Employee Motivational Factors and How To Motivate Your People

Identifying how to motivate employees can be one of the most difficult tasks for a manager. 

Each employee is different and each has different motivational factors and drivers that push them to succeed.

If you want to learn:

  • The most common motivational factors for employees
  • How to motivate employees to create a more successful business
  • How employee motivation can improve gross profit

Then you’ll love the actionable techniques and methods in this post. 

Let’s dive right in.

What are employee motivational factors? 

Already know everything there is to know about employee motivational factors? Skip ahead to find out our employee motivational techniques. 

Employee motivational factors are essentially the reasons why employees care about their work and why they work hard. 

These will have different levels of importance for each employee, and each employee can have multiple motivational factors

As we’ll discover, fulfilling these factors creates a happier environment - both for employees and management. 

It seems obvious, but if your workplace is full of people who really don’t care about their jobs - or even straight up hate them - it’s probably going to affect the bottom line. 

The smiling face of our replacements. 
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Workforces are made up of human beings (for now at least), and it’s important to remember that no-one is going to be happy and motivated every day.

What are the benefits of motivated employees?

By increasing motivation among employees though, you can enjoy a bunch of significant benefits.

Increased Productivity 

A happier employee is 33% more productive than an unhappy one. 

Of course, increased productivity doesn’t necessarily guarantee an increased quality of work.

But it does mean that employees who are happy at work are more likely to try harder for the business. 

Reduced absenteeism

Motivated employees are 41% less likely to call in sick and the average number of sick days in the UK per employee was 5.8 in 2020

Man in white t-shirt getting out of bed with pained expression
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That may not seem like that much, but if you have 10 employees it adds up to nearly two months of lost work. 

Reduced Staff Turnover

Unmotivated employees are twice as likely to be looking out for other opportunities than a motivated employee, which means....

Less money spent on training

Businesses spend $1,252 on training each member of their team on average. 

Not only is this investment lost if staff regularly leave, but you then need to spend it again getting a new hire up to the same standard as a previous team member.

Increased Profits

The reduced costs and increased productivity mentioned above can all add up to an increased gross profit of 47% according to one study. 

Is there any research into employee motivational factors?

Without getting too theoretical, any discussion about employee motivational factors has to include the seminal research conducted by psychologist Frederick Herzberg in the 1960s.

Herzberg came up with the idea of hygiene factors, which sound like they belong in a medical journal, but completely make sense.  

Hygiene was chosen as a name because it stops you from getting sick -  but it doesn’t make you healthier. Herzberg’s hygiene factors act in the same way in a workplace. 

An absence of these factors will make employees dissatisfied, but an abundance of them won’t necessarily motivate employees to work harder. 

To put it another way, the hygiene factors listed below could be considered “minimum expectations” for employers from their workers. 

Blue graphic of Herzberg's hygiene factors
Herzberg's hygiene factors

Let’s take job security, for example. Constantly threatening employees with redundancy is going to make them dissatisfied with their work. 

But you're not going to motivate staff just by regularly telling them that their job is secure. That might work for a bit but over time staff will just assume their job is secure until told otherwise. 

One surprising element of Herzberg’s model is salary. While providing a good salary is extremely important to avoid demotivating employees, it doesn’t necessarily motivate long term.

Herzberg’s hygiene factors serve as a good foundation for employers to build upon when they are trying to work out how to motivate employees.

What motivates employees?

Assuming all of Herzberg’s hygiene factors are in place, what motivational factors can create a positive impact on employee motivation?

Employee Motivation #1 - Challenge

Woman in blue shirt yawning at computer screen
Via Freepik 

Unsurprisingly, repetitive jobs have a higher staff turnover rate than those that are not repetitive. 

Human beings like being challenged, and performing the same task day after day is a surefire way to reduce motivation at work. 

Whilst other positive factors like a sociable environment may offset this to some degree, stacking shelves for eight hours a day every day is no-one’s idea of a good time. 

The content of a role, and the challenge it presents to the employee have a significant impact on motivation. 

Varied tasks can motivate staff to produce their best work.

Employee Motivation #2 - Responsibility and influence 

Workers on computer screens sitting round a desk
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People increasingly want to feel purpose in their jobs, with Harvard Business Review reporting that 9 in 10 people would take a pay cut if their work was more meaningful. 

Employees want to feel that they’re doing something that’s important to society, or at the very least important to the company they work for. 

This can apply to multiple situations. By avoiding micromanagement, employees will get the sense that they are trusted to do their job. 

Likewise, setting out clear roles so that staff are aware of how their work impacts the business will also foster feelings of responsibility and influence.  

Ultimately, no-one wants to be doing work that they don’t see the point of, so introducing this factor into a workplace is key when considering how to motivate employees.  

Managers can motivate employees by creating an environment where they feel they have responsibility and influence.

