How to Motivate Employees: 9 Helpful Tips

By Alex Larralde
December 16, 2022
7 minute read

Our motivations drive our behavior. Motivation at work affects where people invest their time and energy. Without it, workers are at higher risk of disengagement. By taking steps to motivate employees, you can drive higher engagement and incentivize better performance.

There’s a strong relationship between a positive work experience and workforce motivation. Recent research from McKinsey reveals that people who report having a positive employee experience are 16 times more engaged than those who report having a poor experience.

Find out more about why motivation matters and how you can motivate employees to be more engaged and productive.

The impact of team motivation on your business

Team motivation has a powerful impact on business performance. People are more likely to perform at high levels when they are motivated to put in their best work. They’re more willing to take the initiative and to learn and grow. That mindset and effort lead to improved performance and better productivity.

And when workers are empowered to perform at their best, they better support the business strategy. When teams align on purpose and the business’ priorities, they can help the organization achieve even its most aspirational goals.

The more motivated and engaged each worker is, the more productive the whole team can become. When you have teams full of motivated workers, you have an unstoppable force for driving the business forward.

4 benefits of having a motivated workforce

A motivated workforce isn’t just nice to have: It’s a key driver for your talent strategy. Here are four important benefits of employing highly motivated people.

Increase retention rates

Employee engagement and purpose are among the biggest factors in someone’s decision to stay at a job. Research from Gallup during the height of the Great Resignation found the highest quit rates among employees who weren’t engaged and those who were actively disengaged.

On the flip side, motivated workers are more likely to be engaged. The resulting job satisfaction has a big impact on retention. The steps you’ll take as HR leaders and managers to motivate performance, such as creating visible opportunities for growth and recognizing employees for their achievements, can inspire greater loyalty in your people, influencing retention rates. 

Improve performance

High performance levels result when people can do their best work in roles that suit their talents. Highly motivated people are more invested in the work and more likely to proactively identify obstacles to employee performance before those obstacles halt momentum. Motivated employees are also more likely to be focused, which makes their work more efficient.

Encourage employee engagement

Employees are engaged when they devote their mental, emotional, and behavioral energy to producing their best work. Motivation is a drive to act in a certain way. People who are motivated by their work will be more focused on achieving their goals and more engaged. 

Strengthen company culture

Motivated employees are passionate about their work. An entire team or workforce of passionate people produces a culture aligned on shared goals. Workers know they can trust and support each other while getting results and celebrating wins together. All of this strengthens their bond as a team.

What drives employee motivation and engagement?

There are two types of motivation: extrinsic and intrinsic. The promise of an external reward drives extrinsic motivation, whether that’s a financial reward or something as simple as verbal validation from a manager. Intrinsic motivation, on the other hand, comes from within. Examples include a team member who finds fulfillment in their work or goes the extra mile to support a project because they enjoy helping their teammates.

Managers are crucial in communicating extrinsic motivators and drawing intrinsic ones out of team members. Managers have the most day-to-day connection with team members, especially in remote work environments. HR leaders can offer guidance to help managers develop leadership motivation skills. Team leaders can motivate workers in many daily interactions, such as recognizing good work or helping them find opportunities for growth within the company.

9 effective ways to motivate employees

Competitive pay and benefits are important factors in motivating employees. Beyond these basics, you can implement programs to incentivize workers to perform at their best every day. Consider these nine best practices for motivating the workforce.

Focus on developing a positive work culture

Foster a culture that people want to be a part of — where they feel valued, respected, and able to grow. 

When workers are valued for their contributions, they’ll be motivated to keep working hard. Workers who feel respected and included will trust that their managers will listen. A positive culture can help people see a path forward — within the organization — that they can earn fairly through commitment and hard work.

Encourage creativity and innovation

Create structures that give people freedom to experiment with new ideas, whether that’s playing around with new product ideas or proposing refined processes to save time and money. 

The ability to lead change, however small, generates its own rewards. If the innovation is successful, the person earns recognition, rewards, or simply the satisfaction of making a difference. If the change isn’t successful, managers can turn it into a learning opportunity. By framing setbacks as learning opportunities, team members remain inspired to contribute ideas.

Empowering the workforce to exercise creativity and innovation provides an outlet for ideas and demonstrates a powerful level of trust in your people. Many workers have been in jobs where they weren’t allowed to experiment, so granting them autonomy can keep them engaged and generate better work.

