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Employee motivation: 6 ideas that work

Saskia Crawley

Remote worker & content writer

If you’re looking for how to improve employee engagement, examining employee motivation is key. Put simply, the more motivated your teams are, the better they’ll perform.

Here, we’ve rounded up the six key drivers to employee motivation and proven ideas to implement them, regardless of your industry. 

The key employee motivation drivers to pay attention to

Six motives of action in the workplace have been defined by human performance experts Neel Doshi & Lindsay McGregor in Primed to Perform: How to Build the Highest Performing Cultures Through the Science of Total Motivation (2015). Let’s take a look at them from most powerful to least efficient:

  • Play / Intrinsic - Employees are most likely to achieve their goals when they enjoy undertaking the activities involved. Play compels us to take up hobbies or try new things for fun. Freedom to experiment and be curious is key.
  • Purpose - When employees value the outcome of their work, they are motivated by a sense of purpose. Creating a sense of purpose for your employees means aligning their values & beliefs with the impact of their work. 
  • Potential - Employees are motivated by potential when driven by a second-order outcome. This could be the promise of a promotion or the personal goals they can meet through their role.
  • Emotional pressure - An indirect motive; emotional pressure occurs when emotions such as guilt or disappointment compel an employee to carry out their work. The work itself is no longer the motivator.
  • Economic pressure - Employees motivated by economic pressure work to gain a reward or avoid punishment. 
  • Inertia - The most indirect motive, inertia is a motive that’s hard to describe where it comes from. It’s simply the motivation to keep doing something because you’ve always done it before! Inertia typically leads to poor performance.

Looking for more insight on boosting employee motivation and engagement? Check out our blogs on ten employee engagement solutions to consider,  the employee engagement statistics you need to know, and the best virtual employee engagement platforms of 2022/2023.

6 of the best employee motivation ideas

1. Give employees the time to explore their own ideas

Motive: Play / Intrinsic 

How other companies are doing it:

  • Gore & Associates and Google give people free time and the resources to get curious and play with their ideas. 
  • Zappos and Southwest Airlines encourage employees to treat customer interactions as play. Allowing them to experiment and find enjoyable, effective solutions.

Next step: Look closely at your management style and ask employees how much freedom they have to do things their way.

2. Nurture a sense of purpose

Motive: Purpose

How other companies are doing it:

  • Walmart’s financial services division fostered a sense of purpose by starting management meetings with a review of the money they save customers rather than their profits.
  • Engineers & technicians at Medtronic are motivated to work hard because they see the powerful effects of their devices in action. 

Next step: Investigate employee values and see how you can align their work with your goals.

3. Highlight the future potential of employee roles

Motive: Potential

How other companies are doing it:

  • General Electric draws talent through its reputation as the ‘leadership factory’ for future CEOs.

Next step: Make sure you have clear routes to progression in place for your team.

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4. Provide proper emotional support 

Motive: Emotional pressure

  • Tech company Medallia teaches people how to be vulnerable during their onboarding process, meaning employees know how to seek the help they need during their role.

Next step: Check how easy it is for employees to be honest, give feedback, and get the help they need to carry out their roles while promoting their well-being.

5. Put the right rewards in place

Motive: Economic pressure

How other companies are doing it:

  • Apple uses highly tailored rewards to keep employees motivated all across the globe. For example, giving employees extended time off during Thanksgiving (or if located outside of America, during an equivalent holiday period). 
  • Online shoe retailer Zappos Zollar Progam allows employees to collect reward points to buy items like desk fans and gym bags and to give each other $50 for going above and beyond in their work. 

Next step: Look into the best employee engagement apps to determine which reward platforms suit your organization.

6. Ensure employees are there for the right reasons

Motive: Inertia

How other companies are doing it:

  • Zappos nips inertia in the bud with their ‘Pay to Quit’ policy. They offer new hires a month’s salary to quit. They don’t want employees in the job ‘just because’. They want them motivated to do their work because they want to be there! 

Next step: Check in with employees through one-to-one meetings to pinpoint those driven by inertia. Then explore how you can support them in finding a more powerful motivator.

5 employee motivation activities to do with your team

Whether team building virtually or face-to-face, fun yet strategic employee motivation activities are a tangible way to increase employee motivation and engage your teams. Let’s take a look at five ideas you can try:

  1. Virtual team building games help nurture team connections and bring play to the workplace (more free virtual activities here)
  2. Allow remote working to demonstrate trust and support work-life balance.
  3. Dine out together. Great food and conversation are good for the soul and building team relationships.
  4. Work outdoors to support well-being and encourage creativity in the fresh air.
  5. Share positive customer reviews together and let your employees know the positive impact they’re having. And celebrate!

Is boosting team connection also part of your employee engagement strategy? Then, don’t forget to explore Gomada’s team building activities for work to promote employee morale and strengthen team relationships.

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