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.

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

Want to Create a Motivating and High-Performing Workplace?

Sylvia’s signature Supportive Accountability Leadership™ Program will equip your leaders to create a motivating work environment while promoting accountability and improving 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.

The Danger of Employee Labeling

Think back to your high school days and consider the various cliques of kids that roamed the halls.  You may recall the jocks, the nerds, the goths and the many other labels that you placed on others or that others placed on you.  Unfortunately, not much has changed since then. You may have graduated from high school, to college, and to the workplace, but I can assure you that social labels are still around.

The only thing that has changed is the nature of the labels used.  You may have heard some of them or even expressed them yourself.  These include labels such as slacker, aggressive, wimp, stubborn and many more.  And if we’re really honest with ourselves, we all have probably used a label of some sort or another at one point in our careers.  What’s worse is that some leaders are still using these labels in how they treat their employees.

According to the labeling theory of sociology, if managers and supervisors consistently apply a label to an employee, the employee may start to believe the label and to behave in alignment with the label.  The more that others use the label, the more the employee is stigmatized and the label is solidified.   The more the label is solidified, the more the person is treated according to the label. It’s a vicious circle.

When leaders label their employees, it creates a very unhealthy work environment and undermines their ability to unleash their employees’ fullest potential. This results in a significant cost to the organization. This labeling also creates a biased perspective against employees, which can lead to unfair treatment.

I recall a time when I was in the office of a manager who was beginning her management development journey.  A female employee walked into her office and described a very serious incident that had allegedly occurred between a male co-worker and her.  It so happened that the male co-worker had been involved in two prior incidents, but none were as serious as this one.

When the female employee left the manager’s office, the manager turned to me, shook her head and casually commented, “This is just like him to do such a thing.”  I gently advised her that we could not assume the allegation was true. We would need to inform human resources, conduct investigative interviews, and evaluate all the information to assess the validity of the complaint.

Assumptions based on employee labeling will hamper a supervisor’s ability to get to the root of an issue and act with fairness and justice.  Assumptions, whether positive or negative, will be a serious roadblock to having open and objective conversations with employees and to providing adequate support.

Making decisions driven by employee labeling creates an unhealthy work environment that is detrimental to the success of the supervisor, the employee, and the organization.

Five Keys to Building Employee Trust

By Sylvia Melena, M.A.
Employee trust is not automatic. It is something you either earn or lose over time, word by word and action by action.   It takes a lot of effort to build it, and it can be lost in the blink of an eye.  Unfortunately, once it’s lost, it takes a great deal of effort to repair the damage and earn it back.
The great news is that when trust has been firmly established and your supervisor-employee relationship is rock solid, your employees will be more forgiving when you make mistakes.  And believe me, you’re human, so you will make mistakes.
We can spend days exploring how to build and establish trust and go over the many essential elements of trust.  For now, here are five keys to keep in mind:

  1. Honesty – Be honest in all your dealings with everyone.   If you can’t share information because you are bound by confidentiality, law, or ethical reasons, say so.  Employees value your honesty.  They also have the ability to detect when you are being dishonest.   You don’t need to lie or manipulate employees to get things done.  If you are honest with them and share the bigger picture, most will go the extra mile for you.  On the contrary, if you use deceit and manipulation to get things done, it may work for a while, but sooner or later your employees will figure it out.  When the moment of truth comes, your credibility will be lost and this loss will significantly hamper your effectiveness.
  1. Safety – Create an environment where your employees feel safe to be honest with you. If they have needs, issues, or concerns, they should feel safe to come to you for assistance.  They should feel safe to be vulnerable with you and to let you know about their struggles without fear of reprisal.  They need to be safe to express themselves honestly, even when their perspectives differ from yours.  You must demonstrate that you will not use this information against them, but rather to understand how you can best support them and help them achieve success.  When employees know you have their backs, they will have yours.
  1. Fairness – Treat everyone fairly. Let fairness rule when you rate performance, distribute resources, provide rewards, and select people for choice assignments.  Have an objective and standardized system to make these types of decisions and stay true to it.   Demonstrate transparency regarding your system and let your employees know what it takes to reap the rewards.  Employees should not have to guess what it takes to earn excellent performance ratings, receive recognition, or reap other benefits.
  1. Consistency – Be consistent in what you say and do. Employees can’t feel safe if they don’t know what to expect from you.  It is very disconcerting when leaders are inconsistent.  Imagine a leader who shows mercy one moment and lashes out the next.  Uncertainty creates a stressful environment for employees, and this stress is detrimental to your employee’s health, your success, and the success of your organization or company.
  1. Promise Keeping – Keep your promises. Be careful with what you say and how you say it, as promises can be made directly or merely implied.  Once employees perceive a promise, they expect you to deliver.  If you fail to deliver, their trust in you is instantly shattered.  Never say “never” and never say “always.”  Uttering these two words can inadvertently lead to a broken promise.

Each interaction you have with your employees is a golden opportunity to earn and reinforce their trust.  Use these opportunities to build strong supervisor-employee relationships that will lead to everyone’s success and create a thriving workplace. These five keys may not be a cure-all, but they are definitely a strong start.

HSC Summer Leadership Conference 2016

According to updated Pew Research Center data published on July 28, 2016, while U.S. Hispanics have made significant strides in decreasing the high school dropout rate and in increasing the college enrollment rate in the last decade, we still lag in four-year degree attainment. We have indeed made some noteworthy progress, but we still have work ahead of us. Read More

On July 28th, I had the privilege of making a contribution to the development of tomorrow’s Hispanic leaders and to moving the dial on Hispanic college retention and degree attainment. I had the honor of working with two amazing groups of bright, vibrant and talented Hispanic high school and college students. I designed and facilitated two back-to-back workshops on the “The Power of Building and Marketing Your Leadership Brand” for the Hispanic Scholarship Consortium’s Summer Leadership Conference in Austin, Texas.

It was a truly rewarding experience to be part of an effort where the public, private and non-profit sectors collectively invest in our nation’s future.

Managing Workplace Socializing

If you’re concerned that your employees are wasting time chit chatting, checking their cell phones, taking long breaks, or watching the clock before the end of their shift, it’s time take a long and hard look at what’s really going on.

It may be tempting to force employees into compliance by installing surveillance cameras and intensifying monitoring activities. Unfortunately, these enforcement measures will not get to the root of the problem and may in the long run exacerbate it.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that monitoring is not an essential part of effective management.  As a matter of fact, it is.  However, monitoring alone may not be the fix.  What’s more, you may not even need a fix.

Not all workplace socializing is necessarily bad.  The real question is whether this workplace behavior is having a negative impact on your operations.

If your employees achieve high productivity levels and your company produces excellent results, then the chit chatting could be an indication of a cohesive and engaged team and may even be contributing to that cohesion.  On the other hand, if productivity levels are low and your workforce is yielding lackluster results, then you may have a bigger issue under the surface, which will require more than extensive monitoring to fix.

The only way you will get to the root of the problem is to conduct a thorough and systematic assessment.

There are a variety of issues that can impact workplace productivity and performance, such as undeveloped leadership, unclear expectations, absence of accountability, inadequate recognition, lack of tools and resources, unsupportive company culture, and many more.  However, without an accurate assessment of your organization’s specific situation, you will neither be able to uncover the key issues nor develop effective, targeted strategies to improve productivity and performance.

If you are concerned about the socializing your employees are displaying, you may want to take the time to objectively evaluate the actual impact on individual and company performance before moving forward with corrective action. While it may be tempting to intensify monitoring and compliance activities, please consider the type of environment this may create and the effect if could have on your company’s performance.

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

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