Your guide to employee motivation

By Jostle

8 min read

Your guide to employee motivation
Illustration by Kevin Yu

Are you interested in the overall success and effectiveness of your organization? Of course you are!

What some companies may not realize is that the path to their success is often tied to employee motivation. And that motivation is the force driving employee behavior, attitude, commitment to organizational goals, and even commitment to their own work. 

A lack of motivation leads to low morale and a host of other problems, including high turnover, absenteeism, poor performance, decreased productivity, carelessness and the mistakes it can lead to, and more.

The math is pretty simple here, folks. Employee motivation—motivated employees—equals the road to organizational success. A lack of employee motivation? Well, that’s a slow roast on the way to a dumpster fire. 

Is it feeling a little hot where you are? Let’s dig a little deeper into employee motivation and put you on the road to success.

The definition of employee motivation

So what is employee motivation?

To understand that, let’s look at the definition of motivation. The dictionary defines it as “the reason or reasons one has for acting or behaving in a particular way.” Additionally, it’s “the general desire or willingness of someone to do something.”

Motivation—or the lack of it—impacts behavior, desire, and willingness.

Putting that in an organizational setting means that motivation can and will impact an employee’s effort toward achieving work-related goals and objectives. Their thoughts and emotions influence their willingness, enthusiasm, and even their commitment to their tasks and/or professional growth.

Simply put, if employees are motivated to work—for whatever the reason—work will get done. Probably successfully. The flip side? No motivation likely means no work. 

What influences motivation? 

First of all, you need to understand that everybody is unique. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to what motivates or demotivates a person. And whether personal or professional, motivation can be influenced by several factors, including psychological needs, competence—whether real or perceived—and individual goals and values.

From a purely professional standpoint, factors that can influence employee motivation can be things like organizational culture, leadership and management styles, career development, work-life balance, job security, and more. 

Personal and professional motivation is something of a package deal—you know—you can’t have one without the other. That means there’s only so much you can do when it comes to employee motivation. You can have a positive impact on what drives them at work by cultivating an environment that fosters motivation. And yes, in many cases that may intersect with what personally motivates them, but only to a point. 

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The role of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation

If you’re not a word nerd like me, I might have lost you there. So before getting into the roles of each, let me explain. 

We’re basically talking about what drives internal and external motivations

  • Intrinsic motivation: Internal factors, things like interest, enjoyment, and even a sense of fulfillment, all drive intrinsic motivation
  • Extrinsic motivation: External factors, such as rewards, recognition, promotions, and more, can all influence motivation

From that, it should be clear that there are two distinct types of motivation at play in the life of any employee. And they each play a significant role in how they shape behavior, performance, and even overall job satisfaction.

Here’s how intrinsic motivation could manifest itself in the workplace:

  • Challenging work: For an employee who finds satisfaction in overcoming challenges or achieving goals, challenging tasks that require problem-solving and creativity may stimulate intrinsic motivation.
  • Sense of purpose: An employee who’s intrinsically motivated likes feeling that their work is part of a larger purpose and is an essential contribution to the organization.
  • Personal growth: Opportunities for personal and professional growth, such as learning new skills, taking on new responsibilities, and advancing in their careers, contribute to intrinsic motivation.

Extrinsic motivation, on the other hand, involves external factors that could drive an employee to perform a task or activity because of potential rewards or recognition. It could include the following:

  • Competition: Healthy competition among employees, with rewards for top performers, can stimulate an extrinsic motivation to excel.
  • Job Security: The fear of losing one's job can also act as an extrinsic motivator, prompting employees to maintain performance levels to ensure job security.

When strategizing, it’s important that employers find a way to balance intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. The key is to find a way to align extrinsic rewards with intrinsic motivations. Doing so ensures that external incentives support and enhance any enjoyment an employee finds in their work. 

Strategies for motivating employees

We talked about strategizing above, but in something of an abstract fashion. So let’s get practical and provide some real-world examples of employee motivation.

  • Providing opportunities for growth and development: If your goal is employee motivation, then it’s important to provide opportunities for growth and development. It’s a great way to enhance job satisfaction.
  • Training and workshops: Think about offering regular training sessions, workshops, and seminars to enhance employees' skills and knowledge. They could cover things like technical skills, soft skills, industry trends, and even new technologies.
  • Career path planning: Work with employees to create personalized career development plans that outline their goals, whatever skills are needed, and the steps they need to take for advancement within the organization.
  • Leadership development programs: Identify employees with potential and enroll them in leadership development programs to prepare them for future leadership roles.

