to Improve Motivation on Your Team

It’s not enough for managers to motivate their teams. They need to know how to keep employees motivated over time. Whether you’re trying to sustain high motivation or starting from scratch, here are a few strategies that can help.

Encourage Work-Life Balance

Employees who feel overwhelmed or exhausted are less likely to be motivated, often blaming work for causing these feelings. Managers can help employees find balance in their schedules, set priorities, and even have some autonomy over what they work on.

There are many ways to help employees find work-life balance, including HR-provided resources, as well as productivity tools. Additionally, encourage employees to take time off so they can recharge and show up as their best selves.

Create Opportunities for Career Development

Many employees are motivated by advancement, whether that’s by getting a promotion, taking on important projects, learning new skills, or gaining experience in other areas of the business.

Managers can’t always offer an immediate promotion. However, they and HR can help uncover training and educational opportunities that make the most sense for each worker’s skills and interests. When employees see their manager investing in their personal growth and internal mobility, they’re more likely to be motivated to pursue achievement — and stay with their current employer.

Offer Incentives

Money and other rewards are important to many employees, both to ensure their livelihood but also as a marker of success and a motivation to keep striving. Keep in mind that while cash incentives, such as bonuses, are probably the most common type of incentive, there are many other ways to motivate employees. Team and company recognition, extra perks, nominations for awards, and the opportunity to take on important assignments are just some of the many ways to motivate through incentives.

Make sure that the incentives line up with the efforts you’re trying to elicit. If you want to incentivize deals won for certain types of customers, don’t make the incentive based on raw numbers of cold leads. You’ll get a rush of activity that won’t generate the revenue you’re looking for. And make sure you follow through with any incentives you promise in exchange for a certain behavior or accomplishment.

Foster Motivation Across Your Business

Managers who learn how to motivate employees have a powerful tool for driving performance while meeting the needs of each of their reports. When employees are correctly motivated, they reinforce your workplace culture and business goals while feeling fulfilled and energized in their daily work.

Want to learn more? Check out our blog on how to spark connection and drive purpose at work.