Foster recognition and appreciation within the company

Rewards are among the most effective motivators, but they don’t always have to be monetary. Employee recognition and acknowledgment also let people know that their performance is on the right track and help them feel good about their contributions. Gallup found that when recognition “hits the mark,” employees are four times as likely to remain engaged and 73% less likely to always or often feel burned out.

Set up formal systems for recognizing employees at different levels. At an all-hands meeting, the CEO might call out a particular department or team for outstanding work in the last quarter. Or it could be as simple as building time into team meetings for a few quick shoutouts for people whose effort and ingenuity got a project over the finish line.

Recognition among peers can be a powerful influence on motivation, too. Consider incorporating a place within your employee engagement software where people can acknowledge each other, giving team members a chance to leave a “thumbs up” or other kudos for work well done.

Offer flexible scheduling

Flexible scheduling is a benefit that can increase capacity for people to engage more effectively with their work. Employees locked into a 9-to-5 schedule may struggle to meet unpredictable family obligations. Other people might simply work better at certain times of the day. 

Flexible scheduling allows workers to optimize their hours so they can be more focused and engaged. Giving employees reasonable scheduling options also encourages their loyalty, motivating them to work harder and perform better.

Promote teamwork and collaboration

The ability to help others is a powerful intrinsic motivator. Make sure everyone has the tools and resources they need to become better team contributors. Promoting teamwork drives a greater sense of accountability to others, which can incentivize better performance.

Teams that learn to work well work together will achieve goals they couldn’t reach individually — and more efficiently. Many people find fulfillment in driving value and serving the organization’s purpose as part of a team.

Train managers to guide their teams through team-building exercises. These don’t have to be complicated. For example, a manager might open team meetings by encouraging people to express what they need from their co-workers. This promotes collaboration and open communication while reinforcing accountability.

Set clear and measurable goals

Few things provide greater motivation than seeing your progress toward a goal. When people get a few wins under their belts, they generally gain a sense of accomplishment that keeps them going. 

Clear goals with measurable outcomes make it easy for people to visualize progress, which is also a performance motivator. Don’t just set goals; give people a say in creating their goals so they’re motivated to follow through on what they’ve proposed.

Objectives and key results (OKRs) are a powerful model for goal setting. Key results are designed to demonstrate progress toward an objective. As employees achieve their key results, they can see what they’re working to achieve and their progress.

Give your employees a sense of purpose

Purpose is one of the strongest intrinsic motivators. People want to contribute to a cause they believe in. Connecting people with a sense of purpose beyond themselves can provide the motivation they need to do their best work.

Some workers need help seeing how their work drives business results. Your goal alignment software can show employees how their daily tasks support their team’s objectives and the larger business strategy. Regular check-ins with managers are one way to help those team members see their purpose within the greater organizational context.

Offer training and development opportunities

Learning and development offers extrinsic and intrinsic motivation to employees. The prospect of employer-provided learning opportunities satisfies your people’s natural inclination to learn. These opportunities also signal greater rewards ahead, such as more responsibility, a job promotion, or increased compensation.

How education is delivered can impact its motivating effect on people. Some people learn better using microlearning modules, while others benefit from group discussions or classroom-style learning. Make sure employees have a variety of options for training and development. Educate managers on what’s available, and help them learn to guide their team members to the right resources. Consider tying skill-building course completions into an employee’s development goals. Betterworks found that making the link between learning and performance management dramatically increases course completion rates.

Understand what drives each employee

While there are motivational factors that tend to work across the board, every person is different. One person might find working in a team exhilarating and motivating, while another finds that motivation in knocking out a task solo.

To motivate employees, managers are one of your most valuable resources for helping team members understand their unique motivators. From there, managers can build experiences that inspire and elevate their teams. Equip managers with conversation prompts that help them uncover what motivates their employees.

Help employees feel motivated and drive business results

When your people feel invested in their work, they’ll be eager to do more to drive the business forward. Learn how to create organizational structures that help managers understand the value of motivation and how to bring it out in their teams. When managers absorb these lessons and learn to motivate employees, you’ll see higher engagement, more efficient work, and better business results.
Learn about the impact of goal-setting on employee performance.

Share