Improving employee engagement is an enduring topic within the business world. When people flourish, so do the organisations they work for, making an effective employee engagement strategy essential. Conversely, demotivated employees can hold businesses back. When people lack motivation, they are unlikely to do their best work, are less productive and are more likely to leave – increasing overall attrition and its associated costs.

Only a third of UK employees say they are actively engaged at work – that’s 20 million workers not delivering their full capacity. UK productivity is 20% lower than the rest of the G7. – Engage for Success

Investing time and effort in motivating employees is essential in any organisation and research into the subject provides clear strategies to help you get the best from your people.

What motivates employees?

The seemingly unhelpful answer to this question is 'it depends'.

Herzberg’s two factor theory states that there are two separate sets of factors that cause job dissatisfaction and job motivation. Hygiene factors cause dissatisfaction and might relate to things such as: policy, work conditions, salary, status and security. Only when these conditions are met, can employees be effectively motivated.

The biggest take away from this theory is to pay people enough so that money is not a concern. This is further supported by research that shows money to be a poor motivator for tasks that require cognitive skill. Pay your employees fairly and you have the opportunity to motivate them. Pay them over the odds and there is little impact on motivation and productivity.

With the basic factors accounted for, you can begin to look at ways to motivate employees through motivational factors such as achievement, recognition, responsibility, advancement and personal growth. This idea has been further summarised to give three fundamental elements of motivation: autonomy, mastery and purpose.

How to motivate employees – your employee engagement strategy


People perform best when given control of their own work. This includes having the freedom to manage your own time and decide where, when and how you get your job done. Whatever an employee’s role or level, there are usually opportunities to increase levels of autonomy. In some roles it may be practical to simply hand over control of how the job gets done and focus on measuring output. Where this is not possible, simple changes like allowing staff to organise and furnish their workspace as they see fit, or to have some flexibility over working hours, are a step in the right direction.


Mastery is our desire to get better at the work we do for personal growth. People need opportunities to hone existing skills and to learn new skills through their work. This doesn’t necessarily mean paying for endless training courses for all staff. It is about discussing career ambitions and interests with each employee and reconciling this with the needs of the business. Mentoring from a more experienced colleague, or time in a different department learning a new skill, may be enough for individuals to feel they are moving forward.


Understanding why we are doing something helps keep us moving towards our goal. Purpose is the sense that we are contributing to something that is meaningful beyond ourselves. For an organisation, this means sharing your vision (not just your sales targets) and articulating the impact you want your business to have on the world.

Motivation is vital in driving employee engagement, commitment, satisfaction and performance. Without motivation, there is a risk of low engagement and absenteeism, as well as problems with retention. It is important to identify pockets of employees that are disengaged and demotivated so that any causes can be addressed. Each employee should be treated as unique and it is vital for managers to understand the different things that motivate each of their direct reports. For example, those motivated by external factors will need deadlines and incentives in order to get them to perform, whilst those driven by internal motivation will have their own internal drivers that will support them in work performance.

How to motivate employees in the workplace is essentially about treating people more like individuals. It is important to recognise each person’s innate desire to contribute, develop and self-direct and build business structures that make this possible. Thomas can provide you with the tools you need to understand how to motivate employees in your organisation and guide you in implementing your new employee engagement strategy.

Boost engagement levels in your organisation with our free, downloadable whitepaper here.

Martin Reed, CEO of Thomas International