The Truth About Effective Employee Motivation

Employee motivation is one of the toughest challenges that companies of any size face, and employers often take drastic measures to ensure they are rewarding successes of their employees in hopes of increasing overall motivation of their teams. However, what most employers don’t know is that if they changed they way they motivate their staff they can save the company time, money, resources, and increase overall productivity and morale.

Most companies use bonuses and monetary incentives to reward and motivate. These tactics are good, and it’s important to support employees financially, but financial rewards are not always necessary and can often backfire. I’m not talking about commission in a sales job- that is critical, but offering a cash incentive as a “thank you” or encouragement for high performance isn’t the most effective way to motivate. Why not? Because the motivation the employer is offering is extrinsic, meaning it is coming from an outside source and the behavior is being rewarded externally. Psychologically, this can cause the behaviors that are being rewarded seem more like a “job” since money is being exchanged as a result, and the employee may take less enjoyment in the activities as a result and may not work as hard in the future.

Along that note, other incentives can be just as effective as a cash bonus, such as a free lunch, gifts, a plaque, etc. These are often much more cost effective than bonuses, and offer the same extrinsic benefits of recognizing the efforts of the employee, and giving a tangible reward in exchange.

Even more effective is skipping the tangible reward, and instead giving recognition and appreciation to the employee, perhaps publicly. Placing a photo of the employee on an “Employee of the Month” wall, doing a shout-out on a company email or newsletter, and other similar acts of recognition make the reward about the person who did something wonderful, not about the gift or incentive they receive. This little thing called “bragging rights” can go a long way, and become an intrinsic form of motivation, because employees now want to achieve great results for their own personal pleasure and satisfaction.

The most effective way to motivate employees is to align them with the company’s vision and mission. By making the employees understand the goals of the company, and why the company has those goals, they will want to accomplish great things because they see the impact their work has in the overall plan. When employees are “drinking the kool-aid”, they are more likely to work harder and feel more gratified as a result of their efforts.

I encourage employers to reevaluate the methods they use to motivate their team and ensure their employees share the same vision for the growth and future of the company. Additionally, offering appreciation and recognition can cause amazing results internally for the employee, which will benefit the company in response. Financial incentives are great, but use them sparingly and wisely, focusing more on the genuine appreciation you are showing to the employee; make the reward about their efforts and the role it played in the overarching goals of the company instead of simply the incentive the employee is receiving.