Employee Motivation #3 - Recognition 

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Most people have produced something in their career that they’re really proud of, whether it’s a wildly successful feature they’ve designed or a great piece of code. 

A sense of accomplishment can motivate employees, and this is especially true when it’s accompanied by recognition from management

In fact, some surveys have suggested that recognition is one of the most important motivators, with 37% of employees in one survey rating it as a key factor for creating their best work. 

Realistically, employees are unlikely to feel valued if they go above and beyond only for no-one in management to notice or say anything.

Humans crave recognition by their peers and superiors, and this is especially true in the workplace.

It therefore becomes a highly effective method when you’re trying to work out how to motivate employees

Recognition is one of the most powerful motivational factors for employees.

Employee Motivation #4 - Personal development

Two women smiling and working at desk
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Research by LinkedIn suggests that 94% of employees would stay at a company for longer if it invested in their personal development

This is a bit of a no-brainer for managers, as businesses that provide additional training for their employees are creating a win-win situation for themselves. 

Investing in staff development will make employees more knowledgeable about their work. 

But it also proves to staff that management cares about their role. After all, if it wasn’t important, why would the company spend money training them? 

Finally, personal development positively influences employee motivation because staff feel that they’ve gained skills they can use later down the line in their careers. 

Opportunities for advancement are also crucial for employees, with 91% of millennials stating that career progression is one of the most important aspects of their job. 

With the retirement age ever rising in many countries, it makes sense that many people would be less than overjoyed at the prospect of decades performing the same role.

As we already discussed, job content is one of the most important motivational factors for employees. But even varied roles will become boring after many years. 

Investing in personal development and providing a clear path to promotion is essential when figuring out how to motivate employees.

Employee Motivation #5 - Competition and Prestige 

Black chess piece with gold crown on top
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For some employees, competition and prestige acts as one of their biggest motivators. 

Being the best at what they do or working for the “best” company can create feelings of success or pride, encouraging workers to continually strive to achieve better results. 

Competition has been proven to positively impact motivation, and one study found that competition was most motivating when participants faced smaller challenges

One key thing to note here is that adopting a competitive company culture is a double edged sword. 

Competitions always have losers, and there’s a risk of dividing your team and alienating employees who are less competitive and find less fulfilment from being number one. 

When used cautiously, motivational factors like competition and prestige can be highly effective.

How is employee motivation measured? 

It might be tempting to think that you can divine the motivational level of your staff just by gauging how happy people seem in the office. 

Whilst this can help, a friendly office environment is one of Herzberg’s hygiene factors, which means it has a limited amount of influence on creating highly motivated staff long term.  

There’s a few different ways you can measure employee motivation.

Measuring Team KPIs and HR Metrics

Using HR metrics and KPIs to determine and boost motivational levels for staff can be a great way to get insights, but it’s a lot more tricky to get right than it first appears.

Let’s take a look at an example.

You decide to measure and improve the employee motivation of your sales team by using the metric “Number of New Clients”. On the face of it, this makes complete sense. The harder they work, the more clients they’ll sign, right?

One of your employees - let’s call him Pete - signs 10 new clients in a month. Another staff member - Sarah - only signs five.

Judging by this metric alone, Pete is the harder and more successful worker and receives a month-end bonus. Sarah misses out.

Businessman celebrating after receiving message on smartphone
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Unfortunately, Pete was only motivated by his bonus and reaching the number one spot.

It turns out, six of his clients are a bad fit for the company, require many hours of support, become brand detractors, and cancel their subscription within a couple of weeks.

Sarah however, was more careful to pursue leads that were a good fit for their company’s solution. As a result there are no complaints from the five clients she signed and they go on to become long-term happy customers.

While both employees clearly worked hard, it’s critical to appreciate how massively KPIs influence your staff behaviour. A way to guard against KPIs leading to the wrong behaviours is by using Primary and Secondary KPIs when measuring employee motivation.

Primary KPIs are your overall goal, and Secondary KPIs are the ‘rules’ for achieving the goal. 

In this example, we might use the metric “Retention Rate of New Clients after 30 Days” as our Secondary KPI. 

By modifying the Number of New Clients with Retention Rate, we’re not just encouraging people to work harder, we’re encouraging them to work harder in a more targeted manner. 

Three women working on laptops around large wooden office table
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You may also have your own preconceptions of which staff members are most effective.

Ideally, you should base performance analysis on a range of objective data rather than a gut feeling or a single subjective metric.

It’s human nature to be more inclined to forgive and overestimate the achievements of workers you have a more favourable impression of, and vice versa. 

It’s key to remove your personal perceptions of a worker as far as possible.

Choosing the right KPIs and metrics to measure and improve employee motivation can be a challenge. A workflow analytics platform like Upside can help with this.

