Often described as the beating heart of a business, employee motivation is key to achieving success in any organisation and is intrinsically linked to satisfaction and engagement. When employees are motivated, they are happier at work and therefore more engaged and integrated within their organisations. On the other side of the coin, when employees are not motivated, this can often spell trouble for an organisation. With this in mind, the power of employee motivation must not be underestimated.

For decades, businesses have taken the command and control approach in the workplace, whereby decisions and instructions are filtered from the top down. This is no longer strictly the case. Incoming generations of workers such as millennials identify with what Josh Bersin calls the Self-Developing Organisation, which is all about the individual and ensuring that their voice is heard amongst all other employees in the organisation. No two people are necessarily going to be motivated by the same incentives and businesses need to understand and respond to this with policies that put control back in the hands of the worker.

Recent research conducted by Red Letter Days for Business, revealed that in 2015, 37 percent of workers claimed they could not remember a single instance where they felt driven at work. This is a hugely disconcerting figure as a lack of motivation often suggests dissatisfaction and usually accompanies signs that employees are not working to their full potential. Alongside this, a survey by ORC International revealed that the UK was 18th in a list of 20 countries for employee engagement. Dissecting this further, the results revealed that only 49 percent of UK employees felt valued at work. At less than half – that’s an alarming figure. This then begs the question, just how many businesses have failed to capitalise on growth opportunities as a result of unmotivated employees?

Bearing all of this mind, how can businesses learn from previous mistakes and ensure that in 2016 their employees are more motivated? First we need to look at the factors behind motivation. The traditional approach to promoting engagement amongst workers is to offer greater salaries and cash incentives. However, a recent study by the CIPD highlighted that this can have negative effects as the growing pay gap between executives and the rest of workforce drives down motivation in those with lower salaries. The results specified that three out of five workers felt demotivated by the high level of pay given to chief executives. Evidently, when employees see their bosses getting paid 10x what they earn, this can unsurprisingly often lead to a sense of injustice, creating an environment where employees become unmotivated and a result, less engaged.

More modern approaches take stock of employees’ desires to progress and develop their skills and talents to provide them with greater professional assets as they advance in their careers. According to new research from Deloitte, almost two thirds of millennials feel that their leadership skills are not being developed sufficiently, with 71 percent expected to leave their current positions within the next two year as a result.

Generic training schemes are no longer enough, today’s workforce expects personalised learning to drive their motivation and commitment. The younger generations in particular have the desire to continuously acquire new skills in order to progress their careers, but they also want to be given a choice of L&D programmes, tailored to fit their current needs and their ambitions for advancement. This makes a lot of sense, as no one expects to go into a restaurant and be told what to order, rather they are provided with diverse but pre-decided options and order what appeals to them personally.

Recognition is fast becoming another propagator of motivation and arguably the simplest to implement into corporate policy. The Red Letter Days for Business study revealed that 82 percent of employees who said that they felt motivated in 2015 were in some way rewarded or recognised for doing a good job. People are naturally driven by a sense of validation and pride and by recognising employees as individuals. By praising their talents on a regular basis, businesses can substantially increase the productivity of their workforces.

Finally, the recent growth and acceptance of flexible working as a concept, has made it an important player when it comes to employee motivation. Advancements in mobile technology coupled with BYOD have made it possible for employees to choose where they work. By allocating responsibility to employees in terms of how, where and when they intend to work, businesses can create a sense of purpose and even achievement which can be readily seen in the performance of those employees that feel in control of their own work life balance. It also has the added benefit of strengthening loyalty and commitment between employees and the organisation for which they work.

Increasing motivation is all about listening to the individual needs and ambitions of employees. From small scale implementations such as creating simple reward systems to more complicated approaches such as individualised career progression via personalised learning and development pathways - motivation is all about taking the time to know what your employees want and need, investing in their futures and ensuring they valued when they perform best.

By Liam Butler, VP of Sales, SumTotal EMEA