What motivates employees—and how to harness it

Motivating employees to achieve is an important aspect of being a team leader. You might wake up every morning excited to start the day, but that doesn’t mean your employees are in the same place. Even if you’ve tried incentives in the past, it’s possible you’re still seeing low motivation. The key is to know what motivates employees and how you can harness that motivation for the betterment of the entire office.

Here are just a few things that motivate employees and encourage them to think more positively about their place in the company.


Every employee wants to be recognized for hard work. Otherwise, they can start to feel like their contributions don’t matter.

Take the time to recognize employees and build their skill sets and aptitudes. Always aim for elevating your team members’ highest potential, and do everything you can to support them along the way. Even when employees have made small but significant contributions, praise their work during team meetings or in internal emails to the entire staff. When you do this, your employees know they are a relevant and respected part of the whole.

Trustworthy leadership

Nobody wants to work for a manager that can’t be trusted. Good managers should be looking out for every employee’s best interests. Be upfront in your communications in regard to performance expectations without treating employees like subordinates. Look for ways to include team members in senior management meetings, and trust employees with tasks you know they can handle.

Constant micromanaging, looking over everyone’s shoulder, and mistreating your team are blows to morale, and you could end up losing great employees over it.

Advancement opportunities

Consider how you would feel working at a dead-end job. Chances are, you wouldn’t be very motivated to succeed.

One of the best ways to motivate employees is to offer advancement opportunities. For established businesses, part of your company culture could be hiring managerial positions internally, giving loyal employees the chance to work their way up the ladder.

Regardless of the type of career advancement you offer, be mindful of how you can help motivated employees reach their career goals. This can involve holding skill-building workshops, meeting one-on-one with team members, and scheduling team-building activities outside the office.


No business is entirely safe from economic collapse. Both internal and external factors can converge to force employee layoffs, bankruptcy, or even a company shutdown.

Still, it’s important that your employees know they have security and stability in their positions. Avoid hiring more employees than you can realistically support to avoid layoffs. Provide employees with great retirement benefits and match their contributions. Reduce turnover by keeping everyone happy, healthy, and stress-free. When you focus on creating a more stable workplace, employees will be more motivated to work as part of the team.


Above all, a satisfied employee is a happy one, and only happy employees are motivated to go above and beyond.

When your team starts to take their work too seriously or shows signs of stress, have them step back. It may be time to schedule an after-work social gathering, a one-on-one breakfast, or a group lunch outside the breakroom.

Team-building activities are also great for alleviating stress. You can set aside one Friday afternoon for office laser tag, bowling, or a scavenger hunt. Face your stresses together in a fun escape room, or split up into teams for Capture the Flag. Regardless of the activity, team-building events get employees and managers away from work to form lasting bonds and enhance their leadership and problem-solving skills, which reflect positively back at the office.

Ways to motivate employees

Now that you know what motivates employees, it’s time to start motivating!

Set smaller goals

As a manager, you have long-term and project-based goals that take time to complete. If employees go too long without reaching a goal, they start to feel unmotivated. You can counter this by setting smaller goals along the way.

For instance, reward the team with an end-of-the-week party or for getting to a certain point in a long-term project. End the week with a team meeting where you recognize employee contributions with some kind of award, such as a gift card or even a funny certificate. You can even implement a contest where the first team to effectively reach their goal gets the afternoon off, although don’t make it a habit of pitting employees against one another.

Motivate individuals, not just the team

The only way to ensure everyone on a team is working toward a shared goal is to align incentives to individuals. Otherwise, certain team members might start to pick up the slack, leaving an unmotivated employee behind.

Make sure each employee understands his or her importance on the team. You can do this by assigning specific roles to different team members, or by asking the team to hand in a list of the roles they’ve come up with based on each member’s strengths. Check in with individual employees just as often, if not more than, the team as a whole. One way to do this is by inviting each employee to share breakfast with you one-on-one before starting their workday. This gives you ample opportunity to address the employee’s concerns or questions and discover what specifically motivates that person.

Reward based on feedback

While there is much you can do as boss to reward your employees, it’s nice to hear positive feedback from outside the office. Follow up with vendors, customers, and other third parties who interact with your employees. You can do this simply by emailing a survey or providing feedback cards. At the end of the month, recognize employees who received positive feedback.

Have an open-door policy

Employees need to know they have access to the boss when necessary. Having an open-door policy gives employees the freedom to come to you with ideas, suggestions, and concerns. When an employee feels that his or her voice matters, she’s more confident in her job and has more stake in the company.

Many business owners are taking open-door policies to the next level by having open-office layouts. With no private office to hide in, you’re more approachable and come across as a respected member of the team rather than the scary boss who hides behind a door all day.

Prioritize work-life balance

When employees must choose between feeling judged for calling in sick or going to the doctor’s office, there’s a problem in your company’s work-life balance. The best leaders encourage employees to take ample vacation time and to stay home when they’re ill. In fact, many companies are implementing unlimited vacation policies and flexible options that allow employees to work from home when necessary.

Other ways to prioritize a healthy work-life balance involve the office itself. If you have an open-office concept, provide private “phone booths” where employees can use their cell phones to make personal calls or discuss important business with clients. Incorporate sofas and other comfortable seating options in the main office and break room to encourage your team to get up and stretch their legs. Even adding personal touches like these throughout the office can make an employee feel more at home on the job.

Let employees lead

When employees have exhibited important skills, it’s time to let them take the lead. When delegating tasks, consider each individual’s strengths. For example, if you need to create a video highlighting your company’s culture, allow your most creative team members to take the reins. If you’ve recently hired a new employee, ask one of your best employees to show him the ropes.

There are countless ways you can make your employees feel valued, and they always motivate an employee to do his or her best.

Be transparent

Businesses that are struggling financially may want to hide such information from employees, but you aren’t doing them any favors. Being transparent about what’s happening at the company’s highest level keeps everyone informed and provides opportunities for questions and feedback.

No matter the issue, employees appreciate being included in big decisions. When they have a say in what direction the company takes or how it deals with problems, there’s an increase in company pride and loyalty because everyone has more at stake.

At the end of the day, as a leader, you should know what makes your employees tick and be open to having meaningful conversations with them. Focus on building and sustaining employee trust and happiness and your motivational efforts will progress with ease.

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