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Employee Motivation: How to Increase Productivity (the Human Way)

Chris Thomas, May 3, 2021
employee motivation: how to increase productivity (the human way)

When it comes to employee motivation, even our best staff members have bad days. So how do you make sure your team remains consistent? How do you increase productivity without the risk of burnout? 

The answer can be found by analysing psychology. It can help us to manage our teams in a healthier, more sustainable way.

If you think your employees could do with a boost in motivation and productivity, this article is for you. We’ll be covering:

  • Why employee motivation is important 
  • What creates a motivated employee 
  • The psychology behind motivation and productivity
  • What strategies increase motivation and productivity

Why is Employee Motivation so Important?

Without truly motivated employees, most businesses wouldn’t survive. This is particularly true for businesses that trust their employees with their own time management

For instance, if employees are expected to manage their workload but lack motivation, simple tasks will take much longer than needed. In the worst case scenarios, a lack of motivation can have a knock on effect, resulting in work inefficiency and a waste of resources. 

On the other hand, businesses with high levels of employee motivation are far more likely to meet deadlines in a timely manner. Motivated employees often experience higher job satisfaction too. It means that inspiring motivation in your team can lead to happier employees, as well as higher success rates.  

What Creates a Motivated Employee?

While there are many ways to stimulate employee motivation, some tips and techniques are much more effective than others. For example, you could take a positive approach and offer your team incentive programs for good performance. Some project managers use time management games to boost productivity too.

Conversely, some managers and business owners prefer to motivate employees by putting tough pressure on performance. This kind of technique is almost always a bad idea. It leads to tasks being rushed and a higher likelihood of burnout. 

Instead of creating a negative atmosphere in your workplace, the best way to improve employee motivation is to foster an environment of support and encouragement. To find out why this is the case, let’s take a look at the psychological principles at play. 

The Psychology Behind Motivation in the Workplace 

Many organisational and business psychologists have tried to identify a universal theory of employee motivation. However, each theory has its supporters and its critics. 

Take a look at some of these popular psychological theories. Which do you agree with the most? 

Herzberg’s two-factor theory

Frederick Herzberg’s two-factor theory of motivation states that there are two sets of factors within the workplace that affect job satisfaction, motivation, and productivity.

  1. Motivating factors: These are the positive aspects of a role that motivate employees, such as recognition for good work, responsibility, and a sense of importance and accomplishment.
  2. Hygiene factors: These are the negative aspects of a role that might affect job performance. They include concerns about job security and a negative atmosphere among employees. 

In short, this theory suggests that employee motivation will reach its peak when the hygiene factors are eliminated and the motivating factors championed. 

How does this theory help create motivated employees? By creating a positive environment where employees feel safe and secure, employees will be less distracted and more productive. They’ll also feel a greater sense of purpose and belonging to the organization. 

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

Like Herzerg’s theory, Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has been used to explore the psychology behind employee motivation. 

From an organisational standpoint, this theory suggests that in order to achieve maximum employee motivation and satisfaction, employees must have their basic needs satisfied in a certain order. These needs are as follows: 

  1. Physiological: These needs are achieved by having access to a comfortable work environment.   
  2. Safety: These needs are achieved by having adequate safety equipment and training if necessary.
  3. Belonging: This need might be achieved by receiving a sense of recognition from peers and managers. 
  4. Esteem: This need might be achieved by feeling a sense of pride, purpose, and responsibility in a role. 
  5. Self-actualization: This need is achieved by an employee fulfilling their true potential. 

As we can see, for employees to demonstrate maximum motivation and productivity, this theory suggests that they must achieve full confidence and mastery within their role. 

However, a high level of motivation and satisfaction can also be achieved if an employee’s need for belonging and esteem are met. One way to do this is to play to your employees’ strengths. 

For example, while younger employees might be more likely to have shorter attention spans, they are far more likely to be extremely proficient with technology. 

