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According to a large global study, only 23 percent of people feel engaged in their work. This lack of engagement takes a toll on both individual fulfillment and business outcomes. Employee motivation is an “essential catalyst” for organizational success because it’s the driving force behind performance, sustained engagement, and goal achievement. Employers often misinterpret lack of motivation as laziness or inadequate skills, but the truth is often that employees genuinely want to deliver exceptional work, but the workplace culture poses obstacles to job motivation.
Employee motivation is the psychological process that drives us to take action, stay engaged, and achieve our work goals. It stems from internal and external factors that influence enthusiasm, persistence, and direction. Motivated employees are typically more productive, committed, and satisfied with their work, which can positively impact overall job performance and organizational success. If work is enjoyable, there’s likely to be less turnover and absenteeism.
People are motivated by different things. For example, Generation Z often finds motivation when their personal values align with the company’s values, as well as through work-life balance and leadership transparency. Meanwhile, Gen X and millennials tend to value more hybrid and remote work options as many juggle raising children and caring for aging family members. Older generations may not have the same focus on work-life balance either because they are empty nesters, or due to expectations to work tirelessly to pay the bills passed down from generations that survived the Great Depression or from having endured several recessions. Instead, their motivation in the workplace may depend more on professional development or higher compensation.
Employees need a combination of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation at work to feel recognized and appreciated. Intrinsic motivation is the internal drive and enjoyment we feel while performing a task or engaging in an activity. It’s driven by personal satisfaction, interest, and fulfillment This type of motivation boosts confidence levels, which can translate into better work productivity and engagement.
Intrinsic motivation in the workplace may include:
Extrinsic motivation comes from outside of ourselves and may include rewards, recognition, or consequences that influence us to act or perform in certain ways. External motivators can be tangible or intangible.
Extrinsic motivation in the workplace may include:
Extrinsic motivation at work can influence us to achieve specific goals or meet desired performance standards. There’s a role for both intrinsic and extrinsic employee motivation, and it’s not sustainable to have just one or the other. If an employee is only intrinsically motivated and doesn’t see any material rewards, or if they’re only motivated by things outside of them like salary, they’ll eventually run out of steam. The combination of both is what builds long-term work motivation. For example, a promotion (extrinsic) can make someone feel more valued, which may increase their confidence (intrinsic).
Work motivation plays a critical role in driving productivity, engagement, and overall job satisfaction. Here are a few benefits that highlight the importance of employee motivation.
Employee motivation is linked to productivity and efficiency. When we’re engaged at work, we aim to perform at our best, take initiative, and go the extra mile to achieve organizational goals. This can mean higher output and improved work quality.
Motivated employees are more engaged, enthusiastic, dedicated, and involved in work. This contributes to a positive work culture and a sense of ownership and pride. If we’re engaged, we’re more likely to collaborate, innovate, and actively contribute to team motivation and our organization’s success.
Motivation in the workforce is linked to higher employee retention. When we’re committed to our work and the organization, we’re less likely to seek employment elsewhere. This leads to greater stability within the workforce and lower costs associated with recruitment, training, and onboarding.
A culture of employee engagement and motivation creates a productive work environment. When we’re motivated, we can inspire and influence colleagues and foster a culture of high performance, collaboration, and continuous improvement. This type of organizational culture attracts and retains top talent—a competitive advantage for any business.
Employers have the power to create positive work environments that inspire, engage, and empower employees. From fostering a culture of recognition to providing opportunities for growth and autonomy, here are some ways to motivate employees and drive organizational success:
Recognition acknowledges efforts, contributions, and achievements, and shows that peers, managers, and the organization value employees’ work. Feeling appreciated fosters an emotional connection with work, boosting job motivation and self-esteem. This could be via a kudos wall or virtual platform for shout-outs and gratitude for hard work. It’s important to recognize everyone who touches a project, not just those who took it to the finish line.
Training helps employees acquire new skills, knowledge, and competencies. By developing capabilities, employees feel more competent and confident in their roles, which can boost employee motivation. Training team leaders is important, too. According to Lyra Health’s State of Workforce Mental Health report, 48 percent of managers report not having the resources and training to support mental health for their teams.
Mentorship programs that create opportunities for people to establish meaningful relationships with mentors who are genuinely invested in their future can be a powerful employee motivation strategy. The presence of both formal and informal mentors can enhance job motivation and growth.
