3 Insights on Employee Motivation

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What makes some employees pour themselves into the work they do? That's the heart of the question behind motivating employees. Here are three (3) insights on employee motivation.

What makes some employees pour themselves into the work they do?

1. Limit using carrots and sticks to employee motivation.

One of the most well-known motivational concepts is the 'carrot and stick' approach which uses rewards and penalties to motivate others to produce desired results. Believe it or not, this method is still used quite a bit in organizations, despite its lackluster results. Employers continue to rely on rewards and incentives as well as discipline and punishment to motivate their employees.

These tactics alone generally fail to motivate employees, particularly on more complex, creative, and conceptual tasks, which have become the norm in workplaces with the influx of knowledge workers. In addition, they are no longer sufficient for the level of motivation and engagement that many organizations are seeking, where employees demonstrate an uncommon level of effort.

2. Focus on using the intangibles for employee motivation.

There is no substitute for intangible motivators, that is, the softer things that cost nothing, but tap into intrinsic factors. Deep down, most human beings are motivated and driven by the same types of things.

For example, most employees want to make a difference, support their company's mission, and do meaningful work. Many workers want to pursue their personal passions, master their craft, reach their ultimate career and life goals, and make progress towards their goals. In addition, feeling appreciated, valued, included, and encouraged by their leader also motivates employees.

These intangible motivators or intrinsic factors are essential to tap if you want an uncommon level of effort. In addition, they are not necessarily always things you bestow on your employees to motivate them, but can be things you enable.

3. Find out what motivates employees and give it to them.

Ultimately, motivating employees entails finding out what employees want and giving it to them (within reason). All employees are different and what motivates one employee, won't necessarily motivate another.

The danger with motivation is assuming that what motivates one employee is going to motivate another. Some employees may be motivated by a bonus or pay raise, the ability to advance, or flexibility in their work schedule. Conversely, other employees are motivated by freedom/autonomy, meaningful work, or a new opportunity. Trying to motivate someone with the wrong motivator, however, is wasted time, energy, and money.

Do your organization a favor and take the guess work out of motivation. Ask employees what really motivates them and then either give it to them or at least try to enable them to get what they want.


Organizations do not need to be perplexed with motivating employees. Motivation is pretty simple and boils down to understanding your employees and what motivates them, using intangible motivators, and limiting the traditional 'carrot and stick' approach.