On the other hand, more senior employees might have a hard time adapting to new processes, but they’re also much more likely to have more experience and expertise. 

How does this theory help create motivated employees? With their basic needs met, employees are given the time needed to learn and progress. As new skills and confidence are gained, more advanced needs are met, ultimately helping them to realize their full potential. 

McClelland’s theory of needs 

David McClelland’s theory of needs suggests that every person has one of three motivating factors in their work and personal lives. These motivators are: 

  1. Achievement
  2. Affiliation
  3. Power

Broadly speaking, this theory suggests that employees are best motivated by performing tasks that best suit their personality types. 

For example, achievers feel most motivated by tackling challenging goals, often working alone. Affiliates prefer to work collaboratively and don’t enjoy high risk roles. Employees that are invested in power are natural leaders that enjoy competition and status. 

How does this theory help create motivated employees? By recognising the strengths and weaknesses of your employees, tasks can be better delegated. Rather than trying to increase productivity and staff motivation for all tasks, managers should focus on who is more likely to get the job done effectively. 

Which motivation theory works best? 

The best way to use these theories is to focus on the areas in which they align. Regardless of what factors they deem most important for employee motivation, each theory places a heavy emphasis on creating positive workplace environments based on empathy, support, and respect. 

This means that each theory can be adapted and combined to best suit your workplace. Let’s put some of these theories into practice to see how.

Strategies that Increase Motivation and Productivity

By focusing on sustainable and healthy ways to motivate our employees, we can make sure their productivity and job satisfaction increases. Here are some ideas to get started.  

Communicate goals and provide feedback

Though a goal might seem obvious to you, reminding your employees where your team is headed is a simple way to make sure they feel secure in their roles. 

The best way to do this is to offer consistent feedback and updates, utilizing methods like catch-up meetings, project milestones, and project roadmaps

Whatever method you use, 43% of the most engaged and motivated employees receive feedback on a weekly basis. It’s proof of the correlation between effective communication and employee productivity. 

What’s more, if an employee can understand why a task is important, they are much more likely to remain motivated and work towards its completion. As per Herzberg’s theory, the hygiene factor of confusion and ignorance is cleared, allowing the team to push forward once more. 

Reward the effort, not the result

37% of employees say that recognition is one of the most important factors for remaining motivated in the workplace. However, too much focus on the end result can produce a limiting effect on future motivation. 

For instance, if a team works at their maximum effort but still fails to meet a goal, morale will almost certainly decrease. To solve this issue, make sure you always reward your employees’ efforts, not just the end result. 

Rather than allowing your team to doubt themselves, focus instead on learning from their experiences. Ask what improvements can be made for next time. In line with Maslow’s theory, this will strengthen their sense of belonging and esteem, improving team dynamics

Promote wellbeing and resilience 

It might sound ironic, but by proving that you care about your employees beyond their job performance, you’ll actually see them perform better in the long run. 

By offering adequate breaks and providing programs that support mental and physical health, you can expect to see happier, more resilient employees. In turn, this will sky-rocket their motivation: 86% of employees who are resilient say they are highly motivated. 

To begin promoting employee wellbeing, start by opening a dialogue between you and your staff. By asking how you can support them in their roles, your employees will feel a stronger sense of self-esteem and drive to meet their targets. 

Increasing Employee Motivation: Final Thoughts 

Each employee has a different set of strengths and weaknesses. While this means that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to increasing employee motivation and productivity, each of their unique attributes can be a huge source of potential to your business. 

As we’ve seen, the best way to make the most of your employees’ potential is to provide employees with an environment in which they can learn and grow. Without a sense of stability and support, employee motivation will never improve.  

To make sure your employees are always at the top of their game, make a commitment to foster a positive environment in your workplace. By demonstrating empathy, support, and respect, you’ll have a happier team that gets the job done!

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Chris Thomas

Chris Thomas is a content marketer at Talkative, a video customer service platform helping businesses connect more meaningfully with online customers.