Using a workflow analytics platform for gathering teamwork metrics 

Screenshot of Boards page of the Upside analytics platform
Via myupside.io

Workflow analytics platforms use data science and advanced machine learning to increase performance, engagement, and motivation

A platform like Upside uses a few key Primary and Secondary KPIs to provide you with an overall health check for specific teams. It also allows you to pinpoint problems within your workflow. 

By more accurately tracking performance and motivation, you access a wide range of benefits for everyone involved in the business.

The benefits of workflow analytics platforms for managers

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Using a workflow analytics platform allows management to understand who their most productive teams and people are in real time

Of course, this isn’t about working out who’s doing badly so you can give them a dressing down. 

Instead, Upside help management ask “why” in real time. Perhaps one of your team wasn’t entirely clear on a task, struggles with a particular aspect of their job, or is just having one of those weeks where they’re being distracted a lot.

According to one study, 59% of people do not ask for help at work.

Workflow analytics platforms allow executives and team leads to identify who needs help and guidance, and what specifically they need it on.

Transparency and the benefits of workflow analytics platform for employees

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A workflow analytics platform is beneficial for employees as well. It creates a more transparent and open working environment that sees achievements more accurately rewarded. 

Performance reviews become based on data rather than subjective perceptions. This allows staff to be judged on the strength of their work rather than how well they get on with their manager. 

Furthermore, staff gain more agency. If management and team leaders know where employees excel and struggle, they can avoid micromanaging employees for tasks that they’re more than capable to undertake solo. 

A workflow analytics platform like Upside creates fairer bonuses for employees. It gives staff more flexibility, independence, and assistance. 

As a side note, Upside is free until you’ve increased your output - which can be as much as 75%. 

You’re not going to be able to improve employee motivation if you don’t know you have a problem, and a workflow analytics platform is a massive help in this regard.

A workflow analytics platform is a quick and easy way to determine if you have issues with employee motivation.

Measuring Employee Motivation - Surveys and Performance Reviews

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It sounds obvious, but if you’re unsure whether your team is motivated, ask them. 

Employee motivation surveys and regular performance reviews are a fantastic way to gain insights into motivation, but there are a few caveats. 

The first thing to consider is whether you want responses to any survey to be anonymous. If you want to personalise your motivation strategy for each employee, then anonymous responses will obviously be a problem. 

However, it’s unlikely your staff will be completely honest with you if they know you’ll be able to read their answers.

You could consider partnering with a third party to conduct your survey. Your employees may answer more honestly with a stranger than they would with you, though this will of course carry additional costs. 

Another element to consider with performance reviews and motivation surveys is that self reporting is never 100% reliable.  

American church attendance on self reported surveys, for example, stands at around 40%. However researchers concluded the real figure was probably more like 22%.

People lied on the survey, even though there were no repercussions for doing so and data was anonymous.  

Equally, a worker who spends most of their day browsing Youtube or playing games may tell you that they’re extremely happy and motivated at work, which wouldn’t necessarily be a lie. 

Via Pexels 

But you would probably rightly conclude that their attitude towards their work needed improvement. 

That said, surveys and performance reviews definitely offer a wealth of information and serve as the bedrock for your employee motivation strategy.

Alternatively, a workflow analytics platform like Upside features the ability to survey employees. This then combines with workflow data to improve team performance. 

Employee motivation surveys and performance reviews can provide you with actionable information that you can build a motivation strategy upon. 

Motivational Techniques and How to Motivate Employees

Our section on motivational factors already touched upon how to motivate employees using innovative software like Upside

But there’s heaps of other motivational techniques that you can use to increase your productivity and reduce staff turnover. 

Motivate employees with variety in their work

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Successful motivational techniques often involve giving agency to your staff.

One to consider is asking employees which tasks they enjoy the most and least, then see what you can do to vary their workload or assign them the duties they prefer. 

This won’t be possible in every role of course. 

According to one survey though, repetitive tasks that could be delegated or automated account for 520 hours of work per year for the average employee. 

If it’s been a while since you’ve looked at the automation possibilities for your workplace, it might be wise to refamiliarise yourself. 

Technology has come on in leaps and bounds over the past few years, with everything from workflow analytics platforms to conversational AI now becoming commonplace. 

Create clear paths of progression and promotion

Two children in space suits climbing a white ladder
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82% of employees will move on elsewhere if they don’t feel like they have a realistic chance of progression at some point. 

So it’s super-important to provide staff with a clear route for how they can achieve promotion. 

If you’re in a smaller company where a role doesn’t currently exist, it might be a case of speaking to your employees individually. 

You could tell them what goals the company needs to achieve before a new position can be created. 

It’s also a great idea to promote internally, wherever you can. This staves off any negative feelings that might arise when someone new comes in and is immediately senior to your existing staff.  

But equally, someone who knows your company already will be more familiar with some of the challenges you face and the way in which you work. 

