October 12, 2019

A comprehensive guide to Employee Motivation

“A man doesn’t live on bread alone. He needs buttering up once in a while.”

– Robert Henry

Employee Motivation is one of the most crucial challenges companies face. A low level of employee motivation is certainly very unhealthy and hence, unprofitable for an organization. According to a report by Gallup, only 13% of employees worldwide are engaged at work. There is no single approach to motivating employees. An organization may have to resort to multiple techniques to achieve a required level of motivation. This becomes an arduous task if the organization doesn’t know where to begin. Motivation promotes productivity in employees which further improves employee retention and hence becomes important for managers of an organization. This guide is set to equip you with complete knowledge about Employee Motivation methods and their application.

What is Employee Motivation - Definition

Employee Motivation is defined as the desire and enthusiasm that makes employees committed to their job. It is what drives them to office daily and motivates them to put their best foot forward in all their work. Employee motivation helps uplift their morale, increases their job satisfaction and gives them a better experience at their job.

Motivational Theories - an overview

Maslow’s theory

The need hierarchy theory by Abraham Maslow lists five need levels:

  • Physiological needs: Need for the basic necessities like food, water and shelter
  • Safety needs: Need for safety and security like employment, resources, health and property
  • Social needs: Need for love and belongingness
  • Self-esteem: Need for respect, recognition and freedom
  • Self-actualisation: Need to become the best one can be

An employee works his/her way up this hierarchy and upon fulfilling any need level, aspires for the next one. For example, if an employee has received reward and recognition for his work, he will no longer be motivated by the need for self-esteem and would instead look forward to fulfilling his self-actualisation needs. So organizations should identify the position of each employee in the need hierarchy and motivate him/her to reach the next level.

Victor Vroom’s theory

Victor Vroom’s expectancy theory states that a person’s motivation depends on three factors: expectancy, instrumentality and valence. It differentiates between the efforts put by a person, his/her performance and the final result. Victor Vroom argues that when employees have the liberty to make choices in their work, they mostly choose something which motivates them the most.

According to this theory, Motivational Force = Expectancy x Instrumentality x Valence

  • Expectancy: What employees expect from their own efforts
  • Instrumentality: It is about the employee’s performance being good enough to achieve the desired result
  • Valence: What an individual employee values and what his needs and desires are

To motivate an employee, there has to be a positive correlation between his effort and performance. An employee’s persona, his/her skills and the expectations he/she has from his/her own abilities together form a motivating force for the employee.

Nudge theory

Nudge theory credited to American academicians Richard H Thaler and Cass R Sunstein motivates employees to make decisions that are in their broad self-interest. Organizations can gauge how each of their employees think and make it easier for them to choose what is best for them, their families and society. Nudge theory can also be used to explore and understand influences on how people behave, especially looking at negative influences, with a view to get rid of them. This theory clearly accepts that people have certain attitudes and capabilities and considers it a part of human tendencies.

On the basis of Nudge theory, employees can be helped to:

  • Think appropriately
  • And make better decisions

by being offered relevant choices which contribute to these outcomes.

Motivating employees - Application of the theories

Employee motivation is ideally one of the most crucial responsibilities of the manager. To achieve a good level of motivation among the employees, the manager needs to adopt a range of techniques. Below let’s discuss how various theories can be applied in organizations:

  • Applying Maslow’s theory- According to Maslow’s theory, in order to understand a person’s motivation at their work, an organization needs to understand the person’s general motivations first. An employee first looks forward to meet his physiological needs of food, water and shelter. When this is met, he moves up the hierarchy to fulfill his safety needs, then to the next and so on. The highest need in the hierarchy is of self-actualisation which encourages one to become the best version of themselves.
  • Applying Victor Vroom’s theory- In the expectancy theory of motivation, Victor Vroom suggests that organizations looking to motivate employees need to ensure that all three factors: Expectancy, Instrumentality and Valence are positive or high. All the three factors need to be achieved for employee motivation. Even achieving two out of three factors does not motivate employees. The expectancy theory also states that even if the employer has provided everything to motivate the employee, the employee still may not be completely motivated unless he/she believes that the employer has actually provided what is needed.
  • Applying Nudge theory- Organizations cannot force employees to adapt a particular behavior or follow a set of rules. They can only change the employees’ behaviour towards a certain something without forcing it on them. They can simply nudge or influence them towards the right set of decisions. One way of doing is to give references from other people’s behavior to highlight what is acceptable and desirable.

