Tips for Improving Employee Motivation

With over 13 years experience as a HR Manager in a number of multi million pound organisations in the Construction Industry, Donna Billson has real life experience with the qualifications to match. Donna is an accomplished, award winning online social media addict and blogger, not to mention mother of two. She rarely drinks a cup of tea while it is still warm!


Richard Branson, arguably one of the pioneers of the importance of customer experience and satisfaction in his global business empire once said when quizzed on how he delivers such high levels of customer satisfaction – “If you look after your staff, they’ll look after your customers”. From any Human Resources Department perspective the key to a motivated workforce is to try and match people’s needs, motivations and interests to their work situation. Considering staff motivation is such an integral part of any business there are no legal obligations relating to motivation but for long term productivity and employee retention, recognising what motivates your staff is an essential part of the employee management.

Case Study

As a Group HR Manager for a number of SME’s over the years, I have seen countless reasons for lack of motivation but a particular recent experience sticks in my mind. A very determined young lady who ultimately resigned her position.

“Charlie” came to work for us bringing with her a reasonable level of desirable experience within the industry but she was keen to learn and develop with the Company. She was provided training and development opportunities and consistently improved her skills and position. During her time within the organisation, she was always keen to please and always sought recognition for her work. Unfortunately she did not take well to criticism, constructive or otherwise and eventually this led her on the path to her resignation.

During her exit interview it became apparent that she was unhappy that she did not receive additional recompense for her increase in skills and self – perceived added “value” to the Company. It became very apparent that she was actually highly money motivated and her reasons for progressing was to actually increase her salary. Throughout her employment, it had always been considered that she was motivated by achievement and development for her own satisfaction. How wrong they were, the employee was actually highly motivated by recognition, money and the status that goes with these advances. The Company ultimately lost a dedicated employee due to a misunderstanding of employee motivation.

So how could this have been avoided? Determining what motivates your staff is key to ensuring their continued engagement and productivity.

The need for a sense of recognition or importance will vary in importance. It is derived in part from a sense of fulfilment and this comes in situations where the individual or group is able to:

  • make a recognisable and distinctive contribution
  • take responsibility
  • make some decisions.

Top Tips for Employees:

  • Look for projects, work or jobs that align with your interests, skills and passion – it doesn’t get any better than being well paid for doing things you love.
  • Take control of your destiny: don’t just accept a situation – do something about it. Talk to your manager; look for other opportunities; get involved in a cross functional project where you can meet other people and learn about other parts of the business; associate with people who are doing the sort of things you like doing
  • Think and plan. Where are new opportunities occurring that might be more interesting; what skills are in short supply and are needed – are these skills you have or would be interested in developing; are there opportunities to mix with other people socially and connect with others with similar interests

There are many reasons why people can be motivated or unmotivated at work. If there are performance issues, it can be much easier for managers to blame those who are unmotivated, since this avoids them having to consider how the situation might be improved. Alternatively, lack of motivation may all too easily be attributed to insufficient pay.

Best Practice for Employers is to:

  • match job responsibility and skill with remuneration. This isn’t always a one size fits all solution.
  • try to understand what motivates their staff, remembering that motivational factors can change with personal circumstances – don’t assume or guess…ASK them! Employees respond well to engagement and finding that their employer actually cares what makes them tick.
  • provide appropriate training for managers to encourage better levels of performance from their staff. A good worker doesn’t always make a good manager, so it is important to ensure that the management team are also trained and motivated sufficiently so that this filters down the line.
  • provide a standardised appraisal system for staff development and performance related rewards. Appraisals can sometimes be seen negatively by both employees and employers and you need an ethos that develops a good one to one system that is an open and honest forum for both parties.
  • employ motivational techniques particularly in relation to those positions which are sales driven
  • set achievable targets/objectives

Money Motivator

In the case study mentioned above, money was a huge motivator and the lack of recompense resulted in resignation. Admittedly, if all employees were happy with their job and remuneration, a core part of the HR function would become extinct but money is not always the driving factor behind an employee’s motivation and this was found in a report commissioned by CIPD in 2015. The findings of the report showed employees’ perceptions of rewards are defined by the circumstances in which they are received. For example, a bonus received during tough economic times will be perceived as having much greater value than the same reward given in times of prosperity. On the other hand, a bonus may be perceived as having less value if the recipient considers their own performance to be stronger than other employees who receive the same amount as part of a team reward.

Goal Scorer

Like Charlie in the case study, people generally want to succeed and they want to continue learning and growing, so it is important provide them with opportunities where appropriate. Motivation can be defined as ‘providing the right conditions for people to work effectively’.  It overlaps with the concept of morale, which is a measure of the extent to which employees feel positively or negatively about their work and work environment.

Empower them, educate them and help them increase their skills and their sense of competence and accomplishment.

Safe & Secure

An employee who doesn’t feel secure in their role is never going to be the most productive, fear negates creativity and very often results in poor performance and staff leaving. Obviously people react differently to different situations. Most people have an emotional need for a sense of security and a sense of recognition.

Although discussed separately in the following two paragraphs, these needs are closely linked. A threat or a boost to one will have an impact upon the other; praise obviously enhances a sense of recognition but equally enhances security, whereas the reaction to a threat of redundancy may arise as much from the rebuff to recognition as from fears of security.

The need for a sense of security exists in all people, although its relative importance will reflect past experiences. It is not a passive demand, for it can push people into areas which appear to offer greater security. It is given as much by the way a person is treated (knowing where he or she stands and what is expected of him or her) as by the material recognition of a job and wage.

In the end, the ideal situation is a good match between the person and the job. In addition, what most people want is to have a degree of challenge that they are comfortable with, a good boss, appropriate pay and security.

With the world of business constantly changing, now is the very best time to evaluate (and continue to re-evaluate) what is important to employees. If more businesses were better at this, they would be much better set to retain skilled staff and overcome the obstacles we all experience in our business lives.

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