For many businesses, motivation is a key concern and an ongoing issue for their teams. Motivation is the panacea that can allow lean companies to punch above their weight, or, conversely, cause larger businesses to struggle to hit goals and targets that should otherwise be readily achievable.

So, what exactly is employee motivation and what are some key opportunities – and pitfalls – when it comes to encouraging your teams to go the extra mile when it comes to their work?

What is motivation?

Employee motivation represents your employees’ drive to carry out their jobs and carry out work adjacent actions. A motivated employee can work harder, smarter, or fulfil specific tasks with a high degree of diligence – spreading their desire to do well to other members of a team. But by the same token, demotivated employees can be a ‘fly in the ointment’ and make the work of other individuals harder to complete – resulting in a net drain on resources.

What types of motivation are there?

While there are many theories and approaches to motivating employees, the discipline breaks down into two distinct categories – intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

Intrinsic motivation refers to an individual’s ‘drive’ or internal desire to carry out a task. These feed internal rewards for the individual and foster a sense of accomplishment and wellbeing. For example: A programmer on a software team can enjoy the challenge and mental effort of solving a particular programming issue or working with others to optimise code and finding purpose as a part of a team.

Extrinsic motivation comes from outside the employee’s sphere of influence and normally takes the form of a reward or element that intrinsic rewards cannot provide. For example: Hitting key KPI’s can allow an employee to advance within an organisation, or successfully bidding for projects or bringing them in under budget can result in a bonus or the delivery of other company privileges.


Understanding these helps form the basis of many motivation theories, from Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, Locke’s goal theory, or any number of contemporary self-help books that address specific issues you may be encountering with your business.

How can it help…or hinder?

However, it is important not to focus too much on the principles of motivation and more on follow through. Failing to provide promised rewards can result in individuals becoming disillusioned and even open you up to formal complaints or lawsuits. As your workforce changes, your employee’s needs will shift and grow. For example: A younger individual on the team may be willing to work long hours to secure financial reward, but a more seasoned employee with a young family may be willing to carry out specific tasks for more flexible working hours or benefits.

Providing the right motivators for your business can help attract quality candidates, or those with specialised skillsets that may be able to pick and choose their fields of employment. This can help provide opportunities for smaller businesses to secure a highly motivated workforce that is ‘in it together’ and willing to weather periods of disruption.

This can also support a wider data-gathering and outreach program, allowing you to collect vital data on your teams and enjoy a reciprocal value-creating relationship. And in a world where employees hold more clout and the ability to work remotely opens up their options, it is vital to seize every opportunity you can to learn from and support the members of your in-house team.

How do you motive employees?

How long do you have? While it seems that everyone and their cat has an approach, there are some key themes. Any solution you provide should be optimised and based on evidential data, with key motivators that include-

Employee Empowerment: Giving employees the ability to tackle work the way they prefer can help give them a sense of agency and control. Even the smallest degree of autonomy can help an employee feel more invested in their role and allow them to operate with greater self-direction. This can also be combined with set goals and targets, enabling them to operate in a way that dovetails with your metrics and doesn’t cause issues. This can be as simple as reducing oversight, allowing them to source tools they are familiar with, or allowing them to choose how and where they approach each task.

Clear Communication: An absolutely vital tenet of modern business, maintaining lines of clear communication can allow employees to feel valued and raise issues before they become significant. Good communication is an essential tool for fostering trust and creating a pathway that allows employees to raise issues or suggestions that can help you take the temperature of your teams and capture insight that may otherwise be unavailable to you. This can also allow you to provide additional motivations if an employee’s priorities change and for line managers to deliver transparent, constructive criticism if the individual is falling behind on their work.

Provision of Perks: Different from financial benefits, perks are ‘nice to have’ extras that can make working at your business enjoyable. This can range from a new coffee machine, games in your rec-room, free food, and more. Companies like Google are the kings of this, laying on breakfast and lunch for employees and offering unlimited work from home days to employees – with ‘free’ items rarely being exploited through peer pressure. However, it is important that you do not deliver small perks in lieu of making significant, requested change. This can result in frustration and ongoing issues for employees who may feel their needs are not being met.

Professional Training: Self improvement is a powerful motivator for team members looking to expand their skillsets. This can allow you to provide skills training on tools and software or professional qualifications, allowing you to improve the quality of your staff and provide a key motivation for certain individuals. Be warned though – it is vital that you make any caveats about training clear to employees that undertake the practice. This can leave employees ‘locked in’ to the business after completing a course as they may be required to pay back the company for any courses they undertook. This can be massively frustrating and breed resentment among your teams.

Professional Benefits: Employee benefits are an essential part of motivating extrinsically motivated employees and – in some cases – intrinsically motivated individuals too. These can take the form of compensation packages, bonuses, additional holidays and more. While using the ‘carrot’ method can motivate individuals, it is important to be clear about what the perks include and have full follow-through on their implementation. Pulling the carpet out under a hard-working employee can be disastrous for motivation but fully compensating your employees can be extremely powerful when deployed correctly. However, it is important to choose options that are of interest to your workforce and using your communication channels can help you understand your team’s needs and make the right decision for them.

Organisation and Supportive Frameworks: Discussing an employee’s professional development with a business can leave individuals feeling supported and trusted. This builds loyalty while also setting specific goals and expectations about their time with your company, helping to streamline the onboarding process and helping you get a sense of their interest in the years ahead. This can help provide validation, recognition of accomplishments, and make your teams feel empowered and invested in their workload.

What demotivates employees?

While you can provide the opportunity to encourage employees, certain actions – or lack thereof – can have a net negative effect on employee engagement and morale. Some simple issues include-

Lack of Confidence: Some employees may simply feel they are unable to complete a role. This can be due to self-limiting beliefs or a genuine lack of training.

Lack of feedback: The definition of insanity is carrying out the same task time and time again and expecting a different result. Failing to secure the feedback they need to change their approach can be a net negative for your business.

Personal Issues: Mental health or physical issues can make jobs or tasks much more difficult to complete. Taking the time to understand your team’s needs can make a massive difference in their personal and professional lives,

They simply don’t care: Also known as a motivational mismatch, failing to understand the ‘levers’ that move them can result in disillusionment and increased ‘sickness’ levels.

What next?

If you want to learn more about the importance of employee motivation or how a technical solution can help your business, our team at Practical Software is here to help. With many years’ experience providing solutions to a range of clients, we work with you to understand your unique situation and deploy a software solution that suits your unique needs.