Create a positive work environment

Listen up. Employee motivation is impossible without a healthy, positive work environment. You need to create and promote an atmosphere of overall well-being, and ensure employees have a sense of job satisfaction. 

So how do you do that? Here are just a few examples.

Forget about policies. Let everyone come and go as they please... just kidding! Although I hate to compare employees to toddlers and children, just like kids need rules and structure, so do employees. 

But in a good way. Let’s not forget that!

  • Clear goals and expectations: Keep employees engaged by setting clear and achievable goals and providing regular feedback on their progress. Clear expectations help employees understand their role and responsibilities.
  • Clear communication: Keep your door open.  Encourage transparent communication between management and employees. Regularly share updates, goals, and feedback to ensure everyone is—and stays on—the same page.
  • Respect and inclusivity: Promote a culture of respect, inclusivity, and diversity. Do your best to make sure all employees feel valued and respected regardless of their backgrounds or identities.
  • Empowerment and autonomy: Delegate authority and decision-making to employees whenever possible. Empowered employees feel a sense of ownership and are motivated to succeed.

Offering Incentives and Rewards

The type of rewards a company decides to offer as an incentive toward employee motivation are going to differ by industry and company. 

Here are several examples, broken down into monetary and non-monetary incentives. Note that these are not exhaustive lists.


  • Performance bonuses
  • Profit-sharing salary increases
  • Commission structures
  • Surprise bonuses


  • Flexible working hours
  • Don’t force them back into the office, let them keep working from home (if they’ve proven productive)
  • Extra paid time off
  • Professional development opportunities
  • Leadership opportunities
  • Recognition programs
  • Personalized gifts
  • Wellness rewards
  • Innovation and creativity challenges

Encouraging Employee Feedback and Input

Employee motivation will never happen in an environment where they don’t feel valued or heard. That means it’s essential for you to encourage employee feedback and input, creating a collaborative and engaged workplace.

How can you do that? Here are a few ideas. 

Start off by implementing an open-door policy. This creates an atmosphere where employees feel comfortable about approaching you with any questions, concerns, or ideas.

Stay connected with employees by setting up regular check-ins. This gives them the opportunity to discuss any experiences, challenges, or suggestions they may have for improvement—even if that improvement is yours! Listen and be objective.

Lead by example. Let employees know that their feedback is important by actively seeking their input and showing them that their opinions are valued.

Common mistakes to avoid

By this point, I bet some leaders are thinking this is a lot to take in. And it is. But instead of letting you blunder ahead and maybe get it wrong, here are some pitfalls and potholes to look out for on your road to employee motivation.

Failing to recognize and reward good work

Don’t do this! It’s a motivation killer. 

Employees who consistently perform well without acknowledgment or rewards can become demotivated and disengaged. It will negatively impact job satisfaction and team morale. Eventually, it can push talented employees to the point where they seek opportunities elsewhere, costing you and your company their expertise.

A lack of recognition can also put a damper on productivity, as employees may be less motivated to go that extra mile. And employees who aren’t properly acknowledged may withhold ideas and suggestions leading to a loss of innovation and creativity in the organization. 

Micromanaging employees

No one wants to work for a micromanager. And at the end of the day, the joke is on the micromanager. Their need to monitor and control every aspect of an employee’s performance is actually squashing that performance.

When someone is a micromanager, they’re essentially sending a message that they don’t trust their team to do something the right way. And that is demotivating!

No opportunities for growth and development

The consequences of this almost mirror the consequences of failing to recognize good work.

Failing to provide opportunities for growth and development can lead to decreased motivation, high turnover, and even a lack of innovation in the company. Additionally, it will eventually impact employee morale, loyalty, and finally, an organization’s overall competitiveness.

Instead, the company that creates a culture of continuous learning not only fosters employee motivation but can also remain agile and adaptable to changing market demands.


There’s a lot of psychology behind employee motivation. And whether or not you understand it, it can be the driving force that keeps a company productive. Employees who aren’t motivated aren’t engaged, and there’s a good chance they’ll quit when they get the chance. That’s a lot of responsibility, but if you can think of employee motivation as the fuel that powers an organization’s success, I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s all worthwhile! 


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