Employee Motivation — The Complete Guide

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Motivated employees are a crucial asset for any organisation. A motivated workforce can set the tone for your company culture, create a positive workplace environment, and drive a company's success. Here at Ovation Incentives, we've been helping HR professionals in leading global organisations motivate their employees for over 20 years. In this article, we'll define employee motivation, discover what motivates employees, explore motivational theories, and provide you with a practical guide to help you boost employee motivation in your organisation.

What is Employee Motivation?

Employee Motivation is the attitude, commitment and enthusiasm employees consistently demonstrate in the workplace. Motivation is a behaviour that drives them to achieve to the best of their ability — every day.

The Importance of Employee Motivation

Unmotivated employees are probably working slower than their colleagues. They'll likely be procrastinating, avoiding tasks and spending more time on their phone or browsing the web. Disengaged employees waste your company's resources and could negatively impact other team members — preventing them from achieving their individual and the collective company goals. In contrast, highly motivated employees are enthusiastic and driven for success. They'll work more efficiently, be more productive and be engaged in their tasks.

Employee motivation is critical, no matter the size or level of your company. A drop in employee motivation can be a warning sign that productivity, output and revenue could soon follow.

What Drives Employee Motivation?

Employee motivation affects employee engagement. Engaged employees are emotionally committed to the company, and their attitude and behaviours impact the company and their motivation in the workplace. Gallup's research shockingly discovered only a mere 15% of employees worldwide feel engaged in their jobs. So what are the reasons for such low motivation?

Motivation results from the interaction of both conscious and unconscious factors, such as:

  1. The intensity of desire or need
  2. The incentive or reward value of the goal
  3. Expectations of the individual and their peers

Employee motivational theories in the workplace

Motivation theories serve as a valuable foundation for developing practices to improve employee motivation and can be an excellent way to inspire and motivate employees. Here are five motivational theories to consider.

Maslow's Theory — Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow's theory highlights that humans are motivated by needs and structures them into a pyramid of five levels in order of importance and priority. When one need is satisfied, it ceases to be a motivating factor, and the person moves on to the next set of needs in the hierarchy. Maslow's theory includes the following five levels.

Pyramid showing Maslow's 5 Hierarchy of Needs


At its foundation level, humans have the basic needs for survival, where water, food, shelter and clothing are required. In the workplace, this means paying employees a salary to obtain these basic necessities.


The next level is the security and safety needs. Suppose an employee feels physically unsafe or has much uncertainty within the company. In that case, it can drastically reduce job satisfaction and become demoralising and extremely unmotivating, which will surely impact employee retention.


Social needs refer to people having a sense of belonging. To meet social needs, employees need to build relationships with their colleagues. Management can help fulfil this need by organising social events and team bonding activities outside of work.


For self-esteem to occur, the individual needs to receive recognition, status or respect. Employees often try to boost their confidence and self-esteem by achieving success at work. Managers can meet this need through rewards and recognition to acknowledge and celebrate employee achievements.


Once someone has satisfied all their other needs, they move onto the final stage of becoming growth-orientated. Self-actualised employees may feel more determined to achieve career growth and company goals with more significant effect.

Nudge Theory

Nudge theory is a concept in behavioural economics that proposes that people can be encouraged to make better decisions by being nudged in the right direction. It's based on the idea that small, subtle environmental changes can influence behaviour and encourage people to make positive choices.

In the context of employee motivation, Nudge Theory can encourage employees to make better decisions about their work and to take actions aligned with the company's goals. These changes can be achieved by making small changes to the work environment, such as providing recognition, regular employee feedback sessions, setting clear goals and expectations, and offering monetary incentives for good performance.

For example, managers can apply the concept to encourage employees to adopt healthy habits, such as taking regular breaks, staying hydrated, and getting enough sleep. By providing reminders and incentives, such as free healthy snacks, a rewards program, or other benefits, managers can help employees make better decisions and improve their overall well-being.

Overall, Nudge Theory can be a powerful tool for employers looking to motivate their employees and improve performance. By creating a positive environment and providing subtle cues that encourage good behaviour, managers can help employees feel more engaged and committed to their work, leading to better outcomes for both the employee and the company.

