Career Advice Recruiting & Staffing

Understanding Employee Motivation

By: Kaylyn McKenna
Sep 15, 2020 • 7 min read

Understanding Employee Motivation

If you want your employees to do their best work, you’ll need to know how to motivate them. There are several primary motivation factors listed below. Most employees will be inspired by one of these factors, or a combination of factors. Understanding employee motivation is key to perfecting your management style! 

employee motivation


Some employees thrive on recognition of their skills and hard work, and lose motivation when they feel unappreciated or as though their contributions are not being noticed. To keep these employees motivated, provide frequent feedback and call out their wins or significant contributions. Giving a mix of direct feedback and more public feedback may be ideal. For example, many companies choose to call out substantial wins or accomplishments on slack, email, or through another collaboration tool. Others will do so during weekly staff meetings. Also, try not to forget to respond to their messages or emails. These employees want to highlight their efforts and successes, so if you get busy and don’t respond, they may feel discouraged.

Financial Gain

The reality is that most people’s primary reason for going to work is to earn an income. Thus, it makes sense that a lot of employees are financially motivated. There is nothing wrong with this, and this is actually quite a straightforward factor for organizations to address – if they have the budget for it. The others on this list are generally linked to the employee’s personality type, but this motivation factor may also be due to necessity. Some compensation structures inherently create this type of motivation, such as commission-based roles. If you have sales staff on your team, there’s a good chance that financial motivation will be their primary source of inspiration. To motivate these employees, you’ll want to take a look at your incentive and bonus structures. Make sure that they are being rewarded for their successes in a manner that will motivate them. 

employee motivation


Some employees may find motiavtion in power. They enjoy managing or mentoring others. They also enjoy the social status that comes with a well-respected position or impressive-sounding job title. This one is also frequently seen as a negative trait, but it is quite common, especially among high achievers. Give these employees positive opportunities to exert their need for power. They are generally good at networking and speaking. Power-motivated employees tend to enjoy speaking as it gives them the spotlight and allows them to influence and teach others.


They can also help mentor and train other employees as they will enjoy having a direct report or trainee. Just ensure that they are following acceptable management practices and treating their employees fairly. These employees may also be motivated by financial gain and recognition. However, the job title will be a sticking point for them, sometimes even more so than their salary. They will want a job title that expresses seniority and importance. This is not bad for the organization, as a job title change is cheaper than a raise!

Social Motivation

Some people simply work better in a team.These were the kids that didn’t like to study alone and felt more productive with a “study buddy.”They wake up looking forward to seeing their work friends and enjoy contributing to a shared purpose. Allow these employees to work on team projects and collaborate with others, as long as they remain productive. Extroverted and social employees can sometimes cause a distraction in the workplace, but they also like to help others and boost morale. They may enjoy assisting new employees with integrating into their teams as well, so consider pairing up a new employee or intern with a socially motivated employee.

employee motivation


Some employees genuinely are motivated by a desire to learn and grow. They may have a strong interest in the industry that your company is in or the career field that they are in. Provide growth opportunities and encourage continuing education.  Knowledge-motivated employees are great candidates for projects that require research and the use of new tools. They will conduct thorough research and gain a true understanding of the topics or questions to provide you with a detailed report.

Career Growth

Try to understand your employees’ goals and career interests. Finding job duties or projects that can be beneficial to the organization while also allowing the employee the opportunity to add to their own resume, portfolio, or skills list will help them stay motivated. Often as managers, we think solely about what employees can do for the company or us, but it’s essential to also understand what this job is doing for them and how we can help them get the most out of it. Check-in with these employees regularly and try to develop a clear plan for growth by identifying what the next step up in the organization would be for them and letting them know what they’d need to do to get there. If your organization promotes from within and you keep them engaged, they can be very loyal employees.


Purpose-driven employees work hard because they want to contribute to something positive and care about the organization’s mission or purpose. This is generally seen in nonprofit, education, or healthcare work where the primary goal is to help others. To motivate purpose-driven employees, be sure to explain the “why” when assigning projects. Often the tasks or projects we take on feel fairly mundane or simple but actually serve an essential role in the overall operations of the organization. Explain how their work ultimately benefits other people. 

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