Business Leadership Today

How to Motivate Unmotivated Employees: Meeting the 14 Universal Needs


Muriel Call, Staff Writer

With employee engagement on the wane, one of the most critical yet challenging tasks for any organization remains keeping its employees motivated and productive. 

Employee motivation is not just about higher paychecks or promotions; it’s also about creating an environment where employees feel valued and see their work as meaningful. This is easier said than done, unfortunately. 

To stay engaged and motivated, employees need to have their needs met. These needs are not just physical or financial but also psychological and emotional. Research has identified 14 universal needs that employees have for thriving at work. 

These needs, when fulfilled, can transform unmotivated employees into a highly productive and committed workforce.

Unmotivated employees need clear expectations, the tools required to do their job, work that leverages their strengths, recognition, growth, a voice, meaningful work, the means to achieve excellence, belonging, feedback, autonomy, trust, and leaders who care about them and support their well-being.

This article will delve into each of these needs and provide insights into how they can be met to foster a motivated and thriving workforce.

Clear Expectations

In any workplace, clarity of expectations is fundamental. It provides a roadmap for employees, guiding them toward the organization’s goals. Providing clarity of expectations is a powerful motivational tool, providing direction, promoting fairness, and enabling employees to align their efforts with organizational goals.

Understanding what is expected eliminates ambiguity, allowing employees to focus effectively and boosting their motivation. Clear expectations foster a sense of fairness and are a strong motivator. 

For instance, when sales targets are clearly communicated, salespeople can plan their work accordingly, increasing both motivation and productivity. 

The Tools Required to Do the Job

In the modern workplace, providing necessary tools and resources is both a necessity and a significant motivator. The right tools empower employees, increasing productivity and motivation. 

Lack of appropriate tools can hamper efficiency and lead to frustration. However, when employees have access to needed tools, they can perform tasks more efficiently, leading to better results and a sense of accomplishment. 

For instance, a project management tool can help a team track progress, stay organized, and meet deadlines, boosting motivation. Investing in the right tools signals that the organization values employees’ work, fostering a sense of belonging and greater motivation.

Work That Leverages Strengths

Assigning tasks that align with employees’ strengths is a powerful motivator. Every individual has unique strengths and talents, and when these are recognized and utilized, it leads to higher job satisfaction and performance. 

For instance, a problem-solving team member assigned tasks requiring critical thinking will be more engaged. Similarly, an employee with strong interpersonal skills might excel in a role requiring frequent interaction. 

Leveraging employees’ strengths boosts their confidence, enhancing self-esteem and initiative. 


Recognition is a powerful motivator in the workplace. It’s the acknowledgment of an individual’s or team’s effort, hard work, behavior, or performance. 

When employees feel their work is recognized and appreciated, it affirms their work’s value, leading to increased confidence, job satisfaction, and motivation. 

Recognition can range from a simple “thank you” to formal programs like “Employee of the Month.” It promotes a positive workplace culture, encourages employees to perform at their best, and fosters a sense of belonging. 


Growth opportunities in the workplace, such as professional development programs, promotions, or challenging projects, play a crucial role in employee motivation. When employees see a clear path for growth, it boosts their motivation, engagement, and commitment to the organization. 

Growth opportunities provide a sense of progress and purpose, making employees feel their work contributes to their personal and professional development. Continuous learning and development enhance job satisfaction and confidence. 

For instance, a software company offering regular training on the latest technologies not only keeps employees updated but also shows investment in their growth. 

Feeling Heard

Open communication in the workplace is vital for employee motivation. It involves listening to employees’ ideas and concerns and encouraging dialogue. When employees feel heard, they are more likely to feel connected to their work and the organization. 

Regular team meetings where everyone is encouraged to share their ideas and feedback can lead to increased motivation and a sense of ownership. Feedback from employees can provide valuable insights for the organization, highlighting areas for improvement, generating new ideas, and promoting innovation. 

By valuing and acting on this feedback, organizations can not only improve their operations but also boost employee motivation. 

Meaningful Work

Meaningful work is a powerful motivator that creates a sense of purpose and significance in everyday tasks. 

When employees see how their work contributes to the larger goals of the organization, it greatly enhances their motivation and engagement. This sense of purpose can lead to increased job satisfaction, productivity, and overall well-being. 

Organizations can foster a sense of meaningful work by clearly communicating their mission and values, highlighting the impact of employees’ work, and celebrating successes.

The Means to Achieve Excellence

Providing employees with the means to achieve excellence is crucial for employee motivation and job satisfaction. It involves creating an environment where employees are given the opportunities and resources to excel in their roles.

This could involve providing the latest tools and technologies, challenging projects or tasks, and promoting a culture of continuous learning and improvement. 

When employees are given the chance to excel, it not only allows them to showcase their abilities but also gives them a sense of accomplishment, leading to increased engagement and commitment.


Belonging is a fundamental human need, especially in the workplace. A positive and inclusive workplace culture that fosters a sense of belonging can significantly boost employee motivation. 

When employees feel valued and accepted for who they are, they develop a sense of community and increased commitment to the team’s goals. Team-building activities provide opportunities for employees to interact, get to know each other, and build relationships that foster a sense of belonging and boost motivation. 

A culture of inclusivity ensures that every voice is heard and valued, encouraging diverse perspectives and ideas that lead to innovation and better problem-solving.


Constructive feedback is essential for employee growth. It helps employees understand their strengths and areas for improvement, promoting continuous learning and development. 

