What Motivates Employees?

Illustration of Employee Whose Shadow is Wearing a Hero Cape

Motivation is employees' willingness to go above and beyond the call of duty to get things done. A motivated employee is engaged, productive, and gives their best effort.

Common Theories for Employee Motivation

Many theories exploring employee motivation have been introduced over the years.

1940s

Hierarchy of Needs - Abraham Maslow

1950s

Reinforcement Theory - B.F. Skinner

1960s

Acquired Needs Theory - David McClelland
Equity Theory - John Stacey Adams
Goal-Setting Theory - Edwin A. Locke
Two-Factor Theory - Frederick Herzberg
Expectancy Theory - Victor Vroom
ERG Theory - Clayton Alderfer

The 1940s
Hierarchy of Needs - Abraham Maslow

The 1950s
Reinforcement Theory - B.F. Skinner

The 1960s
Acquired Needs Theory - David McClelland
Equity Theory - John Stacey Adams
Goal-Setting Theory - Edwin A. Locke
Two-Factor Theory - Frederick Herzberg
Expectancy Theory - Victor Vroom
ERG Theory - Clayton Alderfer

Two-Factor Theory

The most relevant in many modern workplaces is Two-Factory Theory. It argues that a person's motivation is affected by two independent calculations: Motivating Factors and Maintenance Factors.

Illustration of Employee Solving a Puzzle

Motivating Factors make the work more satisfying. These are generally intrinsic factors like challenging work, involvement in decision-making, and a sense of importance.

Illustration of Jesters Goofing Off

Maintenance Factors make the work less dissatisfying. These are generally extrinsic factors like salary, job security, teammates, and work conditions.

Illustration of Jesters Goofing Off

Why is Two-Factory Theory Important?

Chart Showing High Satisfaction and High Dissatisfaction

First, it points out a person can be satisfied and dissatisfied at the same time. For example, a person can love the challenge of their work but be dissatisfied with their boss or a teammate.

Illustration of Person Opening Gift

Second, it illustrates that Maintenance Factors can never bring complete satisfaction or motivation. When a person gets a raise or a new perk, it is quickly replaced with a new desire or demand. Extrinsic motivators are fleeting.

Illustration of Person Opening Gift
Illustration of Person Starting a Race

Third, to achieve motivation, leaders need to tap intrinsic motivators.

How to improve intrinsic motivation?

To improve intrinsic motivation, author Daniel Pink advocates focusing on purpose, growth, and autonomy.

Illustration of Team Building a Bridge

Purpose: Help people feel a sense of purpose in their work. That they are part of a bigger mission doing something more than increasing revenue and earning a paycheck.

Illustration of Team Building a Bridge
Illustration of Employee Growing

Growth: Help people grow. Help people become better next month than they are today.

Illustration of Employee Riding a Balloon

Autonomy: Help people feel a sense of freedom and control of their work.

Illustration of Employee Riding a Balloon

Thought Questions

Smiling Coach asking you to Please Use Your Brain
  • What can you do to maximize the intrinsic, Motivation factors?
  • What can you do to minimize the extrinsic, Maintenance factors?
  • How can you improve the sense of purpose, growth, or autonomy for your team?
Smiling Coach asking you to Please Use Your Brain

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