Let’s Be Honest About What Really Motivates Employees

Managing people is one of the hardest things to master as an employer. Every member of your staff has different motivations, personal goals and behavior.

Photo: Hoang (Hunter) Bui; Credit: © Form & Function International

Managing people is one of the hardest things to master as an employer and leader. Every member of your staff has different motivations, personal goals and behavior. A successful manager understands this and knows how to work with different types of employees.

Motivations are a baseline factors and can provide clues as to how to manage different people on your team. Here’s a look at the most common employee motivations and tips on how to help each member of your team reach your collective goals.


1. Money

It’s no surprise that compensation is a huge motivator for many of your employees. It is one of the primary reasons they applied for their job in the first place! However, money may speak to one person differently than the other. Employees motivated by money tend to seek more shifts and opportunities for bonuses and promotions.

While you can’t give out bonuses every month or dole out endless employee perks, you can use this to your advantage by promoting a little healthy competition. Consider internal competitions to meet sales goals or upsells on certain product or service lines. Devise a concrete plan where the return on investment justifies the reward.


2. Job fulfillment

Job fulfillment is more subjective and can easily vary among employees. Studies show that job satisfaction is linked to deeper attitudes about work in general. Usually reflected in work ethic, fulfillment encompasses appreciation, recognition, and a rewarding working environment – all of which ties to self identity. Employees who seek fulfillment need to know their contribution is felt. For these employees recognize hard work fairly and often. Let your team know you appreciate their efforts.


3. Completion

Most employees love to finish something they’ve started. Moving from one completed project to the next can be a huge motivation. Conscientious people are driven to complete the tasks they start. They are rarely without their to-do lists.


Photo: Annie Spratt, Unsplash
Photo: Annie Spratt, YFS Magazine

This can often be tied to fulfillment, but completion is more easily measured. Employees motivated by completion appreciate a clear sense of direction, milestones and a vivid picture of what the end results look like. They appreciate clearly defined targets, step-by-step guides or visuals of a final project.


4. Complacency

Sometimes, a job is just a job. According to Pew Research, “On the whole, American workers are generally satisfied with their jobs. Even so, a significant share (30%) view the work they do as ‘just a job to get them by,’ rather than a career or a steppingstone to a career.”

Probably the most difficult motivation to work with (should we even call it a motivation?), complacency is all about keeping an employee on his or her feet with repetition. There is a degree of entropy you must work with as these employees are likely to expend minimum effort for required results. Routine is critical. Set clear responsibilities from start to finish and make every hour count. Only then will employees motivated by complacency slack off less and finish on time (4:59 pm to be exact).


5. Balance

Work-life balance has been a watchword for the global workplace. People don’t want work to dominate their lives. Arguably, balance is a close cousin of complacency. However, employees that are motivated by work-life balance are often motivated by other factors too. However they prioritize leisure just as much as duty.

Listen to the implied and expressed needs of balance seekers and accommodate without compromising business goals. Consider how you can integrate leisure activities into the workplace to boost morale and energize team spirit.


It’s important to recognize that one employee could possess a combination, if not all, of these primary motivations. It’s your responsibility as a leader to work closely with your team and learn their motivations. Employees work for their management team, so the direction you drive your team guides the direction your team will drive your business.


This article has been edited.

Hoang (Hunter) Bui graduated from the University of Technology, Sydney with a focus in Industrial Design. He has always had a passion for expression through words and design. He currently runs an Australian streetwear label and seeks to discover more about his entrepreneurial self. Connect with @latchapparelco on Twitter.


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