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How to Foster Employee Motivation

BY SUSAN M. HEATHFIELD   Updated on January 05, 2020

Employee Motivation Is a Challenge

Employee motivation is a continuing challenge at work. Supervisors and managers walk a tough road, particularly in work environments that don't emphasize employee satisfaction as part of an embraced and supported overall business strategy.

On the one hand, they recognize their power in drawing forth the best employees have to offer, while on the other, they may not feel supported, rewarded, or recognized themselves for their work to develop motivated, contributing employees.

The suggestion for managers? Get over it. No work environment will ever perfectly support your efforts to help employees choose motivated behaviors at work. Even the most supportive workplaces provide daily challenges and often appear to operate at cross purposes with your goals and efforts to encourage employee motivation.

No matter what climate your organization provides to support employee motivation, you can create an environment that fosters and calls forth motivation from employees.

Opportunities to Influence Employee Motivation

You can take daily actions that will increase employee satisfaction. Recommended are actions that employees say, in a recent Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) survey, are important to their job satisfaction. Management actions in these areas will create a work environment conducive to employee motivation.

Here are seven consequential ways in which a manager or supervisor can create a work environment that will foster and influence increases in employee motivation.

Communicate Responsibly and Effectively 

Employees want to be members of the in-crowd, people who know what is happening at work as soon as other employees know. They want the information necessary to do their jobs. They need enough information so that they make good decisions about their work.

  • Meet with employees following management staff meetings to update them about any company information that may have an impact on their work. Changing due dates, customer feedback, product improvements, training opportunities, and updates on new departmental reporting or interaction structures are all important to employees. Communicate more than you think is necessary.

  • Stop by the work area of employees who are particularly affected by a change to communicate more. Make sure the employee is clear about what the change means for their job, goals, time allocation, and decisions

  • Communicate daily with every employee who reports to you. Even a pleasant good morning enables the employee to engage with you.

  • Hold a weekly one-on-one meeting with each employee who reports to you. They like to know that they will have this time every week. Encourage employees to come prepared with questions, requests for support, troubleshooting ideas for their work, and information that will keep you from being blindsided or disappointed by a failure to produce on schedule or as committed.

Encourage Communication With Senior and Executive Managers

Employees find interaction and communication with and attention from senior and executive managers motivational. In the recent Global Workforce Study by Towers Perrin (now Towers Watson), which included nearly 90,000 workers from 18 countries, the role of senior managers in attracting employee discretionary effort exceeded that of immediate supervisors.


  • Communicate openly, honestly, and frequently. Hold whole staff meetings periodically, attend department meetings regularly, and communicate by wandering around work areas engaging staff and demonstrating an interest in their work.

  • Implement an open-door policy for staff members to talk, share ideas, and discuss concerns. Make sure that managers understand the problems that they can and should solve will be directed back to them, but it is the executive's job to listen.

  • Congratulate staff on life events such as new babies, inquire about vacation trips, and ask about how both personal and company events turned out. Care enough to stay tuned into these kinds of employee life events and activities.

Create Opportunities for Employees to Develop Their Skills

Provide opportunities for employees to develop their skills and abilities. Employees want to continue to develop their knowledge and skills. Employees do not want jobs that they perceive as no-brain drudge work.

  • Allow staff members to attend important meetings, meetings that cross-functional areas, and that the supervisor normally attends.

  • Bring staff to interesting, unusual events, activities, and meetings. It’s quite a learning experience for a staff person to attend an executive meeting with you or represent the department in your absence.

  • Make sure the employee has several goals that they want to pursue as part of every quarter’s performance development plan (PDP). Personal development goals belong to the same plan.

  • Reassign responsibilities that the employee does not like or that are routine. Newer staff, interns, and contract employees may find the work challenging and rewarding. Or, at least, all employees have their turn.

  • Provide the opportunity for the employee to cross-train in other roles and responsibilities. Assign backup responsibilities for tasks, functions, and projects.