Motivating employees - Advantages

  • Increasing job satisfaction- Job satisfaction determines an employee’s performance to a great extent. Higher satisfaction in job would also mean lower attrition rate in an organization. Getting a handsome salary is one thing but today’s employees look for satisfaction in their job.
  • Boosting employee morale- Motivation and morale go hand in hand and morale is an indicator of how happy the employees of an organization are. Encouraging the employees to take decisions in work, making their job more meaningful, giving employees a sense of responsibility and authority and promoting creativity are some of the ways to boost employees morale.
  • Increasing productivity- A motivated employee is willing to put his best foot forward and ideate and innovate in the organization. This increases his/her productivity and helps the organization gain more revenues and hence profits.
  • Self-discipline- Motivation promotes self-discipline among employees. Self-discipline helps employees accomplish much more than the discipline imposed by his/her seniors. A motivated employee disciplines himself/herself and believes that it is necessary for his/her own interests.
  • Reduced attrition rates- If an employee is motivated in an organization, he/she would never quit working there. This will help organizations retain employees and hence reduce attrition rates.

Motivating employees - Methods

  • Healthy and positive work environment- An employee spends a major part of his day in office and if the work environment is healthy and positive, the employee feels motivated to perform. Offering a stress free and lively work environment can enrich the employee’s experience at work. Organizations can incorporate Zumba classes or hold contests for the employees to keep them engaged.
  • Peer to peer motivation- Employees should be able to fit in the culture of an organization, maintain cordial relationships with their teammates and participate in discussions. Moreover, employees are each other’s biggest motivators. It is important an individual’s colleagues appreciate his/her efforts and always motivates him/her to do better.
  • Rewards and recognition programs- When a reward is attached to work, motivation arises. Rewarding and recognising employees at work not only motivates them but also make them feel valued.
  • Monetary and non-monetary benefits- Appraisals and hikes are important for any employee in an organization but they are not enough. More and more employees are now preferring benefits over pay raise. Therefore, non-monetary benefits need as much importance as monetary benefits.
  • Define the employee’s purpose- Sometimes employees might start feeling aimless in any organization. They can start feeling clueless or unsure about their goals and objectives. So it is very important for organizations to define every employee’s purpose which can help them understand the organization’s vision and motivate them to work in that direction.

Motivating employees - Latest trends

Below are some of the latest trends of employee motivation which organizations can adopt:

  • Start before they join: Organizations need to have an engaging and strategic onboarding process for employees to keep them involved even before they join. Such an onboarding process will also help in aligning the employee’s objectives with the organization’s objectives and vision. This motivates employees to work efficiently and fit in the organization as soon as they can.
  • Workplace flexibility: According to a report by Indeed, employees in the age bracket of 18 to 24 years value workplace flexibility as a top priority placing it above compensation and benefits. More and more organizations are now supporting work-from-home option or even hiring remote workers. Implementing flexible workplace practices can boost employee motivation.
  • Make effective use of social media: Social media can only help in reminding employees about the organization’s objectives but can be a medium to recognize and applaud top performers. This will motivate everyone in the organization to appear on the social media pages and hence, work even more dedicatedly.
  • Provide regular one-to-one feedback: Providing regular, candid and constructive feedback always helps. Organizations need to have a system wherein every employee gets to know both positive and negative feedback from his seniors. This will make the employees feel valued and motivate them to work on their shortcomings.


We can sum up by saying that when employees are motivated, they feel engaged or emotionally involved in the organization. Such employees in turn add value to the organization and help in increasing the productivity and hence, profits. There’s no one-size-fits-all way to motivate employees. Different employees feel emotionally connected to their organizations in different ways. It is the responsibility of the organization to look out for the most suitable means to motivate their employees because in the end, it will lead to a win-win situation for the employees as well as the organization.

Xoxoday Team

Xoxoday is a SaaS commerce company with products for employee and channel management.

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