Business Leadership Today

15 Effective Employee Motivation Techniques


Matt Tenney, Author of Inspire Greatness: How to Motivate Employees with a Simple, Repeatable, Scalable Process

One of the most challenging aspects of retaining engaged employees who consistently and sustainably perform well is employee motivation. A leader’s ability to motivate employees will determine how well they engage and retain employees, how well those employees perform, and how satisfied they are with their jobs.

Leaders need to understand what really motivates their employees to best meet their needs and engage them with their work. Motivation drives an employee’s success and plays a vital role in employee satisfaction. 

Good leaders use techniques that boost intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, resulting in employees who are more invested in their jobs and more loyal to their organizations.

Here are 15 effective employee motivation techniques leaders can use to keep their team members motivated:

  1. Be Flexible
  2. Build Trust
  3. Empathize
  4. Communicate
  5. Exchange Feedback
  6. Listen
  7. Delegate
  8. Address Conflict ASAP
  9.  Be Consistent
  10.  Be Adaptable
  11. Commit To Growth
  12. Recognize Achievements
  13. Offer Incentives and Rewards
  14. Focus on Purpose
  15. Foster Belonging

1. Be Flexible

Flexibility became increasingly important over the course of the pandemic. It was one of the drivers of The Great Resignation and is now a must-have for job seekers who are looking for a better work/life balance. 

Leaders who offer team members the flexibility they need to improve both their work/life balance and their overall employee experience will have a considerable advantage over leaders who don’t when it comes to keeping employees motivated. 

As commutes have grown longer and remote and hybrid work options have become not only more popular but more doable, offering your employees more flexibility in their work schedules and opportunities to work with more autonomy can help them better meet their needs and improve their well-being. 

This can work out well for both employers and employees. By giving workers the autonomy they crave, you are forging strong, trust-based relationships with your employees and, at the same time, encouraging employees to be accountable and take ownership of their roles, which can result in a high level of sustainable motivation. 

2. Build Trust

In a trusting work environment, good communication, collaboration, and a sense of camaraderie amongst employees are the norm. Trust also helps employees engage more with their work and perform better on an individual level.

When there is a lack of trust, it creates a domino effect. Morale will drop, toxic behaviors will emerge, and employees may find themselves looking for greener, less toxic pastures.  

High-trust work environments are conducive to a high level of employee motivation and have an overwhelmingly positive impact on productivity, well-being, and a host of other factors. 

Compared with people at low-trust companies, people at high-trust companies experience 74% less stress, 106% more energy at work, 50% higher productivity, 13% fewer sick days, 76% more engagement, 29% more satisfaction with their lives, and 40% less burnout. 

3. Empathize

The pandemic showed those of us who didn’t already know the importance of empathy in keeping employees motivated and energized at work. 

According to Charlene Walters, author and consultant, the stress many workers have endured over the last few years has made empathy a must-have leadership skill because it has such a profound impact on employee motivation. 

Walters says, “We’ve experienced the pandemic, the great resignation, staffing and supply chain issues, and have been forced to do more with less, time and time again. It takes a strong leader to keep an organization moving forward despite the many disruptive events occurring in our society and business environment.”

Good leaders are authentic and care about their employees. They don’t just focus on profits and statistics; they consider the employees who are working diligently to help the organization achieve its vision, and they are aware of how decisions can impact them and affect their motivation. 

4. Communicate

Leaders set the tone for strong communication by making themselves available and being open to suggestions. Clearly communicating goals, objectives, and expectations provides the clarity all employees need to do their jobs well and with self-confidence.

Communication is always important, but it becomes even more important for motivating employees in remote and hybrid work environments. 

Transparent, respectful communication can promote trust and provide clarity for employees, creating a culture of improvement through frequent feedback between employees and leadership.

Leaders should be skilled at receiving communications from employees and responding to them in a timely manner, and in a way that makes them feel truly heard. They should be approachable and accessible, focus on transparency, and address any issues that impede communication. 

5. Exchange Feedback

Feedback is a central component of effective communication and can be a great motivational tool. 

