Business Leadership Today

Why Employee Motivation Is Important


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

Employee motivation is the driving force that leads employees to apply their skills and abilities at work with vigor and consistency. 

When motivated, employees engage better with their tasks, perform at their best, stay committed to their work, and contribute significantly to the organization’s profitability. Motivated employees are also likely to stay longer with the company, reducing turnover rates and recruitment costs. 

On the other hand, lack of motivation can lead to decreased productivity, poor performance, and low morale, which can have a detrimental effect on the bottom line. To avoid the adverse effects of poor employee motivation, leaders need to understand and meet the needs that drive employee motivation.

Employee motivation is important because it impacts employee satisfaction, engagement, performance, productivity, retention, and profitability. When leaders meet the needs that drive employee motivation, employees are empowered to reach their full potential and consistently produce quality work. 

This not only benefits the employees but also leads to the overall growth and success of the organization. 

This article delves into the importance of employee motivation, its key drivers, and strategies for enhancing it in the workplace.

Why Is Motivating Employees Important?

Motivating employees is not just a nice-to-have; it’s a fundamental necessity in today’s competitive business environment. The importance of employee motivation cannot be overstated due to its profound impact on both individual and organizational performance.

Motivation directly influences employee performance and productivity. When employees are motivated, they are more likely to put in the effort, show commitment, and strive for excellence in their tasks. They are driven to go the extra mile, leading to higher productivity levels. 

Research has consistently demonstrated a strong correlation between motivation and performance, with motivated employees often outperforming their less motivated counterparts.

Motivation also plays a critical role in employee satisfaction and retention. Motivated employees tend to have higher job satisfaction as they find their work meaningful and rewarding. 

This satisfaction, in turn, reduces employee turnover, as satisfied employees are less likely to leave the organization. Retaining talented and motivated employees is a significant advantage for companies, especially in industries where competition for talent is fierce.

Motivated employees contribute to a positive work culture and the company’s reputation. They are more likely to engage in positive behaviors such as helping colleagues, showing initiative, and advocating for the organization. 

These behaviors foster a positive work environment that encourages collaboration and innovation. Furthermore, motivated employees’ positive energy and success can enhance the company’s reputation, making it an attractive place for top talent and potential investors.

Motivating employees is important because it enhances performance, fosters job satisfaction, reduces turnover, and contributes to a positive work culture and strong company reputation. Understanding and fostering employee motivation should be a top priority for every leader.

Types of Motivation

Understanding what drives employee motivation is crucial for fostering a motivated and engaged workforce. These drivers can be broadly categorized into intrinsic and extrinsic motivators.

Intrinsic motivation comes from within the individual and is driven by personal satisfaction and accomplishment. It is influenced by factors such as meaningful work, professional growth opportunities, and the autonomy to work independently. 

When employees find their work meaningful and purposeful, they are more likely to be intrinsically motivated. Opportunities for professional growth and the autonomy to make decisions about one’s work also contribute to intrinsic motivation.

On the other hand, extrinsic motivation is driven by external factors such as recognition, job security, competitive compensation packages, and work-life balance. 

Recognition for one’s work can be a powerful motivator, making employees feel valued and appreciated. Job security and competitive compensation packages provide financial stability, a key extrinsic motivator. Additionally, a good work-life balance allows employees to fulfill their responsibilities outside of work, contributing to overall job satisfaction.

However, it’s important to note that what motivates one employee may not necessarily motivate another. Individual differences play a significant role in what drives employee motivation. 

Factors such as age, cultural background, personal values, and career aspirations can influence what an employee finds motivating, so leaders should strive to understand these individual differences and tailor their motivational strategies accordingly.

Both intrinsic and extrinsic factors play a crucial role in driving employee motivation. By understanding these drivers and the role of individual differences, leaders can effectively motivate their employees, leading to a more engaged and productive workforce.

A crucial first step is clearly identifying the needs employees have for thriving at work, which I’ll discuss in the next section. 

Key Drivers of Employee Motivation 

To keep employees motivated, leaders need to focus on fulfilling the universal needs that employees have for thriving.

These needs form the foundation of engagement and drive motivation. Implementing strategies that meet employees’ needs can significantly enhance both engagement and motivation.

The key factors that are tied to motivation include clarity of expectations, availability of necessary tools for one’s job, work that utilizes one’s strengths, recognition, growth, feeling heard, meaningful work, excellence, a sense of belonging, feedback, autonomy, trust, well-being, and feeling cared for by leaders.

1. Clarity of Expectations

A lack of clarity is a significant source of anxiety and frustration. Employees can experience conflict on a daily basis when their duties and responsibilities are unclear. This can raise stress levels, erode confidence, and decrease motivation. 

2. Having the Tools Required to Do One’s Job

Lacking the tools to do one’s job can be just as frustrating as being unclear about expectations and goals. To produce high-quality work, avoid delays that can cause setbacks, and avoid unnecessary stress, all workers need access to the right technological tools to do their jobs. 

3. Doing Work That Leverages One’s Strengths

The more time people spend doing work they enjoy and are good at, the more likely they are to be engaged. According to research from the Gallup organization, only one in three employees strongly agrees that they have the opportunity to do what they do best every day.

