Knowing what makes your staff tick, what gets them fired up and ready to put 100% into the business has a huge impact on productivity.

But figuring out who is motivated by what is probably one of the biggest challenges for HR managers and employers. It is vitally important, however, because it can affect a business’s bottom line  – lack of motivated staff is costing the UK an estimated £340bn a year with just a fifth believing they are fully effective at work.

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According to another survey by Bupa just 7% of employees believe they are working to their full potential while almost half admit they don’t go above and beyond at work because they won’t be acknowledged or rewarded. 

But research has shown happy, motivated employees can increase productivity by around 12%.

The big question is how do you get your employees more motivated and ultimately happier in the work place?

Motivation theories: the basics

Broadly speaking there are two types of motivation theory – extrinsic, where people are motivated by external factors and intrinsic, where people are generally motivated by a desire to satisfy human needs.

Extrinsic motivation might be money –  financial reward for hard work and punishment or sanction if targets are not met. Intrinsic motivation might come from a person’s own self-confidence and discipline, a desire to please their boss or do well for their company, a desire for their hard work to be recognised as well as the desire to achieve certain professional or personal goals.

Using employee motivation theories to increase productivity

Successful managers are the ones who manage to motivate their teams to work at a high level which in turns leads to business growth. There is no one way to motivate individual workers and motivations will be different for each one. 

Assessment can help to find out what makes a particular employee tick and automated HR software can help keep track of that. But managers also need to get to know their staff well to understand their personalities and start to figure out their behaviours. 

There are several things that can be looked at to help improve motivation: 

  • Reward – Receiving a bonus or raise can be all the incentive some need to work harder. But reward can take many different forms and could be something as simple as paid time off, gift vouchers or prizes for hitting targets, travel perks or health benefits.
  • Having faith – Employees want to know you have their best interests at heart while employers want to know they can trust employees to do a job well. Creating trust creates a positive atmosphere which benefits productivity.
  • Recognition – Something as simple as recognising an employee’s hard work can have a tremendous impact as well as spur them on to achieve more.
  • Climbing the career ladder – If there’s no chance of career advancement, then disillusionment can quickly creep in and employee turnover increases. According to a study by Wills Tower Watson more than 70% of high-retention-risk workers said they had to leave their employer to advance their career.
  • Happiness – Happy employees are more productive. You can help increase job happiness by making sure all the above things are present in the workplace. 

The pros and cons of motivation theories 

Financial reward may be important for some employees but for others it’s simply a small part of the puzzle and what really motivates them will be the job experience.

Similarly, incentives are great but if those incentives only appeal to a few employees then there is no impetus for other employees to increase their productivity. A positive incentive such as a bonus or recognition or a negative incentive such as fear of being laid off or humiliated, can elicit different responses. Some employees will be inspired and go on to achieve, others will be consumed by anxiety which can have a detrimental effect and may even lead to unethical behaviours. 

Ultimately, it’s your job as a manager to figure out what motivation works for your different employees. It may take time to do that but the long-term gains of happy employees and increased productivity outweigh the time and effort of uncovering those motivations.

Employee motivation