Good feedback is constructive, compassionate, specific, focused, timely, and presented in a positive tone. When done well, good feedback provides an actionable and solution-oriented framework that guides employees toward desired behaviors.

For feedback to be effective, whether it’s a critique or praise for an employee’s contribution, it should specifically tie into a larger overall goal, rather than being generic, and should outline a course of action.

Employees can greatly benefit from frequent feedback from their leaders. They can also provide useful feedback to leadership. Establishing a culture of feedback in your organization can lead to greater employee motivation, an improvement mindset, and better productivity.

6. Listen

Leaders can schedule regular team meetings, coaching sessions, and one-on-one meetings every day, but if they aren’t actively listening to employees, these tools will not help them connect to their work and stay motivated. 

To build trust and establish a good system of feedback, leaders need to really listen to their employees and respond to what they are saying in the moment to get the most out of these meetings. 

It’s easy for leaders to fall into the trap of asking the same questions or giving the same advice each time they exchange feedback with an employee, but active listening can be more motivating than any advice a leader can offer. 

Listening improves employee motivation by letting employees know they are heard and that their input matters. This creates a sense of belonging that helps them connect to their work. 

7. Delegate

Delegation helps leaders think strategically to identify the best path forward and give their employees the right amount of guidance and autonomy to self-motivate. 

Delegating effectively requires attention to detail, trust, and thorough knowledge of your team members’ strengths and weaknesses. Guiding the work of employees so that it flows smoothly and ensuring they are equipped to do the work provides the foundation employees need to stay motivated to do great work. 

The key to good delegation is asking the right questions so that you are guiding team members and empowering them to do the work rather than directing them.

I recently sat down with Dr. Wanda T. Wallace, author of You Can’t Know It All: Leading in the Age of Deep Expertise, to discuss the important role delegation plays in motivating employees. 

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8. Address Conflict ASAP

Being able to solve conflicts with tact and diplomacy can make the difference between a toxic work environment and a work environment where employees are motivated to get along and unite around a common purpose every day.

To address conflicts effectively, the employees involved should feel heard and respected. This creates the psychological safety teams need to work well together.

Conflict should also be addressed as soon as possible so that it doesn’t get out of hand and turn the culture toxic. Employees cannot stay motivated in a toxic work environment.

When conflicts are not resolved, they can hurt employee morale and hinder productivity. They should be addressed in a timely manner and with a high level of emotional intelligence. 

9. Be Consistent

Employees need consistency to be confident in their roles and achieve goals.

Consistency in the work environment is always important for employees, but it becomes especially important for maintaining high levels of motivation in times of uncertainty. Inconsistencies in times of uncertainty can be disastrous for morale in the workplace, and employees could lose their motivation to continue working for the organization.  

This technique incorporates some of the others I’ve listed here. For leaders to maintain consistency, they should be good at delegating, listening, communicating, building trust, and adapting. 

They should also exhibit a strong bias toward follow-through and exhibit reliability and dependability consistently to ensure projects and processes are as seamless as possible to keep employees on track and motivated.

10. Be Adaptable

Adaptable leaders are flexible, creative, and adept at problem-solving, and they know how to develop these qualities in their team members. 

They are able to maintain a consistent work environment to make employees feel psychologically safe, and they can guide employees as they adapt, making them less fearful of the future and more positive and motivated in the face of challenges. 

Adaptable leaders know that change is inevitable. They know they need to be able to adapt if they expect their employees to adapt, and make adaptability a part of the organizational culture. 

Leaders can help their employees be more adaptable by helping them grow in their roles, develop new skills, and seek out better ways of doing things. Adaptable employees are more self-motivated and develop an improvement mindset as a result.

11. Commit To Growth

A recent Pew Research Center survey found that a lack of opportunities for advancement was among the top reasons US workers quit their jobs last year. 

Creating a clear path to growth, development, and advancement for employees shows them that you want them to succeed. When they feel that you care about and encourage their growth and give them the means to grow, it can do wonders for their motivation and performance. 