Democratise training

Group of employees in meeting watching management make presentation
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Democratising training can provide a good foundation for your motivation strategy, as retention rates rise by 30%-50% for companies with a strong learning culture.

You’ll have your own ideas on where your team can improve, but asking your staff what sort of training they’d like to undertake can have multiple benefits. 

For starters, it tells you how self-aware your employees are. 

Equally, people are more likely to engage with a subject they are interested in and have chosen themselves rather than something they’ve been assigned. 

40% of employees with poor training will leave a company in the first year - so this is a great way to reduce this. 

Giving your employees agency over their own careers is an effective method to show them that you care about their careers and happiness. 

If your team asks to be trained in areas that you don’t think will be hugely beneficial, you could consider finding some form of middle ground between their desires and yours. 

Start a profit share scheme 

Woman in white and brown jumper counting dollar bills
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Effective motivational techniques will differ from business to business, and profit sharing or bonuses won’t work for everyone. 

However, there are distinct advantages to year end bonuses or assigning staff a direct stake in the success of a business.

The least of these may be that 54% of employees expect to receive something. 

Much like a bonus scheme, a profit share will require you to set out distinct targets for your team, and illustrate how you plan to reach those targets. 

Where profit shares differ though is that many use an escalating percentage based on the success of a team rather than a set figure. 

A massive plus to a profit share is that you only pay out if the company is profitable. 

As we mentioned in the motivational factors section, some work that employees undertake is less quantifiable and more difficult to create targets for (e.g. customer experience at a restaurant). 

A profit share scheme rewards everyone for the work that goes on behind the scenes, as it uses your most important metric: profit. 

Non-work related competition 

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Competition in the workplace can do more harm than good, but one motivation strategy to reduce the risk with this is non-work related competition

If you’re really stuck on how to motivate employees, it could be an option. 

Maybe lots of your team members love cooking and you could do a monthly bake off. Or perhaps you’ve got heaps of football fans and a fantasy league would be more appropriate.

Whatever your team is passionate about, get involved and provide a non-monetary reward.

In doing so, you’ll create a light-hearted element of competition that will improve the social conditions in your office. 

Be specific with praise

A manager praising a smiling staff member and pointing at laptop screen
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There are a few really simple things you can do when you’re considering how to motivate employees.

58% of workers said that recognition would improve their engagement in their role, and motivational techniques that address this are really easy to implement. 

When you’re praising employees, it’s key to be specific. A simple “Good job”, probably won’t cut it. 

“Great job on that new feature, I think you’ve found a really exciting way for us to attract new clients and grow revenue” is much better. 

Because the compliment is specific, it feels more authentic. It also tells the employee how their work will positively impact the business. 

Another way you can incorporate praise into your motivation strategy is to devote a reasonable chunk of time to it in performance reviews

The majority of employees will see the benefit in discussing their weaknesses with a superior, but half an hour of criticism is not going to encourage anyone to work harder. 

By spending more time discussing the positives of a staff member’s performance, you increase the likelihood that they’ll actually take on board the advice that you’ve offered. 

Set realistic goals and be transparent

A manager pointing at a brainstorm board
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Transparency is a useful tool in your arsenal if you’re wondering how to motivate employees, with 70% of workers saying they are more engaged in a transparent workplace. 

There are, of course, certain situations where it’s only appropriate for management to have all the details. 

But transparency can, and should, permeate through the majority of your interactions with staff. 

This applies to both positive and negative situations, and particularly when setting goals. 

Being open and honest about the position your company is in or why a deadline has been moved forward is more likely to engender a positive reaction from staff. 

Workers will be more engaged if they are aware of the thinking behind your decisions. 

Finally, you should set specific and realistic goals for your staff - and provide your reasoning for them. 

Everyone would love to boost profit by 100% in a month, but if objectives feel too far out of reach then staff may feel that the situation is hopeless and not even attempt it. 

I want to increase profit by 3% in the next quarter. We need a bigger office and it will allow us to have a staff party. I think we can get there by launching a PPC Google Ads campaign”. 

Provide a realistic goal, be transparent as to why you want to achieve that goal, and give a small incentive to hit it. You’re much more likely to get staff on board. 


When you’re trying to figure out how to motivate employees, your motivation strategy doesn’t have to be expensive and time consuming. 

Platforms now exist to help you identify when you may have a problem. Sometimes, you might have even been employing motivational techniques without realising.  

Hopefully, this guide has enabled you to more accurately identify motivational factors for your staff. 

Listening to your employees, recognising their accomplishments, and varying their responsibilities can provide a solid foundation for improving your productivity - it doesn’t all come down to how big their pay cheque is!

Improving your productivity and creating a happier workforce doesn’t have to be a drag. 

Upside is a revolutionary new platform that gives you the data you need to increase the performance and engagement of your product and engineering teams. 

Sign up today and use it for free forever