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The Definition of Work Motivation

  Reviewed by: Michelle Seidel, B.Sc., LL.B., MBA
  Written by: Anam Ahmed      Updated January 26, 2019
Portrait pensive businesswoman looking up

Imagine coming to work each day surrounded by a team of people who are efficient, productive and driven to succeed. How can your small business make that possible? You can motivate your employees and give them incentive to perform their best.

The culture of your business is directly tied to the performance of your employees_._ By developing employee motivation processes and tying them directly to the company culture, your small business can thrive with a team of highly motivated employees.

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  • The definition of motivation in the workplace is something that energizes employees to perform at their best.

What Is Work Motivation?

When employees are incentivized at work, they reach higher levels of success and provide the company with greater value through their performance.

In order to increase the productivity of the employees in your small business, it’s important to focus on motivating and inspiring them. When your employees are motivated, they will aim to complete each task more efficiently in a timely manner and will concentrate on the quality of their work.

The Importance of Job Motivation

American psychologist Frederick Herzberg coined the Motivation-Hygiene Theory in 1959, which said that employees need more than just their salary in order to be motivated at work. Employees have two kinds of motivation:

  • internal 
  • external 

In order for the business to increase the efficiency of employees, they need to understand and respond to both of these kinds of motivation.

Internal motivations include things like emotions and thoughts, such as being bored with doing the same task for several years compared to being excited and challenged by new and different tasks. External motivations include aspects such as salary and work environment, like the cubicle or factory floor.

According to Herzberg, if a business wants to have motivated employees, it needs to address both the external and internal factors to ensure that its employees are satisfied. While providing employees with a raise or a bonus may seem like a good incentive, it’s not enough to always compel an employee to be motivated. Instead, businesses need to also consider aspects such as emotions and thoughts.

Barriers to Work Motivation

There are a number of barriers to job motivation in the modern workplace. For many employees, motivation is directly tied to their manager. If the supervisor is micromanaging the employees' every move, it can feel as though they are not trusted, which is demoralizing. Poor job performance reviews and appraisals can also be difficult. While critical feedback is necessary for success, managers can phrase feedback in a positive way to help energize employees.

Lack of rewards such as salary, bonuses and benefits are another barrier to work motivation. In order to increase job productivity and efficiency, businesses need to properly reward employees with market-rate salaries, bonuses tied to performance and competitive benefits packages.

The performance of the company can also be a vital motivational factor. If the company is undergoing financial trouble and is frequently laying off employees, then the workers may not be energized enough to put forward their best at work, assuming that they will also be laid off. Similarly, if the company isn’t performing well as a whole, the employees may feel that their team members aren’t putting in enough effort, and they may follow suit.

Implementing Work Motivation Processes in Your Business

An effective way to motivate employees is to ingrain the process into the culture of your small business. For example, most businesses large and small usually have an annual or quarterly review of employee performance. This is a good time to provide your employees with positive feedback, praise and appreciation. Even if you are offering details on how the employee can improve his performance, you can still take the time to point out how he is valuable to your business.

Design the roles in your business keeping employee internal motivators in mind. If the role only involves doing the same task over and over again, it may cause dissatisfaction at work. Instead, make it part of your business process to develop roles that offer employees challenges and variety, which lead to motivation. When possible, ensure there is a career ladder for your employees to climb so they are motivated to work for a promotion.

Building motivating activities into your organizational culture will help your business to energize and incentivize your employees. This in turn will enable them to perform better, which will lead to greater levels of achievement for your small business.

Lead by Example

As a small business owner, there are a number of tactics you can use to motivate your employees on a daily basis. Start off by leading by example, behaving how you want your employees to behave. If you want your employees to come in early and stay late to finish time-sensitive projects, be sure to do the same so they can see that you are also invested in the work and are motivated to give extra time to the business. Be sure to reward employees in cases like this when they go above and beyond.

If you run a restaurant, for example, and require your waitstaff to take on additional duties, such as shoveling the snow by the front door, you can motivate your employees by doing the task yourself a few times. When employees feel that the work they are doing is important, they may feel more motivated to complete it.

Stand by Your Policies

Many companies tout policies that say their employees are their greatest assets, but not all of them treat their employees that way. If your business attracts employees by saying that they are the heart of the company culture, then be sure to treat them as such. Not doing so may result in a decrease in work motivation.

