Employee Motivation Strategies For Managers And Executives

What determines “progress” in terms of employment?

Progress is defined by focusing on a higher goal without having to constantly worry about day-to-day needs (food, water, shelter, clothing).

Those are the basic survival needs. Until you are sure that those are taken care of, your mind constantly switches back to the urgent needs at hand which are the absolute minimums for survival.

A business organization employs that same process, but on steroids. Considering that the paycheck covers the basic needs and then some, employees must feel safe, comfortable, and motivated at the workplace.

However, the reality is that employees may still lack motivation at work no matter the size of the paycheck.

Why Employee Motivation Matters

effects of motivating employees

This should be a no-brainer, but here are the reasons why employee motivation in the workplace matters.

  1. Alignment between personal goals and professional needs
  2. Increased brand awareness
  3. Less workplace drama
  4. Reduced expenses for turnover and recruitment
  5. Transparent communication
  6. Additional commitment 
  7. Lower overall costs

Employee Motivation Issues (Questionnaire)

There’s a lot to unpack here. Let’s break the matter down into a series of questions. 

unpacking employee motivation issues

1. Are Most Employees Dissatisfied Because Of Work?

The gloomy mood at the office is often due to a number of reasons — the working atmosphere is barely one of it.

The winter season has a major impact on our end since the cold weather doesn’t spark joy to many of our colleagues, sunsets at 5 pm are outright depressing, commute times are longer, flu is common…

So an outcast may be forcing you to work on the wrong problem.

Or a handful of members may be struggling (together) with family matters, relocating to new places, or other out-of-work troubles you could otherwise help with on a case-by-case basis.

2. Is The Workplace The Main Culprit?

Gathering feedback is absolutely a must.

Some teammates may shy away from sharing their honest feedback. This should be avoided in general. But especially during the first couple of months, getting used to an open and transparent culture doesn’t come easy.

The cause could be the location of your office, a toxic team member, crappy interior, low salaries, lack of additional health insurance — an endless list of possibilities.

Identify the root cause first.

3. Is The General Feedback Reasonable?

Now I don’t aim to discard honest opinions.

But you’ve probably heard the common jokes around Googlers complaining at the campus:

  • Thai food was what we got last Wednesday too
  • There were merely 8 free desserts for brunch
  • My gym is in the adjacent building, it’s getting colder commuting during the winter season
  • Our free Kombucha tea fridge was not operational for 45 minutes this week

(Yes, I’m confident *most* are exaggerations and jokes, but trust me, some of those complaints were born during real discussions around the watercooler).

My point is:

Some feedback deserves immediate attention — just not all of it.

And certain employees may get “creative” when it comes to asking for a salary raise, extra time off, flexible work hours, and a list of benefits “just because”.

workplace policy

4. Would It Make An Actual Business Sense To Invest In Improvements At The Moment?

Again, feedback comes in different forms. Solving a “toxic culture” problem is one thing, purchasing a second monitor for your tech team is a completely different one.

Carefully consider the steps you need to take.

  • Are these high priority items?
  • How would that impact the budget? Would you need to push back another important investment or risk the future of the company by eating up the “rainy days” buffer?
  • Would this require a change in your team? Kicking people out may cause problems and hiring new staff is expensive and time-consuming.

The bottom line is that you make sure you validate the feedback from your staff and decide on how realistic, crucial, timely, and affordable a change is at the time.

Whenever possible, communicate the outcome to your team.

5. Are Your Company Perks/Culture Aligned In An Optimal Way?

A different take on the question sounds like this: ”Have employee expectations been managed accordingly?

This is one of the reasons experienced managers frequently bounce between the carrot and the stick.

The more complacent your team gets, the more empowered some feel, eager to land more, accomplish more, earn more, receive additional perks.

Of course, your loyal top performers deserve rewards. No question about it. But managing expectations in a deliberate, preferably data-driven manner, involving ROI as needed, is an important measure once expectations exceed the contributions.

6. Have You Differentiated Yourself Well Enough From The Competition?

There’s a reason why companies fall into so many categories: product vs. services, large vs. small, corporate vs. startups, open space vs. cubicles.

There is broad diversity for a reason. Most perks or opportunities are incompatible in the grand scheme of things.

Your culture, along with the company’s policy, embodied everywhere possible, and repetitively reminded from the first interview onward, has to determine the direction of the future.

Make sure your team understands that.

How To Secure And Foster Employee Motivation

Mario comics - The Motivated, Demotivated

While money is a common motivator that larger businesses use to keep employees motivated, there are other key areas that drive motivation.

Yes, for the greater good, you have the opportunity to build a happy team around a successful business which can afford to pay competitive salaries, host employees in a shiny office with a ping pong table and a PS4, unlimited days off, a 4-day work week, paid lunches on-site and the like. 

However, maintaining this balance is expensive, really expensive, and you can never hit a certain threshold of infinite happiness and ultimate satisfaction. Looking for interventions that will prevent demotivation among employees can be very rewarding for companies.

Among such interventions for ensuring employee motivation are the following: planning the workload assignment, fostering the entrepreneurial spirit of employees, and developing a long-term relationship with them.

Planning Of Workload Assignment

Most jobs are designed around a specific schedule or a set of activities that employees are assigned to perform. In that case, they’re simply expected to do the job within the corresponding time frame.

