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Seven Elements of Employee Motivation

The ability to move the dial on employee motivation is not a “nice to do.” It’s a vital skill for managers and supervisors.

Employee motivation is the stepping stone to employee engagement and strong organizational performance.

So how do you motivate employees?  The truth is you don’t. However, you can create a motivating work environment by focusing both on the overall work culture and individual employee motivation.

Creating a Motivating Work Culture

Research conducted by Krüger & Rootman involving over 400 small businesses focused on seven elements1 that help you rock the work culture.

The Seven Elements of Employee Motivation

The seven elements are listed below in order from those with the greatest to the lowest level of influence on employee motivation:

  1. Interesting and Meaningful Work2 Meaningful work is the most important workplace motivator for employees. Help employees see how the work they do is meaningful and makes a difference.
  2. Recognition and Feedback 3Provide regular feedback to employees about their performance and leverage the power of employee recognition.  
  3. Empowerment4Empower employees. Give them the freedom and strength to look beyond the status quo and champion excellence.
  4. Working Conditions5Intentionally create a workplace with great working conditions on the physical, social, and psychological levels. Working conditions include the atmosphere of the workplace, equipment, work hours, and other support factors. However, the most important source of support you can provide employees is a strong supervisor-employee relationship.
  5. Strong Leadership6Strong leaders are the cornerstone of employee motivation, engagement, and performance. Focus your resources on developing strong leaders that leverage both support and accountability to engage employees and drive performance.
  6. Workplace Justice and Fairness7Promote an environment of workplace justice and fairness in the way you distribute resources, make decisions, and interact with employees.
  7. Rewards8Money doesn’t buy employee motivation. To create a truly motivating work environment, employ a more holistic approach in your rewards structure. Consider the “total rewards” approach.

While these seven elements will help you create a workplace atmosphere conducive to employee motivation, it’s also vital to focus on what motivates each person individually.

Individual Employee Motivation

Employee motivation is not a “one size fits all” proposition.

Individualizing Your Approach

Each employee is unique and requires an individualized approach.  This uniqueness underscores the need to establish strong supervisor-employee relationships and to get to know each employee on a personal level while keeping it professional. 

By getting to know their employees, managers and supervisors can develop a deeper understanding and appreciation for their values, needs, concerns, priorities, desires, fears, and hopes, which are all essential to motivation.

Talking with People

Talking with employees and doing a lot of listening is a great way to get to know them.  It’s also a simple way to build relationships. You can find out a lot about what a person values just by having conversations.

Motivation Assessments

Assessments are also excellent tools to find out what motivates individuals on a deeper level. For instance, the Motivators assessment measures seven universal dimensions of employee motivation –- theoretical, regulatory, individualistic, altruistic, political, economic, and aesthetic.

Employee Ownership

Leaders don’t have complete control over employee motivation.  Employees themselves play an essential role in their own motivation through how they chose to view and respond to the world and the workplace.  There are also other factors beyond the control of managers and supervisors that influence motivation.

However, managers and supervisors have the opportunity and responsibility to impact that which is within their sphere of influence. Understanding the seven elements listed above and what motivates each person can help them work towards fulfilling this responsibility.

Post Updated: April 30, 2019

SYLVIA MELENA is the Founder and CEO of Melena Consulting Group and the author of Supportive Accountability: How to Inspire People and Improve Performance.

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 Krüger, J. & Rootman, C. (2010). How do small business managers influence employee satisfaction and commitment?  Acta Commercii,10(1). pp. 59 - 72. Retrieved from Creative Commons License.

Creating a High-Performance Work Culture

The research is clear.  An organization’s work culture impacts performance outcomes.

