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The Employee Experience Platform | Culture Amp
Kat Boogaard

Kat Boogaard

Writer, Culture Amp

Nobody wants to work anymore.

It’s a complaint that’s been uttered for hundreds of years, with some research tracing the phrase all the way back to at least 1894. The idea that “Nobody wants to work anymore” wasn’t true then, and it isn’t true now. But the pandemic and the resulting workplace trends – think quiet quitting and “lazy girl jobs” – have only fueled the perception that today’s employees are completely checked out.

If your employees don’t seem motivated, it’s not necessarily a sign of a bigger societal problem, but it may signal that your company could be doing more to support its people. So, how can you instill that get-up-and-go attitude? Let’s take a closer look at the ins and outs of employee motivation.

What is employee motivation?

Employee motivation is the level of drive workers invest in their tasks and responsibilities. It’s a measure of how focused and ambitious they are when they’re on the clock.

It sounds a lot like employee engagement, but employee motivation and engagement differ. Motivation is just one component of engagement, which is the level of enthusiasm and connection employees have with their organization. At Culture Amp, we break employee engagement into five factors:

  1. Pride
  2. Recommendation
  3. Present commitment
  4. Future commitment
  5. Motivation

Motivation plays an important role in engagement, but the terms aren’t interchangeable. To keep it simple, think of it like this:

  • Motivation describes employee drive
  • Engagement describes employee interest, commitment, and enthusiasm

How to motivate employees: 5 strategies to boost initiative

Higher employee motivation is tied to better job satisfaction, performance, and even retention. So, understandably, leaders want to know: How do you motivate employees and reap those benefits? Here are five employee motivation strategies to fuel their sense of drive and ambition.

1. Build your baseline

It’s easier to improve employee motivation if you know where you’re starting. Collecting employee feedback can help you understand how motivated they’re currently feeling in their roles, as well as what they need to feel even more motivated at work.

You could do a separate survey focused specifically on employee motivation or look at the questions in your employee engagement survey that pertain specifically to their level of drive.

For example, our engagement index will help you glean some insights. It asks employees to rate their agreement with five statements, one of which focuses on motivation:

[Company] motivates me to go beyond what I would in a similar role elsewhere.

Gathering employee feedback is also an opportunity to assess how they feel about other important aspects of your workplace – compensation, benefits, and leadership. All of those impact their level of motivation as well.

2. Connect employees to a bigger purpose

Plenty of research shows that employees are increasingly looking for a sense of purpose at work. And when an impressive 70% of employees say their own sense of purpose is defined by what they do for a living, organizations need to be up to the task of helping employees find that sense of fulfillment and meaning.

The good news is that this isn’t just a feel-good activity for employees – it benefits employers too, as studies show that meaningful work boosts both motivation and performance.

One of the best ways to foster this sense of meaning and purpose is to show employees why their work matters. They may not have the same level of visibility as leaders, so managers will need to connect those dots for them:

  • How does their individual work contribute to team or organization-wide goals?
  • Why are those goals important to the organization?
  • Why are those goals important for the broader industry or community?

By tracing work upwards in this way, employees get a much better sense of where and how they fit in – which makes their work feel more valuable and, as a result, more motivating.

3. Build social support

Social relatedness – the term for feeling connected to other people – is proven to increase motivation at work. But unfortunately, that feeling of belonging is harder to come by these days, particularly with many teams still working remotely or in a hybrid format. In fact, two-thirds of workers admit that they feel disconnected from their colleagues.

Providing regular opportunities for team members to forge bonds with each other might sound like it would detract from motivation, but the opposite is true – it adds to it.

Whether you do something small like dedicate the first 10 minutes of your weekly team meeting to personal small talk or something big like scheduling a team-wide offsite, strengthening these relationships can work wonders for motivation. Research shows that simply feeling like part of a team increases motivation for challenging tasks.

4. Offer adequate praise and recognition

When we receive praise or a compliment, our brains release dopamine. While it’s often thought of as a feel-good brain chemical, it’s actually closely tied to motivation. The gist is that your brain really likes dopamine, and it gives you a major nudge to pursue more of that reward.

Even that quick brain science lesson should be enough to show you that a little bit of employee recognition can go a long way in increasing motivation – and engagement too. According to research from Gallup, employees who receive great recognition are 20 times as likely to be engaged as employees who receive poor recognition.

Recognition doesn’t need to be complex. A simple shoutout in a meeting or a handwritten note to recognize a job well done can help people feel more seen and valued. Just be careful about keeping things even, because employees will notice if you play favorites. Only 26% of employees strongly agree that they receive similar recognition as other team members with similar performance levels.

And while a hearty “Nice work!” from a direct supervisor carries a lot of weight, encourage frequent peer-to-peer recognition too. Research shows that this type of praise increases engagement, performance, and motivation.

5. Encourage advancement opportunities

When employees see a clear path forward, they’re more likely to actually want to take those steps. That’s why career development positively influences employee performance and motivation – employees are driven to move toward future achievements and milestones.

Career growth opportunities fuel both types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation refers to doing something because of the inherent satisfaction you get, while extrinsic means doing something in pursuit of external rewards.

Both come into play with career advancement. Employees get a sense of accomplishment from learning new skills or tackling new challenges, as well as more tangible rewards like certifications, raises, or promotions.

Leaders can capitalize on this by outlining a motivating future for employees, including clear career goals, and then supporting employee development with plenty of resources, progress tracking, and regular check-ins. After all, it’s hard for employees to muster the motivation to move toward a finish line if they don’t know what or where it is.

Motivation doesn’t have to be a mystery

Despite what every previous generation would have you believe, it’s not that nobody wants to work anymore – it’s that the world of work is rapidly changing, and so is what helps employees feel their most focused and motivated.

Ultimately, it’s up to leaders and organizations to figure out how to feed that fire.

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