Regular performance reviews provide an opportunity for managers to give constructive feedback on an employee’s performance, leading to improved performance and motivation. 

Effective feedback should be specific and focused on behavior, not the person, and should encourage a two-way conversation. It is important to follow up and provide further guidance if needed so that employees know what they are doing well and where they need to make improvements.


Autonomy in the workplace gives employees the freedom to carry out their tasks in the way they find most effective. This can lead to increased creativity, productivity, and job satisfaction. 

Managers should provide clear expectations and goals, then give employees the autonomy to decide how to achieve them. However, too much autonomy without direction can lead to confusion and inconsistency. 

Regular check-ins and feedback can ensure that employees are on the right track while still maintaining their autonomy. Giving employees autonomy can significantly boost their motivation, but it’s important to balance it with clear guidance and expectations.


Trust is a fundamental pillar of a successful organization and plays a crucial role in creating a motivating work environment. When employees feel trusted, it boosts engagement, job satisfaction, and motivation. 

Trust empowers employees, improves relationships, and increases productivity. Building and maintaining trust requires demonstrating reliability, communicating openly, showing respect, and acknowledging others’ contributions. Leaders play a crucial role in setting the tone for trust in the workplace by modeling these behaviors. 

Trust fosters open communication, collaboration, and teamwork. Every organization aiming to create a motivating work environment should prioritize building and maintaining trust.


Employee well-being is crucial for maintaining motivation and productivity. It encompasses physical and mental health, work-life balance, and stress management. Promoting healthy habits, supporting mental health, and fostering a positive workplace culture are essential to achieve this.

Work-life balance can be improved by offering flexible hours and remote work options, while stress management can be achieved through a positive work environment, resources for stress management, and regular breaks. 

Wellness programs like yoga classes or mental health workshops demonstrate that the organization cares for its employees’ well-being, boosting morale and motivation. Prioritizing employee well-being is essential for creating a productive and supportive work environment.

Feeling Cared for by Leaders

Empathetic leadership plays a key role in employee motivation. Leaders who show empathy and care towards their employees can create a positive work environment that fosters motivation and engagement. 

When employees feel cared for, they feel valued and appreciated, which leads to increased job satisfaction, commitment, and motivation. Empathetic leaders understand their employees’ needs, concerns, and aspirations, which allows them to provide the support and resources their employees need to succeed. 

They can recognize individual strengths and interests and assign tasks accordingly, promote a healthy work-life balance, and encourage time off. 

How Leadership Development Programs Can Help Organizations Motivate Unmotivated Employees

Leadership development programs can play a pivotal role in training leaders to meet these 14 universal needs of employees. Here’s how:

  1. Clarity of Expectations: Leadership programs can train leaders to set clear and realistic expectations. This can be achieved through workshops and other training on effective communication and goal-setting.
  2. Provision of Tools and Resources: Leaders can be trained on resource management and the importance of equipping their teams with the necessary tools.
  3. Task Alignment with Employee Strengths: Leadership development programs can include sessions on talent management and strength-based leadership, helping leaders to assign tasks that align with individual strengths.
  4. Recognition of Efforts: Training can emphasize the importance of recognizing and appreciating employees’ efforts, teaching leaders various recognition strategies.
  5. Growth Opportunities: Leaders can be trained on creating development plans for their employees, fostering a culture of continuous learning and growth.
  6. Open Communication: Communication skills training can help leaders foster an environment where employees feel heard and valued.
  7. Meaningful Work: Leaders can be trained on job crafting techniques to help employees find meaning in their work.
  8. Excellence: Training can focus on teaching leaders how to set high standards and provide the support needed for employees to achieve them.
  9. Positive and Inclusive Culture: Leaders can be trained on diversity and inclusion, fostering a culture where everyone feels they belong.
  10. Feedback: Programs can include training on giving and receiving feedback effectively, fostering a culture of continuous improvement.
  11. Autonomy: Leaders can be trained on the importance of empowering employees, giving them the autonomy to make decisions and take ownership of their work.
  12. Trust: Trust-building exercises can be part of the training, emphasizing the importance of trust in team dynamics.
  13. Employee Well-Being: Leaders can be trained on the importance of work-life balance and employee well-being and learn strategies to support their teams.
  14. Empathetic Leadership: Emotional intelligence training can help leaders develop empathy and understand their employees’ emotions and needs.

There are many different leadership development programs and leadership training software options on the market that offer a variety of learning methods. Many leadership development programs and leadership training programs offer a money-back guarantee if you’re not satisfied, and there is even one program—PeopleThriver—that guarantees a 300% return on investment.

The PeopleThriver leadership development program aims to develop highly effective leaders who can drive high levels of employee engagement and performance. This program also helps both managers and individual contributors to thrive professionally and personally. 

The program employs a three-pronged approach to achieve this goal. 

  • Firstly, the program provides managers with an inspiring context to help them connect everything they learn to the bigger picture. 
  • Secondly, it offers a clear path to consistently inspire greatness in employees by developing habits for meeting the 14 universal needs that employees have for being engaged and motivated at work. 
  • Thirdly, the program employs micro-trainings that are synchronized with micro-feedback from employees to engage managers in a virtuous cycle of feedback and action. 

The key to motivating unmotivated employees is removing the obstacles to their success. Programs like PeopleThriver train leaders to develop a continuous improvement mindset, remove obstacles to employees’ success, and consistently meet employees’ needs for thriving, paving the way for sustainable motivation and top performance.

Muriel Call

Muriel Call

Staff Writer / Editor

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