Decades of research demonstrates that organizations that achieve and sustain performance excellence have the following characteristics ingrained into their work cultures:

  • Vision  – They have leaders who effectively articulate the organization’s vision and mission. They engage employees in advancing the vision by promoting pride, ownership, and accountability;
  • Risk-Taking – High-performing organizations have bold leaders who are not afraid to take calculated risks. This does not mean abandoning wisdom or acting unethically. However, organizations can’t be risk averse;
  • Team Orientation – They actively promote a team-oriented environment where employees are truly free to talk about issues and work together towards consensus-building to achieve results; and
  • Flexible Oversight – High-performing organizations have strong oversight that ensures efficient implementation of key initiatives and changes. However, they are not rigid. They demonstrate the necessary openness and flexibility that supports creativity and innovation.[i]

A study conducted by Cartsens and Barnes arrived at similar findings. This study found correlations between the following leadership behaviors and both the quality of the leader-employee relationship and great organizational performance:

  • Vision – Forward-thinking leaders help employees see the vision for the future. They are able to engage employees and get them excited about the direction their organization is headed
  • Accountability – Leaders who are fully committed to accountability drive performance. This includes accountability at all levels of the organization — accountability for employees as well as accountability for leaders. Effective accountability requires leaders to set the example;\
  • Team Decision-Making – Eliciting input from employees and giving them a voice in the decision-making process empowers them to make a difference. This, in turn, gives employees a vested interest in advancing the organization’s success and meeting performance goals. The ultimate responsibility for the decision rests with the leader. However, wise leaders know that some of the best ideas come from those on the front line;
  • Trust Building – Trust is the foundation of a strong leader-employee relationship. To establish trust, a leader must demonstrate integrity and create a safe environment.[ii]

Companies and organizations have long understood that having strong leadership is vital to creating a culture that achieves and sustains great performance. However, building strong leadership teams has been difficult for many, especially in light of the many competing priorities their leaders are faced with.

The good news is that the research provides insights into a handful of key elements that leaders at all levels of the organization can focus on to achieve and sustain performance excellence.  By focusing on four key areas – Vision, Accountability, Team Decision-Making, and Trust Building – organizations can create a high-performance work culture.


[i] Curteanu, D. & Constantin, I. (2010).  “Organizational culture diagnosis – a new model.  Manager, 11(1), pp. 15-16.  ISSN: 1453-0503 (Print); 2286-170X (Online). Retrieved from Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International Public License.

[ii] Carstens, F.J. & Barnes, N. (2006).  “The Quality of Leader/Employee Relationship.” SA Journal of Human Resource Management; 4(2), p. 18.  Retrieved from   Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International Public License.

Employee Engagement Pays Off

My definition of an engaged employee is “an employee who takes ownership of the success of the organization and demonstrates initiative to positively transform the workplace.” This definition asserts that an engaged employee is fully vested in the success of his or her organization and actively participates in making it the best that it can be.

A lot has been written about employee engagement by academia, business, and consultancy and extensive scientific research has been conducted on the subject for many decades.  While the research has produced various definitions of employee engagement, the findings consistently indicate that engagement has measurable positive impact on the organization.

The research has also consistently affirmed that the supervisor-employee relationship is the cornerstone of employee engagement and that managers and supervisors hold the keys to creating a culture that either engages or disengages employees.

According to the research, managers and supervisors who create an engaging environment achieve higher levels of:

  • Employee retention,
  • Productivity,
  • Company growth and profits,
  • Employee willingness and ability to advance organizational priorities, and
  • Customer loyalty and satisfaction.[1]

The contrary is also true.  Managers and supervisors who lack either the skill or desire to create a great work environment have a negative impact on employee engagement. This, in turn, is detrimental to the well-being of the organization, its employees, and its customers.

Thus, it is to every organization’s best interest to ensure that managers and supervisors are equipped with the skills and motivation to engage employees.

Researchers have developed numerous assessments and profiles to help companies develop and execute strategies to strengthen employee engagement. However, in order for these tools to be effective, managers and supervisors must have proficiency in the tools and have the capability and motivation to plan, develop, implement and evaluate the corresponding employee engagement strategies.

Regardless of the tools and strategies used, the bottom line is that employee engagement is not optional.  It is vital for the success and well-being of every organization, its employees and its customers.

[1] Jensen, O.B. (2012).  “The engagement of employees as a key to corporate success.”  Dynamic Relationships Management Journal, 1(2), pp. 45 – 56.  DOI 10.17708/DRMJ.2012.v01n02a05.  Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International.