If your business says you value feedback from employees, for example, then it’s important to actually listen to it. This includes taking the time to thank the employees for their feedback and trying to implement it when possible. Regardless of your company policies, show your employees that you stand by them and are true to your word.

Clarify Workplace Expectations

An important part of work motivation is clearly telling your employees what is expected of them. This way, there is no confusion about what the role entails. Setting clear expectations at the start of the role increases motivation because employees know exactly how they need to perform. By understanding their job description completely, employees are less likely to underperform.

For example, if a role within your retail small business is for a customer service representative who deals with incoming foot traffic at the store, be sure to lay out all of the tasks the employee needs to do. Don’t expect that she will already know everything you need, even if she is a seasoned professional. If you expect the customer service representative to close out the cash register after her shift, be sure to let her know.

If the employee isn’t aware that she needs to do this task, she may not do it. This would lead you to think she is underperforming when she is actually just unaware of the full duties. To increase motivation, be sure to clearly set expectations so there are no misunderstandings.

Invest in Your Workforce

Investment comes in many different forms. Of course, a fair salary, bonus and benefits are important and show your employees that you invest in the well-being of your business through them. However, investment can also come in the form of providing your employees with educational opportunities. If an employee wants to improve his skills in marketing, for example, then paying for him to take a short online course is a motivating and energizing factor.

Time is also an important investment. Take the time to get to know your employees on a personal level. Whether you have one employee or 100, take a few minutes to learn about what makes them tick. What do they like to do in their spare time? How is their family?

Knowing these kinds of details and conversing with employees on a personal level helps to build morale and trust. Employees may be more motivated to work efficiently for a manager who takes time to hear about their day compared to one who only talks business.

Promote Work-Life Balance

Keep in mind that motivation doesn’t stop at the end of the workday. When employees go home, many of them take their work home with them because they feel the need to do so in order to show the business that they are committed. Instead of making this an expectation, encourage employees to take time to be with their friends and family instead.

Take a few minutes out of the workday to have some fun with your employees as well. An easy way to do this is to eat lunch with your team. Whether it’s going out to a café or just eating in the office, talk to your team about things other than work during the meal.

Bringing fun elements into the office space can also encourage work-life balance. For example, many businesses have items like a Foosball table or video games in the common room to encourage employees to take a few minutes off to recharge and enjoy each other's company. This shows your employees that you value them and want them to have fun at work, which is a definite motivating factor.

Recognize Great Work

Part of work motivation involves showing recognition for high performance. Recognition and rewards can come in both tangible and intangible forms. Tangible items include things like bonuses, prizes and gifts. Intangible rewards include public praise and positive performance reviews.

Many businesses have annual awards such as most valuable employee or best sales record. Having these kinds of motivating factors in your business help to boost productivity because employees have something specific toward which they are working. The prizes for awards don’t need to have a high monetary value. You can also give away things like an extra vacation day or a gift card to a restaurant.

Public praise is a motivating element with which many businesses find success. When employees perform in a way that goes above and beyond what you’re expecting, be sure to let them and the team know you appreciate them. Just acknowledging great work can go a long way.

Measure the Results

Motivation is a difficult quality to measure. How can you know whether your employees are motivated or not and whether any of your motivation plans and programs have worked?

There are certain numbers to which you can pay attention. How is your employee retention since you started your employee motivation processes? Has your revenue improved since you implemented work motivation plans? Have your negative experiences with employees decreased since you started focusing on job motivation?

What works at one company will not work in another. It all depends on your company culture and how you implement work motivation plans in your business. However, when your employees are energized and incentivized to perform at their best, you’ll see the results in your bottom line.

About the Author

Anam Ahmed is a Toronto-based writer and editor with over a decade of experience helping small businesses and entrepreneurs reach new heights. She has experience ghostwriting and editing business books, especially those in the "For Dummies" series, in addition to writing and editing web content for the brand. Anam works as a marketing strategist and copywriter, collaborating with everyone from Fortune 500 companies to start-ups, lifestyle bloggers to professional athletes. As a small business owner herself, she is well-versed in what it takes to run and market a small business. Anam earned an M.A. from the University of Toronto and a B.A.H. from Queen's University. Learn more at www.anamahmed.ca.

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