If employees have a creative job that depends on being “in the zone”, it’s important that they find out what boosts their creative juices and get the job done. It will probably be easier doing that at an office with fewer constraints and more opportunities to get comfortable and engaged.

A motivated employee may take on additional assignments they are personally excited about as a way of stepping up and supporting the business.

Regular overtime is rarely productive within an organization.

Most companies try to stick to a 9-to-5 model for the most part and introduce minor overhead (usually lower than 10 extra hours a week). 

Exceeding the norm would cause friction at the workplace and cause employee dissatisfaction – especially when combined with commute times and additional responsibilities that may require extra reading after hours.

Sure, some do that. Startups often clock crazy hours – although there’s a lot at stake and the first wave of employees may be offered equity. 

Careful planning of workload assignments can prevent workplace burnout brought about by too much work which often intensifies employee dissatisfaction towards the company.

Fostering The Entrepreneurial Spirit Of Employees

We have what we call entrepreneurial employees or employees with the entrepreneurial spirit. They don’t need any title to feel valued or appreciated. Regardless of the circumstances, they are highly motivated to join a project with a global purpose and a vast reach. Their motivation is what drives them to excel at what they do best, work with top talent at the office, partner up with outstanding vendors around the globe.

What differentiates motivated employees from a “regular employee” is the ability to proactively participate in discussions, innovate, take action and take responsibility for additional ventures supported by the organization.

This entrepreneurial spirit is not bound by a profession. A cleaning personnel may be entrepreneurial by automating their cleaning process, identifying a way to keep the floor cleaner for a longer period of time, utilize an ecological or organic way of wiping windows or placing self-made cartoon-alike containers on each desk in order to reduce the garbage footprint.

It’s about optimizing the workload, increasing the efficiency of work, improving the overall job satisfaction and proposing innovative ideas that would generally improve the ROI in various areas.

Proactive and motivated full-time employees generally work closely with their management and support the business needs with additional ideas, suggestions, and improvement proposals. Reasonable managers will value that advice and take action whenever applicable.

motivational techniques

Developing A Long-Term Relationship With Employees

Should senior management treat their employees as friends?

This is a subjective assessment that depends on the personality of the boss and the culture of the team.

Some small companies act like corporations while 700-person teams may stick to a startup-alike communication code of conduct.

Consider how important company culture is for your business. In order to develop a long-term business relationship, trust and loyalty are integral for extending the duration of your collaboration.

But being “friends” can be overwhelming. It’s hard to reject a vacation leave starting tomorrow with a friend, even though it will impact other team members. Some hires may look for workarounds and loopholes because they know it works in the organization.

Additionally, it creates opportunities for office politics and drama. Some introverts aren’t as comfortable interacting with people on a daily basis. Noticing perks that their counterparts receive just because they are “friends with the boss” may degrade your culture.

Some managers I’ve worked with, stick to a “Friendly, not friends” policy. It’s a balanced act of building trust without crossing a line.

Defining objective KPIs for team members and departments is a great way to stay objective so there are no temptations to make exceptions all the time.

Taking a more personalized approach and discussing problems or concerns casually, without friction, is also beneficial. There’s a fine line in management when you try to be “friendly” without being too harsh and cold or “a close friend whose opinion doesn’t matter too much”.

Providing Fair Opportunities for Growth

Career growth for those working in a startup may be more achievable than for those working in a large corporation. The first 10 or 20 employees may easily become seniors, team leaders, managers, or even C-level executives in just a few years as the business keeps scaling. Their learning curve is generally steeper yet shorter, and work rarely gets slow or boring.

However, a “guaranteed job” alone will not be an incentive for future growth. Inflation will take a completely different turn. There’s a constraint in salary increases due to the lack of available alternatives for employees. Rewarding motivation through bonuses and salary bumps, plus promotions, will likely be exploited heavily using all the dirty tricks in the playbook.

Some organizations may be able to benefit from retaining their employees for decades. But due to human nature, it’s likely that hustlers will do whatever they can to get a promotion to a senior rank, using unethical strategies and positioning themselves as reliable and trustworthy.

It will result in a negligible pool of employees. This will limit progressive companies from expanding and working with well-motivated top talents. Evolution and innovation will diminish. Companies will try to spark motivation using different tricks that will likely get exploited, too.

Switching people between projects every now and then, offering training and certification courses, providing career growth opportunities are good ways to keep people happy, motivated, and excited about their work duties. However, conditions and systems for rewarding these opportunities must reach all employees, not to the selected few.

Employee Motivation Is An Ongoing Goal


Don’t assume that motivating your employees is a one-off activity.

Motivation is shaped thanks to numerous factors, from exciting projects and great team members through company perks and appreciation from the management team to career and personal growth opportunities or supporting different causes.

The variety and continuous progress matter a lot. Maintaining energy levels throughout the slow summer season or over the holidays is a challenging management task. And making sure that all of those recruiters nagging your staff can’t penetrate the entirety of your culture is another major responsibility of the management.

This is why motivational meetings and ongoing feedback cycles are paramount to ensure a healthy work atmosphere – both in terms of directing your team to the right targets for the job and receiving constructive feedback for what they struggle with. Make the most out of them and you’ll reap the rewards of loyalty and hard work.

And to ensure that employee relations are intact, head to the next guide listing down the 4 Ps of employee relationships and conflict resolution.

Your thoughts?