Provide Opportunities for Employees to Self-Manage and Take on Responsibilities

Employees gain a lot of motivation from the nature of the work itself. Employees seek autonomy and independence in decision making and in how they approach accomplishing their work and job.

  • Provide more authority for the employee to self-manage and make decisions. Within the clear framework of the PDP and ongoing effective communication, delegate decision making after defining limits, boundaries, and critical points at which you want to receive feedback.

  • Expand the job to include new, higher-level responsibilities. Assign responsibilities to the employee that will help them grow their skills and knowledge. Stretching assignments develop staff capabilities and increase their ability to contribute at work. (Remove some of the time-consuming, less desirable job components at the same time, so the employee does not feel that what was delegated was “more” work.)

  • Provide the employee a voice in higher-level meetings; provide more access to important and desirable meetings and projects.

  • Provide more information by including the employee on specific mailing lists, in company briefings, and in your confidence.

  • Provide more opportunity for the employee to have an impact on department or company goals, priorities, and measurements.

  • Assign the employee to head up projects or teams. Assign reporting staff members to their leadership on projects or teams or under his or her direct supervision.

  • Enable the employee to spend more time with their boss. Most employees find this attention rewarding.

Address Employee Concerns and Complaints

Elicit and address employee concerns and complaints before they make an employee or workplace dysfunctional. Listening to employee complaints and keeping the employee informed about how you are addressing the complaint are critical to producing a motivating work environment.

Even if the complaint cannot be resolved to the employee’s satisfaction, the fact that you addressed the complaint and provided feedback about the consideration and resolution of the complaint to the employee is appreciated. The importance of the feedback loop in addressing employee concerns cannot be overemphasized.

  • Keep your door open and encourage employees to come to you with legitimate concerns and questions.

  • Always address and provide feedback to the employee about the status of their expressed concern. The concern or complaint cannot disappear into a dark hole forever. Nothing causes more consternation for an employee than feeling that their legitimate concern went unaddressed.

Employee Recognition and Awards

Recognition of employee performance is high on the list of employee needs for motivation. Many supervisors equate reward and recognition with monetary gifts. While employees appreciate money, they also appreciate praise, a verbal or written thank you, out-of-the-ordinary job content opportunities, and attention from their supervisor.

  • Write a thank-you note that gives praise and thanks to an employee for a specific contribution in as much detail as possible to reinforce and communicate to the employee the behaviors you want to continue to see.

  • Verbally praise and recognize an employee for a contribution. Visit the employee in their workspace.

  • Give the employee a small token of your gratitude. A card, their favorite candy bar, a cutting from a plant in your office, fruit for the whole office, and more, based on the traditions and interaction in your office, will make an employee’s day.

Foster Employee-Supervisor Relationships


Employees appreciate a responsive and involved relationship with their immediate supervisor.

  • Avoid canceling regular meetings, and if you must, stop by the employee’s work area to apologize, offer the reason, and immediately reschedule. Regularly missing an employee meeting sends a powerful message of disrespect.

  • Talk daily with each employee who reports to you. The daily interaction builds the relationship and will stand for a lot when times are troubled, disappointments occur, or you need to address employee performance improvement.

  • The interaction of an employee with their immediate supervisor is the most significant factor in an employee's satisfaction with work. Practice just listening. Encourage the employee who brings you an idea or improvement. Even if you think the idea won't work, that the idea has been unsuccessfully tried in the past, or you believe your executive leadership won't support it, this is not what the employee wants to hear from the supervisor.

  • Remember that your nonverbal communication says more than the words you use to convey your honest response to employee thoughts, concerns, and suggestions. Pay attention, ask questions to further elicit information, and focus on understanding the employee's communication. Lose your reactions: shrugged shoulders, rolling eyes, or partial attention are insulting and degrading.

  • The supervisor's relationship with reporting staff is the single most important factor in employee retention. Stay on top of what your staff needs and wants to provide a work environment for employee motivation.

Employee motivation is a common interest for supervisors and managers who are responsible to oversee the work of other employees. If you pay constant attention to these significant factors in employee motivation, you'll win with motivated, excited, contributing employees.

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