4 things that actually motivate employees


Employee engagement has quickly risen to one of the hottest topics within HR. The level of disengagement at work today is alarming and work engagement among U.S and European companies is troublesome. According to statistics, 51% of employees feel they aren’t engaged at work.

This is annually costing organizations between $450 and $550 billion in lost productivity. But how much is 450 billion?

With 450 billion you could give every man, woman, and child in Canada roughly $12,500.00 each year or buy 15 000 cars at $30,000/each.

But why are so many employees disengaged at work?

Employees are often well paid and have good benefits. This means that most companies are investing in their employees in terms of benefits and compensation.

Even though employees in bigger companies get more benefits than startups, many employees said they would prefer working in a startup.

But why is this? Employees at startups are compensated poorly and almost have zero benefits. However, startups’ employees are among the most engaged and motivated at work. The issues of employee engagement no longer center around compensations but rather around the work an employee does. 47% of Americans stated that they would leave for their ideal even if they pay is lower.

Below are 4 simple ways how to engage and motivate employees.

Mastery – Let employees develop within their field of interest

Creating a team and an atmosphere revolving around learning and information sharing is essential for today’s employees, as they strive to continuously learn and develop. Finding ways to carve out specific time for learning and enabling them to devote more focus to those things they are truly passionate about will have an impact on overall employee engagement but also productivity. It may seem counterintuitive as you are giving away “work time” but the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks.

1-1’s are a great way to get a better understanding of what motivate each team member and also get a better understanding of how they would like to grow and develop, 1-1’s are a cornerstone of individual development in startups. Those short meetings you have once a week will give you an indication of where to start and will enable you together with the individual to carve out a strategy. It is at the end quite simply because if you don’t support and nurture those interests your employees have they will leave sooner or later to develop them somewhere else.

Set bold goals together with your employees, tie them to their growth and interest and find simple ways to follow up, support and coach them during this journey. Knowledge and learning don’t always need to be expensive courses that need corporate approval there are a lot of other good and simple possibilities stretching from mentorships to freeing up some time to let them focus on what they find interesting.

“ Implementation of OKRs has helped our company to have clear measurable hard to reach goals that every team member can contribute to. It has created a unified direction for the whole company while also speeding up the process of having our problems solved. “ – Matthias, marketer at Modash.io a brand ambassador search engine.”

Impact – Ability to make a real contribution

Many people are drawn to startups due to the fact that their contribution will have a clear impact. Regardless of organization and organizational size, each individual today has the ability to make an impact, they most often just need to understand how their efforts tie into the bigger picture.

We as individuals feel more valuable when we know that our contribution makes a difference and it’s just that feeling that is important to nurture. Make it simple for each employee to see how their work results in a benefit. Why is there contribution important, that is a vital part if we are to be engaged in our work and also care about how and with what we are contributing to.

Purpose – Why are we doing this?

Regardless of company size, it is essential to explain to employees and team members why they are needed and what we collectively are trying to achieve. Crafting an important story behind the work is essential and it needs to be beneficial, bold and alluring if we are to have more engaged teams and individuals at work. We as humans strive to be part of something bigger and we have a drive to build and achieve those goals, that intrinsic drive is something most of us experience and want to act on.

But it’s equally important to understand what isn’t an alluring story.

I while ago I participated in a panel at one of Germany’s biggest car manufacturers and I asked them why they do what they do. The response was to achieve a 4% increase in market share, at least this year. That is by now means a why. People don’t wake up and head into work motivated by increasing market share by 4 %. We want to be part of something bigger than that, we want to populate Mars or build the first electric car. Simon Sinek does a good job of explaining the why of an organization if you haven’t seen it have a look here

Kindness & appreciation – Not needing to have a work face”

Being a part of a team where one feels “psychologically safe” is essential in order to build engaged and high performing teams. At a glance, many team leads may think that their team has achieved this but it’s evident that many struggle to do so. Few feel safe enough to share what they are worried about openly and without consequences. To build engaged, motivated and high performing teams we as managers need to focus on building teams where it is okay to talk about the sad and messy things that are a natural part of life, regardless of it being work-related or private.

Taking care of each other, praise team members’ efforts and creating an open environment is essential for build long term commitment and for driving employee engagement. Recognition has been found in multiple studies to be more important than higher salaries in promoting employee loyalty, and another great thing is that it’s free.

When Google researched their teams to find the ones that perform the highest their realization was that psychological safety was the most important reason for how people perform in the group.

Engaged employees make an enormous difference in their organization and have a clear impact on the companies bottom line. The sooner companies start reviewing how their employees are doing and finding out how they better can support them the better. But what is equally important is that employee engagement isn’t a KPI that can simply be measured and optimized for as many of today’s pulse survey companies want you to believe. Even though companies have invested large sums into their abilities to conduct pulse surveys more frequently we have seen little change in the overall engagement amongst workers. Managers today need to find smarter ways to nurture and motivate employees, see their needs and coach them in an intelligent way to help them reach their goals. There is a need for lighter performance management tools built for the manager, team, and individual. Feeling seen and getting the coaching one wants is what will have the biggest impact on employee well-being and in the end employee engagement.

The theories above are a combination of Dan Pinks theories, Rosabeth Kanter study of a young tech startup and Google’s research into what makes teams successful.

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