4. Appreciation / Recognition

People need to feel recognized and appreciated for their contributions in order to continuously perform well. Recognition builds trust, boosts team morale, increases employee retention and loyalty, and improves performance.

5. Growth

People need to be continuously growing to build engagement. Growth can help employees feel more confident in their abilities, more committed to the vision, and more engaged with their work.

6. Feeling Like Your Opinion Matters

People need to feel like they’re making a contribution with ideas that are at least considered. Active listening is the most important part of the communication process and essential for building engagement because employees are more motivated and invested in their work when they are included in the decision-making process.

7. Meaningful Work

The average person would give up roughly 23% of their income to do consistently meaningful work. According to McKinsey & Company, over the past 30 years, American workers have identified meaningful work as the most important aspect of a job—more important than income, job security, and the number of hours they work.

8. Excellence

People inherently want to do a great job. Helping employees remove obstacles to achieving excellence can improve their engagement as well as their performance.

9. Belonging

Having a good friend at work is one of the strongest predictors of retention. 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. 

10. Feedback

People need regular, helpful feedback to grow. For employees who are not performing, exchanging feedback with them can help them determine where things are going wrong, where improvements can be made, and what those improvements should be. 

11. Autonomy

People need to feel that they have as much control as possible over their lives. Giving employees the flexibility they need in the form of autonomy can be a great way to help employees thrive and engage with their work.

12. Trust

People need to trust their coworkers and, most importantly, their leaders. A high level of trust is critical to maintaining a positive work environment where employees do great work and work well together. The more employees are trusted and the more trust they have in leadership, the more satisfied they are in their roles—and the more likely they are to stay.

13. Well-Being

Negatively impacting well-being is strongly negatively correlated with engagement and retention. Employee well-being often suffers in many organizations, with overwork, lack of recognition, and toxic work conditions raising stress levels and leading to high absenteeism and turnover. 

14. Feeling Cared for by Supervisor

Perhaps the most powerful driver of engagement and the foundation for meeting all other needs. Studies show that a caring organizational culture can make a profound difference in how announcements about layoffs, financial instability, and crises of internal or external origin are received in the workplace and act as a buffer for “bad news.”

Why Is It Important for Leaders To Understand Employee Motivation?

Understanding employee motivation is a critical skill for effective leadership. It allows leaders to manage their teams more effectively, fosters empathy and emotional intelligence, and enables the implementation of personalized motivation strategies.

Firstly, understanding employee motivation can significantly enhance a leader’s ability to manage their teams more effectively. By knowing what drives their team members, leaders can assign tasks that align with individual motivations, thereby increasing job satisfaction and productivity. 

It also allows leaders to address any issues or barriers that may be hindering motivation, creating a more positive and productive work environment.

Secondly, the process of understanding employee motivation fosters empathy and emotional intelligence in leaders. Empathy involves the ability to understand and share the feelings of others, while emotional intelligence involves recognizing, understanding, and managing our own and others’ emotions. 

By striving to understand what motivates their employees, leaders can develop deeper empathy for their team members, leading to more compassionate and inclusive leadership.

Understanding employee motivation allows leaders to implement personalized motivation strategies. As motivation is influenced by individual differences, a one-size-fits-all approach to motivation may not be effective. 

Instead, leaders who understand their employees’ unique motivations can tailor their motivational strategies to meet individual needs, boosting motivation and increasing engagement.

Strategies for Boosting Employee Motivation

Boosting employee motivation requires a multifaceted approach that addresses various aspects of the work environment. Below are some strategies that leaders can implement to enhance employee motivation.

Recognition Programs

Providing employees with meaningful recognition for their hard work and achievements can significantly boost motivation. Recognition programs can range from simple verbal praise to more formal programs like “Employee of the Month.” These programs make employees feel valued and appreciated, which can enhance motivation and job satisfaction.

Professional Development Opportunities

Providing opportunities for professional growth and development can also boost motivation. This could include leadership development programs, training programs, workshops, or even opportunities for employees to take on new responsibilities. These opportunities allow employees to develop new skills and competencies, which can enhance their motivation and job satisfaction.

Flexible Work Arrangements

With the rise of remote work, flexible work arrangements have become increasingly popular. These arrangements, which could include flexible hours or the option to work from home, can enhance work-life balance and boost motivation.

Communication and Feedback

Open and transparent communication is crucial for boosting motivation. Regular feedback allows employees to understand what they are doing well and where they can improve. Constructive feedback can enhance motivation by helping employees see their progress and understand how they can improve.

Leadership Style

Leadership style can significantly influence employee motivation. Leaders who are supportive, empathetic, and who foster a positive work environment can boost employee motivation. On the other hand, authoritarian or micromanaging leadership styles can demotivate employees.

There are various strategies that leaders can implement to boost employee motivation. 

By recognizing employees’ achievements, providing opportunities for professional development, offering flexible work arrangements, fostering open communication, and adopting a supportive leadership style, leaders can significantly enhance employee motivation and pave the way for sustainable success.

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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