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What Motivates Employees In the Workplace?

Tuesday January 5th, 2016

Estimated time to read: 3 minutes

Many employers know that motivation is a key element of being a good leader. Yet, somehow they still seem to miss the mark when it comes to actively motivating their employees. Employee motivation ought to be a priority on any employer’s list and we are here to help guide you, as a leader, in improving your motivation game.

It’s a proven fact that a workforce that is motivated, engaged and responsive is considerably more productive than an unmotivated, apathetic group of employees. Businesses with motivated employees also benefit from people who work harder and generate higher-quality results. These businesses see lower turnover rates and, in turn, save the time and money it would take to recruit and train replacements.

Now before going any further, let’s stop and review what exactly motivation is.

The Webster dictionary defines motivation as “something inside people that drives them to action.” This being the case, what motivates one person may be different from the next.

Motivation comes from within. It emerges from theories, out of needs, values, goals, intentions and expectations. Leaders don’t need to create motivation. Instead, they need to cultivate and direct the motivation that is already in each employee.

By understanding what motivates individual employees, employers and managers will be able to better grasp why people perform the way they do and improve overall productivity in the workplace.

It may be tempting to think that money and/or power is enough to motivate anyone. However, this is often not the case. This is particularly true in many Millennials, who strive to make a difference and find self-fulfillment.

So, without any more delay, let’s get to the meat of it, and discuss the components of motivation. Studies have shown that there are five main components of motivation.

Skill variety

People rarely possess only one skill. As such, many employees may be motivated by the ability to use a variety of their skills.

How does this apply to your employees? If you discover that some of your employees are motivated by skill variety, you may want to consider combining tasks that require different skill sets. You may also see the potential for new skills in your employees. Giving them the opportunity to develop and hone new skills will also serve those who are motivated by skill variety.

Task identity

Some people are motivated by being able to personally identify with the work they are doing. Even if an individual is skilled in the task that they are being delegated, if they don’t identify with it or understand the significance of it, they are much less likely to put the use their time and skills wisely to complete the task to the best of their ability.

As a leader, it is important to take the time to get to know and understand your employees. This way, you will be able to delegate tasks to ensure the most productivity and quality of work.

Task significance

Many people, particularly Millennials, are motivated by the knowledge that what they do is important and makes a difference.

You, as a leader, can cultivate this motivation in your employees by making sure that they fully understand the significance of the tasks they are doing. Don’t just assume that your employees already know this. Rather, take the time to explain why the task is important and how it will make a difference whether in the short term or long term.


Employees who are motivated by autonomy need some self-control and responsibility in order to reach their full potential.

For some, this may mean giving them more of a leadership role. For others, and this is often the case, you can cultivate their motivation by simply loosening the reigns a little. Let your employees know that you trust them enough to make the right decisions to complete their tasks without being lorded over. Allowing your employees to be more responsible for themselves and their tasks, you will likely discover skills and creativity that you weren’t otherwise aware of.


Receiving feedback on completed tasks may serve as a motivation for future tasks in other people. Some people may just simply need to hear what they are doing right and what they can improve on to fuel them.

As a leader, you can cultivate this motivation by showing your employees the end result of their hard work and giving them both positive feedback and productive criticism.

Similarly, people who are motivated by receiving feedback may also like to give feedback. Opening up a feedback channel will let your employees know that you care enough to give and receive feedback.

Wrapping it up

These are the five components of motivation. Many people will find some level of motivation from each of these components. As a leader, it is your job to find which component of motivation is strongest in each of your employees and cultivate them.

This takes time and effort. You will need to get to know your employees and understand them. Once you discover the motivating component in each of your employees and make the effort to cater to each of those components, you will be rewarded with happier, more productive and engaged employees that yield high-quality results.