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8 Top Ways to Motivate Your Employees


Summary: Businesses need good employees, but even the best people can become unmotivated. This can result in poor office morale and low productivity, both of which are harmful for employers.

8 Top Ways to Motivate Your Employees
  • Employers who either don’t put value or devalue their employees may as well board up their businesses.
  • This is true as it is of late especially difficult to find strong, reliable and thoughtful employees.
  • Employees of merit should be cherished and appreciated.
  • Above all, they need to be motivated.
  • This article offers 8 ways to motivate your employees that will make them feel like something more than just another employee with a ho-hum job.
Businesses need good employees, but even the best people can become unmotivated. This can result in poor office morale and low productivity, both of which are harmful for employers. So what can management do? While money is obviously nice (and an important part of one’s job), it is actually not as inspiring as purpose. Successful employers who figure out how to bring meaning to their employees’ work are the ones who get the best results.

Numerous studies have shown that motivation is guided by three principles: autonomy, relatedness, and competence. According to the Harvard Business Review, these three needs are in contrast to the Maslow Hierarchy of Needs, which states that people are motivated by first fulfilling basic needs such as shelter and food before moving onto higher-levels such as esteem and self-realization.

The three-need theory does not prioritize. Instead, it states that all humans, no matter what they have, want autonomy, relatedness, and competence to be met in order to flourish. For employers, they can use this theory to figure out policies that bring the best out of their workforce.

The three foundational needs: autonomy, relatedness, and competence:

Employers who want to motivate their employees should satisfy their three basic psychological needs: autonomy, relatedness, and competence. Autonomy refers to a person’s independence, the feeling that they have choices and do things because they want to. Relatedness is feeling a connection to others and to feel as if they are contributing to something greater than themselves. Competence is showing skill, feeling a sense of flourishing, and feeling as if you are meeting everyday challenges.

“Unlike Maslow’s needs, these three basic needs are not hierarchical or sequential. They are foundational to all human beings and our ability to flourish,” Susan Fowler stated in the Harvard Business Review. “The exciting message to leaders is that when the three basic psychological needs are satisfied in the workplace, people experience the day-to-day high-quality motivation that fuels employee work passion — and all the inherent benefits that come from actively engaged individuals at work. To take advantage of the science requires shifting your leadership focus from, “What can I give people to motivate them?” to “How can I facilitate people’s satisfaction of autonomy, relatedness, and competence?”

8 ways to keep your staff motivated at work:

Motivating people is not an easy task, and it cannot be done with threats or just throwing money around. As Fowler stated, people innately want to feel independent, connected, and competent, and the following are some ways for managers to meet these three needs.
  1. Lead by example.

Employees are there to work for a boss, and the type of boss they have will determine their level of motivation. A boss who demands long hours but leaves early, who is demeaning, or who takes credit for others’ work will demotivate staff; while a hard-working, respectful boss will encourage others to do good work. This is because they will like their supervisor, which ties in with the need to relate.

If employers want the best from their workers, then they need to lead by example. Business owners should promote leadership that genuinely cares about the company and its people, and those managers will inspire those below them. Conversely, if business owners keep bad leadership, then they will end up with unhappy workers, which will lead to a bad business.

“You can’t expect your employees to work hard or behave the way you want them to if you don’t lead by example. If you show your excitement about the company’s goals, your employees will get on-board and work to achieve those goals. Good moods are always infectious — especially in the workplace,” Margaret Jacoby, founder and president of MJ Management Solutions, wrote on the Huffington Post.

Additionally, promoting and maintaining diversity leadership will encourage women and minorities to strive for higher positions and/or apply for your organization. Many underrepresented groups quit or avoid organizations that have discrimination, so if they see your company is open to more than the old-school way of thinking than they will work harder for you, believing they have a chance of moving up.
  1. Set clear goals.

People like to achieve goals. After all, competitive games wouldn’t exist if people didn’t intrinsically enjoy this. But people cannot work towards goals if they are not clearly defined. In fact, working in a meandering way can frustrate even the brightest people.

To motivate employees, set clear, attainable goals with deadlines so that employees know exactly what is expected of them. Be realistic with their goals and timelines, and they will come to appreciate conquering the tasks at hand. Then once your staff meets their goals’, thank them and assign new tasks.

As the three needs theory states, people want to feel competent, and if their goals are met on a weekly basis, then they will feel a sense of pride and continue on their winning streak. This is a win for them, and a win for you, their employer.
  1. Create a positive work environment.

Some mistakenly believe that creating a cutthroat environment gets workers to compete to get great results. However, time and time again, it is proven that toxic workplaces only result in low morale and eventual lawsuits. Instead, employers should work towards creating a positive place to work by not only setting clear policies such as zero tolerance to sexual harassment but to also strictly enforce those policies.

Enforcement is one of the keys to having a positive work environment. While almost all businesses have some sort of policies in place, harassment and abuse can still happen. But what management does once a report is filed can drastically affect how the employees view the company and how hard they want to work. For instance, workers will respect management that immediately conducts an investigation and takes action to stop policy violations. In comparison, they will be resentful if management lets the inappropriate actions of a select few slide.