Types of Employee Motivation

Intrinsic motivation

Intrinsic motivation is the internal drive or desire coming from within an employee to perform a task or activity simply because it is enjoyable, satisfying, or meaningful to them. At work, it refers to an employee's inherent motivation to perform their job well because they find it personally fulfilling, engaging, and challenging.

Personal factors drive intrinsic motivation, such as a sense of accomplishment, independence, mastery, and purpose. Intrinsically motivated employees tend to be more engaged, productive, and committed to their work.

Employers can foster intrinsic motivation by providing opportunities for employee growth and development, offering challenging and meaningful work, giving employees freedom and control over their work, and creating a culture of recognition and appreciation for a job well done. Doing so can help employees feel more engaged and fulfilled in their work, leading to better outcomes for both the employee and the organisation.

Extrinsic motivation

Extrinsic motivation refers to the external factors that drive an employee to perform a task or activity at work, such as rewards, bonuses, promotions, or recognition. It is based on the idea that people are motivated by external incentives that can be used to encourage desired behaviours and outcomes.

Extrinsic motivation can be a powerful tool for employers to encourage performance and employee engagement.

Employers should use intrinsic and extrinsic motivation for a motivated workplace. Increasing employee motivation in the short term and keeping employees motivated for the long term. By providing opportunities for career growth and development, offering meaningful and challenging work, and creating a culture of rewards and recognition, you'll likely have engaged employees, leading to better outcomes for both the employee and the organisation.

Top 10 ways to motivate employees

Motivating employees can be a challenging task, but there are several ways that employers can inspire and engage their workforce. Here are ten effective ways to motivate employees:

  1. Provide opportunities for growth and development: Employees are more likely to be motivated if they feel their work contributes to their personal and professional growth. Provide training programs, mentoring opportunities, and career development resources to help employees learn new skills and advance in their careers.
  2. Offer recognition and rewards: Acknowledge and reward employees for individual efforts and achievements. Introducing rewards and recognition programs can be a highly effective way to celebrate your employees' accomplishments and desired behaviours.
  3. Create a positive workplace environment: Foster a positive culture by promoting teamwork, collaboration, and open communication. Encourage employees to share their ideas and provide feedback.
  4. Set clear goals and expectations: Employees are more motivated when they know what is expected of them and have clear goals to work towards. Set measurable and attainable goals and communicate them clearly to employees.
  5. Provide employee feedback and coaching: Regular feedback and coaching can help employees improve their performance and feel more engaged in their work. Host performance reviews and provide constructive feedback and guidance to help employees reach their full potential.
  6. Offer competitive compensation and benefits: Offer competitive salaries, benefits, and perks to attract and retain top talent.
  7. Foster a sense of autonomy and ownership: Employees are more motivated when they have a sense of independence and control over their work. Allow employees to make decisions and take ownership of their projects whilst being held accountable for them.
  8. Provide opportunities for socialising: Encourage employees to socialise and build relationships with their coworkers to help create a sense of community and foster a positive work environment.
  9. Support work-life balance: Provide flexible work arrangements, such as remote work, hybrid work or flexible schedules, to help employees balance their work and personal lives.
  10. Lead by example: Set an example for employees by demonstrating a strong work ethic, positive attitude, and commitment to the company's goals and core values.

Build an impactful employee reward and recognition program

Building an impactful employee reward and recognition program can increase employee motivation and raise the levels of employee engagement whilst reinforcing positive behaviours and company culture. Provide employees with rewards to celebrate the outstanding work they do. However, more than rewards alone may be needed for employee motivation and, if done thoughtfully, should reflect the contribution the company's workers bring.

Improving employee motivation is best carried out holistically, with rewards, recognition and organisational culture all playing an important factor in the overall employee experience. Recognition for your employees reflects how your workers are commended and honoured. It's the primary motivating factor for employees. But if the employee isn't given the recognition in a timely fashion, they may feel forgotten about. Low employee motivation often comes when there needs to be more recognition from management or support from other departments (e.g. human resources). Support employees and make them feel valued. If you do this, employees will feel involved, feel motivated, and they will be much more likely to go above and beyond for you. Happy employees are often motivated employees who will take on more responsibility, help other employees and can even help keep other employees motivated.

For an effective rewards & recognition program, it needs to have socially and financially relevant components. To have a recognition program in your business that lets everyone thank each other and provides an international rewards system backed by an amazing catalogue, please book a demo or contact us.