Autonomy gives team members a sense of ownership and control over their work. They feel empowered to make decisions, set goals, and determine how to approach their tasks. This sense of ownership provides a stronger sense of responsibility and commitment, motivating employees in the workplace to take initiative and be accountable.
Career development is another important consideration when deciding how to motivate your team. This goes beyond promotions. Skills training, workshops, and courses help employees acquire new knowledge relevant to their roles and future career aspirations. Offering opportunities for continuous learning and professional development demonstrates your investment in employees’ growth. This can boost motivation in the workplace because it gives employees a stronger sense of clarity and purpose.
Seventy-nine percent of employees in a survey by Glassdoor said they would prefer additional benefits over pay raises. Comprehensive benefits, such as high-quality mental health benefits, retirement plans, and health insurance, may motivate an employee by providing a sense of security. This can alleviate stress and enhance peace of mind so employees can focus on performing well.
Ensuring that workers have the resources they need to do their jobs is crucial for employee motivation. When employees have access to essential tools, equipment, technology, and resources, they can work more effectively. This increased efficiency and productivity not only breeds a sense of accomplishment but also fuels worker motivation because employees have the resources they need to meet their goals.
Having well-established systems in place, such as clear workflows and transparent communication, can also positively affect employee motivation. When employees know how to navigate their tasks and where to seek guidance, it creates a sense of empowerment and enables them to perform at their best. Conversely, a lack of transparency and unclear processes can be demotivating, leaving individuals feeling uncertain and hindered in their work.
Knowing what motivates you to do a good job and maintain a high level of work motivation is essential for personal growth, job satisfaction, and overall productivity. However, there are times when motivation wanes, and finding ways to stay motivated at work becomes difficult. If you find yourself with no motivation to work, try these tactics.
Establish clear, specific, and achievable goals for yourself. Having well-defined objectives gives you a sense of purpose and direction, and helps you stay motivated as you strive to accomplish them.
Large tasks can sometimes feel overwhelming and demotivating. Break them down into smaller, more manageable steps. Focus on completing each step, which provides a sense of progress and achievement, and keeps you motivated to keep going.
Acknowledging your progress and achievements, no matter how small, can boost your motivation at work and self-confidence. Treat yourself to a yoga class, time with a friend, or a special coffee drink when you finish a challenging project.
Engage in ongoing learning and development. Seek out opportunities to gain new skills, expand your knowledge, and stay up-to-date in your field. Learning and growth contribute to a sense of personal fulfillment and motivation for work.
Connect with the larger purpose and meaning behind your work. Understand how your contributions make a difference and positively impact others or the organization. When you see the significance of your efforts, it can be highly motivating.
Taking regular breaks throughout the day and engaging in self-care activities helps you maintain energy, focus, and work motivation. Prioritize your well-being by incorporating activities such as exercise, meditation, or hobbies into your routine.
Engaging with colleagues, seeking support when needed, and actively collaborating on projects can have a transformative impact on your motivation at work. Reach out to people, start social groups, or join existing ones. These can be invaluable sources of inspiration and motivation at work when you need a boost to stay engaged.
Embrace challenges as growth and learning opportunities. Reframe setbacks as valuable lessons rather than failures. By adopting a growth mindset, you can maintain resilience and a willingness to overcome obstacles.
If you’re struggling to figure out what motivates you to do a good job at work, a career or mental health coach may help. They can serve as a sounding board, asking questions that help you identify what you’ve liked doing in the past and what motivates you at work. By aligning work with personal values and aspirations, you can find greater fulfillment.
Talk to your manager if you feel comfortable doing so. They may be able to adjust things that zap your motivation. Have a conversation about what interests you and ask if they have opportunities in those areas.
Seek out mentors, colleagues, or peers who you admire for their exceptional work. Cultivating these relationships through formal mentoring programs or informal connections allows you to tap into their wisdom and insights. By learning from their experiences and accomplishments, you can gain valuable inspiration and guidance to fuel your own work motivation.
Having a fulfilling life outside of work plays a role in how we show up and engage within our professional environment. By investing in hobbies, community activities, friendships, and family relationships, we create grounding influences that positively impact our work life. When we bring our whole selves to work, nourished by these outside influences, we enhance our overall satisfaction and motivation at work.
Employee motivation can be a key to extraordinary business results. Understanding what truly drives and inspires employees is essential for creating a thriving and productive work environment. By cultivating a culture that values employee well-being, provides growth opportunities, and fosters meaningful connections, employers can unleash the full potential of their workforce.