Sara Canaday, author of Coaching Essentials for Managers: The Tools You Need to Ignite Greatness in Each Employee, says leaders should practice developmental coaching (not just performance coaching) to keep employees motivated:

“One of the best ways to get team members more engaged is to spend time with them through developmental coaching. When you demonstrate that you genuinely care about their career aspirations and want to support them, you can bet those employees will be ‘all in.’ To do it well, you need to really get to know your employees—their strengths, challenges, and professional goals.”

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12. Recognize Achievements

Recognition can be an incredibly powerful motivator. Psychology tells us that recognition in the form of praise is the primary source of positive reinforcement, the process of modifying behavior for a more positive result. 

Recognition and praise increase employee motivation because acknowledging and celebrating the hard work, achievements, and successes of employees lets them know they are valued and the work they do has an impact. 

For recognition to be an effective motivation technique, it needs to be genuine, reference a specific achievement, and single out employees’ efforts. It should also be a team effort, with frequent peer-to-peer recognition. 

While research clearly shows a link between recognition from top leadership and improved job performance and loyalty, encouraging employees to compliment and recognize the achievements of their co-workers helps reinforce the organization’s strategy and inspires commitment, helping employees to feel good about the work they are doing. 

13. Offer Incentives and Rewards

Incentives and rewards programs motivate employees because they offer recognition of achievements, reinforce positive behaviors, and make employees more aware of their impact. This gives their work a greater sense of purpose and motivates them to consistently perform well. 

Employee incentives and rewards programs come in many varieties. They can include monetary incentives, such as bonuses, raises, profit sharing, tuition reimbursement, and gift cards, and non-monetary incentives, such as additional PTO, work schedule flexibility, referral programs, and experiential rewards.

Whatever incentives and rewards you choose, they should promote positive behaviors in the organization, align employees’ behaviors with core values and business objectives, and foster a positive work environment where employees feel valued and appreciated.

The goal is to connect the dots between employees’ day-to-day job duties and the larger mission, vision, and goals of the organization and remind them that they are essential to the organization’s long-term success.  

14. Focus on Purpose

Helping your team members to see a bigger purpose in their work, find meaning in their day-to-day duties, and see the impact of the work they do can have a positive effect on motivation. 

For many people, work helps them meet their need to accomplish goals and make a difference in the world. Having a job where the work one does is purposeful and has a deeper meaning beyond the daily tasks improves motivation.

Effective leaders measure performance with impact. They use impact, rather than quotas or profits, as a measure of success, and help employees see the connection between their day-to-day activities and the larger mission and vision of the organization.

In this video, Brandi Olson, author of Real Flow: Break the Burnout Cycle and Unlock High Performance in the New World of Work explains why individual performance should be measured with impact instead of perceived productivity.

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15. Support Belonging

A sense of belonging at work keeps morale high, improves cohesion, helps collaboration, and is linked to higher motivation. It also prevents work environments from becoming toxic. Creating a sense of belonging requires a psychologically safe work environment.

Psychological safety refers to the belief that one will not be punished for asking questions, raising concerns, or voicing ideas. When a work environment is psychologically safe, employees are encouraged to contribute, participate in decision-making, and build authentic connections with each other. 

Employees need to feel psychologically safe at work. They need to feel comfortable bringing their authentic selves to work every day in order to build authentic connections with their co-workers. 

To support a sense of belonging in the workplace, organizations should be committed to policies that support an inclusive environment for all employees. Other motivation techniques mentioned here, including recognizing achievements, building trust, being consistent, and focusing on impact, can keep the work environment positive and cooperative.

Matt Tenney has been working to help organizations develop leaders who improve employee engagement and performance since 2012. He is the author of three leadership books, including the groundbreaking, highly acclaimed book Inspire Greatness: How to Motivate Employees with a Simple, Repeatable, Scalable Process.

Matt’s ideas have been featured in major media outlets and his clients include numerous national associations and Fortune 500 companies.

He is often invited to deliver keynote speeches at conferences and leadership meetings, and is known for delivering valuable, actionable insights in a way that is memorable and deeply inspiring.

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