5 Things That Motivate and Deter Employees in the Workplace

Keith Krach
December 31, 2016

A significant component of employee retention is job satisfaction, and keeping employees happy in their work requires finding effective ways to keep them motivated and engaged. In fact, research suggests that employees who feel content and motivated at work are more productive, more creative, and better at problem-solving than the average worker.

But how can leadership best motivate employees to achieve greater personal investment and productivity? Each employee is different, but the following list contains five motivators and deterrents that typically either inspire employees to become better performers or result in reduced productivity in the workplace:

  1. Motivator: engaged leadership

Ranking highly on the list of factors that push employees to become high achievers is having talented, engaged managers. According to data gathered by Gallup, employees who work with open and approachable leaders are more likely to experience greater engagement in their own work. Workers are also more likely to feel motivated within their roles when they work with a leader who they believe focuses on their strengths and helps them reach their own professional goals.

  1. Deterrent: rigid control

The fast-paced market changes common to today’s digital age have required company leaders to examine and redefine many outdated business models and practices, including those related to management and control. To keep up with the innovative nature of a post-digital business world, companies need to make sure employees have enough freedom within their positions for creativity to flourish.

From a management standpoint, this means that workers should feel some degree of autonomy and believe that management trusts them to make good, independent decisions. A leader who tightly controls and monitors the way that his or her employees complete projects hinders productivity and can create an atmosphere of distrust. In these instances, employees are more likely to feel protective of their own interests, are less likely to share ideas, and are more likely to feel disengaged from their job and the company as a whole.

  1. Motivator: thoughtful feedback

Clear and consistent communication is a cornerstone of positive relationships between leaders and staff members, and one of the most important ways that a leader can communicate with employees is by routinely delivering thoughtful, constructive feedback. Reviewing an employee’s work gives leadership the opportunity to convey in which areas an employee is meeting and exceeding expectations, and where there is room for improvement. This gives management greater control over an employee’s performance without the need for micromanagement. Additionally, regular feedback sessions help employees understand what leadership expects of them. Research shows that a lack of understanding with regard to expectations is a common reason that employees underperform.

  1. Deterrent: uncertainty in the workplace

According to data collected by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), American employees rank job security as one of the two most important factors that contribute to their professional satisfaction. Employees need to feel as though they have a stable future within a company in order to be comfortable and productive. One way to accomplish this is to maintain open, company-wide communication and create opportunities for professional development.

On the opposite end of this spectrum are those leaders who choose to run their offices through fear and intimidation tactics. While some believe that fear-based leadership increases motivation, it does not lead to the levels of productivity that a supportive environment can produce. Instead, fear-based leadership often leads to high levels of stress, employee resistance, and the silencing of new ideas, all of which suppress innovation and creativity.

  1. Motivator: recognition

Ultimately, employees who feel that they are a valued part of the team are more likely to be engaged and feel content in their work. Managers can make employees feel appreciated through tactics as simple as recognizing individual workers for a job well done.

To recognize an employee most effectively, leaders should focus on a specific instance of good work, rather than vaguely congratulating someone for his or her overall ability. This not only generates positive feelings, but it also increases employees’ loyalty to the team leader. Further, employees who see their coworkers receiving recognition for excellent work may also feel more motivated to perform once they realize that the company truly does notice the efforts of individual contributors.

Keith Krach

Keith Krach is Chairman of DocuSign, The Global Standard for Digital Transaction Management.