6 Simple ways to Improve Employee Motivation

What is Employee Motivation?

Seeing as you're here for Employee Motivation, let's reduce the scope a bit to Motivation in the Workplace. William Kahn kicked coined the term "Workplace Engagement" in a 1990 journal article and defined engagement as follows:

Engaged people are mentally, physically and emotionally involved in their work - William Kahn

Why does Motivation matter?

The benefits of high workplace motivation are not trivial and are highly sought after:

  • High Productivity and a Sense of Urgency
  • High Creativity
  • Willingness to accept Accountability
  • Excellent Customer Service
  • High Discretionary Effort

What drives Motivation

A great framework for understanding this is Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. The model is quite simple but it illustrates the point that there is a sequence in which needs have to be met in order to climb to higher levels of engagement and creativity. It's also very important to note that the placement of these needs in the hierarchy will differ based on culture or region.

In Maslow's hierarchy of needs, the order of the needs is Survival, Security, Belonging, Esteem and Self-Actualisation.

Survival is the ability to provide for day-to-day necessities. It's mainly a concern of low wage, entry-level workers. The easiest way to increase their engagement is with a higher wage.

Security focuses on continued employment. It's about long-term survival which in the workplace means keeping your job. You can address this need by being clear about job expectations. If people know that they're doing their jobs well then they feel secure in them. It's thus very important to communicate expectations and recognise good performance.

Belonging is about feeling like a part of the company. It comes from our tribal heritage. Building a strong cohesion with your company DNA, values and mission, as well as strong relationships between staff, is what satisfies this set of needs in order to boost engagement.

Esteem needs are ego needs or status needs which require getting recognition, status, importance, and respect from others. All humans have a need to feel respected; this includes the need to have self-esteem and self-respect. It means providing recognition for a job well done but goes further. It's where coaching from a manager becomes very important and managers need to constantly stroke the ego of their employees in order to inspire them to push themselves harder and further. To improve engagement at this level, train all managers including yourself on how to be a great coach.

Self-Actualisation is achieved when you find meaning in what you do. This level of need refers to what a person's full potential is and the realisation of that potential. In the context of employment, it is also about finding meaning in our work and becoming one with it. Helping your team reach this level means finding people who align with your mission, values and purpose in the first place. It also means finding people who will reach their full potential within your organisation. Then it takes great leadership from all managers to share this purpose with the company.

"What a person can be, he must be" - Abraham Maslow

These are not binding principles but rather guidelines. As a manager, you have to understand that needs are complex and change between environments. Building simple mental models like the one above are essential to creating a strong and positive workplace culture and Improving Employee Motivation.

Ok, how do I practically improve Employee Motivation?

We've tackled the definition of Employee Engagement, why it's important and a simple mental model of how to approach the underlying needs that drive it. Practically improving things means first measuring where they are right now. Here are a few methods you can use to do so.

Provide Security

We already looked at Maslow's hierarchy of needs above. Humans need to have the lower levels met before they can perform at their best in the Self-Actualisation level. This means making staff feel secure at all levels below it. As a start, they need to know that their jobs are safe and they can thus provide for their families. They need to feel respected by their peers and especially by their leaders so be careful in the way that you handle mistakes and failure. They also need to feel that they belong and can be themselves at work.

Share the vision

Humans crave meaning and purpose. As a leader, it's your top job to remind them what it is at your organisation and to keep them all aligned to it. It takes time to craft one but it's essential to both business success and employee motivation. If you're not sure where to begin then look at the vision and mission statements of top companies that you admire. Then, make sure you communicate this to everyone and it's even more important that you live it. If your team isn't doing impressions of you at the water cooler then you aren't doing enough.

Recognise great work

Our research shows that employee recognition is a huge driver of engagement and motivation and employees all agree that there isn't enough of it going around. It's not enough to point out achievements once a year at a performance review. Achievements and/or great work need to be recognised as close to the event as possible. This is as simple as a team leader saying "Great work on that latest feature you finished last week, Sarah" at the Monday morning meeting.

Staff don't want to be coddled but they do want a simple thank you for good work and especially for discretionary effort.

Set Goals

Your team wants to be stretched and they want to grow. To do this, set goals and measure them. This means using a framework like OKR and running a good appraisal process throughout the year. An important consideration here is that you have to set stretch goals that force your team members out of their comfort zone but not so much that the stress renders them unable to function properly. This is a balancing act but something that managers and leaders become good at with practice.


When setting and achieving goals, it's also important to celebrate the wins. Stretch goals, by definition, are going to push your team hard for results and cause stress. You MUST balance this with a celebration of the effort and results afterwards to blow of steam and recover. It's also a great opportunity to build stronger bonds amongst your team. It could be as simple as beers on a Friday or a Sports Day with the whole company after a big milestone. Just make sure it's something that your people enjoy.

Have fun

Not every task is going to be fun and we all know that Mondays can sometimes be a drag. That said, not every day should feel this way and teams can deliver results WHILE having fun. Encourage a fun attitude with your team while maintaining the need to deliver. It will make them happier, more resilient and more loyal to the company.

Fun activities can be done throughout the year to maintain this fun-loving attitude as well as build peer relationships. What's fun for your team will depend on its demographics. It could be a round of video games, bowling or a hike.

Don't miss these stories: