There are several benefits of having highly motivated employees in your ranks, but for business owners, all roads eventually lead to the bottom line. High levels of employee motivation are intrinsically linked to high levels of employee engagement, which companies are paying close attention to these days, and for good reason. Gallup reported that nearly half of U.S. employees were actively searching for new job opportunities in 2021, with disengaged employees at the highest risk of leaving.
If employers want to retain their employees, it’s essential they focus on the employee experience, including workplace engagement and motivation. However, retention isn’t the only benefit of a highly motivated workforce. Read on to learn how (and why) to motivate your employees.
Benefits of highly motivated employees
Every business owner should strive to have a highly motivated workforce. A company that focuses on motivating its employees and enhancing the employee experience will see several benefits from doing so.
Increased employee engagement
High levels of employee motivation can be linked to high levels of engagement, and a highly engaged workforce can do wonders for your bottom line. If an employee feels motivated to complete a specific task, they’re also likely to feel more engaged while completing said task.
There are three levels of employee engagement: engaged (the employee works with passion), not engaged (the employee feels “checked out”) and actively disengaged (the employee is unhappy and acting out). It can be helpful to understand each employee’s level of engagement to identify their motivation – and eventually improve both. For example, if an employee is not engaged with their work because they feel they aren’t being recognized or valued, you might extrinsically motivate them through an employee recognition program. That in turn could make them become reengaged with the company.
Higher productivity and performance
Highly motivated employees are often more productive and better performers than their unmotivated colleagues. They tend to work harder and focus on completing their tasks to the best of their abilities, which results in better output for their organizations. When you understand the reason behind an employee’s actions, you can use that insight to motivate them and ultimately improve business productivity, performance, and efficiency.
Greater levels of creativity and innovation
Motivated employees handle uncertainty more easily, are better problem-solvers and have higher levels of innovation and creativity. When an employee is motivated to achieve a certain goal, they won’t let an obstacle stop them; instead, they willingly think outside the box to create a new solution. A flexible workforce that rolls with the punches is key to a successful company, especially for fast-paced small businesses and startups, since employees tend to wear many hats. A team that’s motivated is going to be more likely to innovate.
Improved manager-employee relationships
Many employees quit their jobs due to bad managers. If you want to retain your employees long term, you need to foster positive manager-employee relationships throughout your organization. Managers can build positive relationships by learning what motivates their team members and offering them work opportunities based on those motivators. This not only encourages employees to work harder, but it also demonstrates that their managers truly care about their needs, which can lead to better relationships and retention.
Better customer service
When an employee is motivated to perform well in a customer-facing role, it often translates to better customer service. This can create higher levels of customer satisfaction and ultimately increase sales down the line. In an era where customer satisfaction and online reviews are paramount, it’s crucial to maintain a positive customer experience. Highly motivated employees can help you achieve that.
Great company culture
Employee motivation is great for driving collaboration and company culture. When employees feel motivated and connected to their job and the company, their positivity and hard work can rub off on their co-workers. This is a great way to build a positive company culture full of employees who feel motivated to perform well and work together to reach company goals.
Positive company reputation
A workforce full of happy and motivated employees can improve your overall company reputation. Motivated employees are more likely to speak highly of your organization, which is great for attracting new talent. When employee motivation improves customer service, it can also improve your reputation in the eyes of your consumers.
Lower employee absenteeism and turnover
Motivated employees tend to show up to work on time and accomplish their tasks when they’re supposed to. Additionally, motivated employees usually stick with the organization longer, improving overall employee retention. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the cost of replacing an employee can be 30% of that employee’s first-year earnings, so it’s financially important to maintain low employee turnover.
FYI: Low motivation is just one of many reasons employees quit. If you’re suffering from high employee turnover, survey your workforce to see which areas need to improve.
Employee motivation defined
Motivation is the force that drives people to start, continue or stop certain behaviors to achieve a goal. Employee motivation is when your workforce is driven to perform tasks that help your organization reach its goals. Employees can be driven by intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. For example, an employee may be encouraged to work hard to meet a project deadline because they are promised bonus compensation (an extrinsic motivation), or they may work hard simply because they love their work and the feeling of accomplishing a goal (an intrinsic motivation).
Bottom Line: Employee motivation is the driving force behind why an employee behaves a certain way to achieve a goal.
What drives motivation and engagement
The UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School broke down a whitepaper by Kimberly Schaufenbuel, then an executive development program director at the school, to explain how the science of motivation as it relates to the brain can be used to improve employee motivation.
Schaufenbuel highlighted the work of Harvard professors Nitin Nohria, Boris Groysberg, and Linda-Eling Lee, who studied the neuroscience behind motivation, and how the brain can be “retrained to increase a person’s motivation for rewards.” That can lead to improvements in employee engagement, productivity and retention.
The research identified four behavioral drivers that influence human behavior: the drive to acquire, the drive to defend, the drive to bond and the drive to learn.
“When HR and talent managers understand what drives a person’s behavior in this context, they can design systems, policies, procedures and practices that will appeal to each driver,” Schaufenbuel said.
Another expert Schaufenbuel referenced was David Rock, co-founder of the NeuroLeadership Institute, whose SCARF model also examines motivational theory and neuroscience. SCARF (status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness, fairness) is a “framework for understanding how the brain responds to perceived threats and rewards,” she said.
According to Rock, “a job should not be viewed as a business transaction – do the work and get paid – but rather as a part of a social system in which the brain is rewarded (or punished) based on how well the business environment is meeting an employee’s need for status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness and fairness.”
With all of this in mind, a company can aim to meet each need, or driver, to keep its employees motivated and engaged.
How to improve employee motivation
There are many strategies that experts recommend to improve employee engagement and motivation. If you’re looking to boost motivation at your organization, these strategies can get you started.
- Ask for (and act upon) employee feedback. One of the best ways to improve employee motivation is to simply ask for employee feedback on how you can make work more meaningful to them. Listen to your staff and use their feedback to modify their responsibilities and strategies to capitalize on what motivates them.
- Build positive manager-employee relationships. Not surprisingly, a major influencer on engagement and motivation is an employee’s manager. Consistent communication and feeling that managers are invested in them are linked to higher engagement. Have managers hold regular one-on-one meetings to form positive relationships with their subordinates and learn what motivates them.
- Set clear employee expectations. A lack of clarity can lead to greater frustration for employees, resulting in lower motivation over time. Instead, set and discuss clear employee expectations to eliminate those frustrations and improve motivation.
- Focus on strengths over weaknesses. Focus on each employee’s strengths instead of weaknesses to find a good job and organizational fit for them. This mindset helps employees grow and develop within their roles, and it encourages them to produce more and significantly better work.
- Recognize your employees. Recognition can be a great motivator for employees. Consider creating a formal employee recognition program, as well as establishing a culture that informally celebrates employee “wins” as they happen in real time.
By understanding the benefits of highly motivated employees and implementing specific strategies to make sure they stay that way, you’ll improve the culture of your business – as well as your bottom line.
Alison Napolitano contributed to the writing and research in this article.