SquareUp also recommends that you create an aesthetically pleasing environment. Long-gone are the “Office Space” days of boring, ugly cubicles under fluorescent lights. While that look is still around, people are well-aware that Google and like-minded companies provide warm and bright spaces, and these types of offices attract and retain talent.

“No one wants to stand around in a dingy, boring space for hours on end. Having an aesthetically pleasing, well-lit, functional, and fun space makes work a lot more pleasant,” SquareUp stated. “The first step is to make sure things are well-kept and that you have updated, working equipment. This means switching out that Cold War–era back office computer, your glacial-paced point-of-sale system, or generally anything that people might want to throw out the window in frustration. It also means keeping things clean and nice looking. Sprucing up your space doesn’t have to be expensive. Try featuring local artists or picking up interesting furniture pieces at a flea market. All these little touches will make things a lot more enjoyable for your employees.”
  1. Encourage collaboration.

As mentioned above, employees want a positive work environment, and as an extension of that, encouraging collaboration will add to their fun in the office and inspire them to do more. Employees who feel bonds with their coworkers are happier and more productive. Encourage group projects or that people help each other and get along. Host luncheons or events where they can socialize, and let them know that teamwork is valued.

“To be happy at work, it’s important to feel like “you have a friend.” This gets challenging especially when the company gets busy. People need to feel like they know each other and so time like this yields positive results,” Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, told American Express.

Collaboration is also very important to millennials, who will make up 75% of the workforce in 2025. According to The Intelligence Group, 88% of millennials prefer a collaborative environment to a competitive one. To create this, management must set the tone, and HR should focus on hiring team players.
  1. Encourage innovation.

Your staff will feel inspired if you allow them to grow in the company and flex their creativity and independence. Knowing that they can contribute in a meaningful way will motivate them to keep thriving within your organization. So support their ideas. It’s a sign that they care.

In contrast, managers who continuously turn down staff ideas will decrease their employees’ desire to innovate. Perceived favoritism will also cause staff to check out and stop trying. Thus, give everyone a chance and let them know their voices are being heard.

Staff will also feel motivated by management that takes real risks. While it is easy to do what everyone else does, it is inspiring to see management do the right thing.

“Many bosses--like many people--try to stand out in superficial ways. Maybe they wear unusual clothing or pursue unusual interests or publicly support popular initiatives. They try to stand out--and they choose easy ways to do so,” Jeff Haden stated on Inc. “Great bosses do it the hard way. They take unpopular stands, not because they hope to stand out, but because they want to do the right thing. They take unpopular steps. They're willing to step outside business-as-usual to make things better.”
  1. Recognize and reward achievement.

Money is a life necessity, but it’s not the only thing that motivates people. Human beings intrinsically want to be appreciated, and they are motivated by employers who tell them they’re doing a good job. Think about when you were a grade school student and the teacher gave you a gold star. That feeling of wanting to please and be rewarded publicly never goes away, no matter your age.

“Remember that the carrot, not the stick, is most likely to get the best out of your workforce,” Outro founder Bubba page wrote on Inc. “My own startup Outro has a built-in rewards program for our clients to send gift cards to people when they give a referral or make a warm introduction. It doesn't take much--an employee of the month plaque, a coupon for a Starbucks latte--to create real motivation, especially when recognition takes place in front of the group. Recognition and reward on a regular basis remind employees that they are appreciated, and help them to balance short- and long-term goals.”
  1. Give ownership.

Employees who feel like cogs in the machine will give you only the bare minimum needed to not get fired. But if you give your employees a stake in the company, whether that is through public credit, equity, or bonuses based on profit, they will work for you as if they are entrepreneurs, not clock-watchers.

“It all contributes to a feeling of ‘it’s mine,’ and most people, when it’s theirs, don’t want to fail, don’t want to build poor quality and don’t want to dissatisfy the customer,” Professor Leonard Glick of Northeastern University told Forbes.

Glick recommends management fosters collaboration so that staff knows what their colleagues are working on and that they don’t have people’s jobs become too specialized where they don’t feel as connected to others or the task at hand.
  1. Never throw anyone under the bus.

It is inevitable that mistakes will happen or problems will spring up. But in those moments, managers should refrain from throwing anyone under the bus, even if deserved. Doing so will lose you loyalty, not only from the person blamed but from others who will assume you will one day do that to them.

“Great bosses never throw employees under the bus. Great bosses see the bus coming and pull their employees out of the way, often without the employee's knowing until much, much later (if ever--because great bosses never seek to take credit),” Haden added. “When someone volunteers to take a bullet on our behalf they inspire incredible loyalty.”


Happy employees mean good business for employers, so it’s important to figure out how to motivate and inspire them to want to give your company good work. When enacting policies, just remember, your staff are humans with complex feelings. Working is personal for them. So if you can tap into their sense of personal fulfillment, then that will surely move them.

See the following articles for more information: