What is employee motivation and how to motivate employees

Author - Ennova

Employee motivation is the driving force behind a team's dedication, enthusiasm, and their willingness to go the extra mile. But what exactly is employee motivation, and how does it differ from employee engagement? Learn how motivation and engagement each make an impact on performance, and discover strategies to boost motivation and engagement, ultimately leading to an improved employee experience. 

This article covers: 


What is employee motivation?

Employee motivation is crucial to every organization. Employee motivation can be described as the energy to get the job done and act on that feeling.

Motivated employees are excited and full of energy and desire to make things happen. Motivated employees feel they have meaningful work. They are therefore intent to work harder and to be more dedicated to deliver on their job description.


Employee motivation vs employee engagement

Employee motivation and employee engagement are often used interchangeably. While there is a strong relationship between the two terms, there are also important differences. Let's have a closer look at that.  

Motivation arises within the workplace and reflects feelings that the employees associate with or experience while doing their specific job/tasks. To see if you or any of your colleagues are motivated, you can ask these questions:  

  • To what extend do I feel motivated in my job?
  • To what extend do I look forward to going to work?

Answering these two questions can give you an indication of your motivation as an employee. 

Employee engagement is the emotional connection and sense of commitment and belonging an employee feels to the organization. Engaged employees are the foundation for your employees delivering their best work. Engaged employees often feel an emotional connection to their work, and they work for a common goal. It may sound similar to employee motivation. To get a better understanding of the difference between employee motivation and employee engagement, you could say that:

  • Employee motivation is the doing. What kind of energy do you solve your tasks with: Are you eager and full of energy or are you bored and barely get things done?

  • Employee engagement is the feeling. How do you generally behave in the office: Are you committed to delivering on the mission or do you not care about the values and overall mission in the organization?    

These eight drivers have the biggest impact on your employee engagement. So if you want to increase you employee engagement, this is what you should focus on. 

Employee motivation


Why is employee motivation important?

Every organization should strive for and work strategically to have a high level of motivated employees – because employee motivation can bring both progress and downfall in the organization.  

That means if your employees are demotivated in their job, the organization is placed in a very risky position. Unmotivated employees are unwilling to take more responsibility than they already do – and if they do take more responsibility anyway, it is not without complaining.

It is safe to say that nobody wants employees that are not willing to make an extra effort. Demotivation can be an obstacle to improvement and development, because sometimes development requires everybody going the extra mile.

How does high employee motivation affect performance?

If your employees are motivated, it will affect the performance in your organization in several positive ways.

Motivation affects performance in an organization the most in these four areas:    

1. Increased productivity

Motivated employees arrive on time, focus on doing their daily tasks and work harder. They are willing to make an extra effort whenever it is needed. When you have employees that work hard, there is a better outcome for the organization. Motivated employees are highly aware of their responsibilities and do their best to live up to expectations.

If your employees are not motivated, it is a waste of resources, because they don't care if they make a difference or not. They only work to get their monthly pay.


We know that motivation and satisfaction are closely related. But it starts with the motivation – when employees are motivated, they are more satisfied with their job and they feel a greater sense of fulfillment in their work.


3. Your customers come first

When employees are motivated, they perform with commitment and dedication. A commitment and dedication that your customers will most certainly notice! 
We have conducted countless studies that demonstrate a clear link between customer satisfaction and employee motivation. So if you want to provide better customer service, start by looking at your employees and make sure they feel motivated to do their job. 

4. Positive work culture

Motivated employees are willing to make a positive contribution to the social aspect of the job. 
This naturally creates a positive work culture. Motivated employees feel more connected to their work and the organization, which is why they are likely to take responsibility for the culture.


How to increase employee motivation?

Before you begin “problem solving'” and implementing new initiatives to increase motivation, it is important that you know what affects motivation.

The key to increasing employee motivation is having the right data to base your initiatives on. Otherwise, you risk expending a lot of work and effort with no effect at all.

These are three overall dimensions that will mostly have a positive impact on your employees’ motivation:

1. High level of influence on the choices will increase motivation

Let's give an example. Try ask yourself this question:

"Which employees are most motivated: those who work at the office or those at home?"

The answer is neither. Because employee motivation isn’t necessarily related to a specific location. Motivation – and the answer to the question – lies in having a high level of influence on the choice. Data from our Ennova Nordic Panel 2021 shows that motivation is higher if the employees have a high level of influence on the choice of location.

As the diagram below shows, it is more critical and motivational to the employees that they can influence where they work rather than whether they work at the office, at home, or elsewhere. It is the actual choice that boosts the employee’s motivation (McGregor & Doshi, 2020).

So if you want motivated employees, remember to let the employees choose for themselves in as many situations as possible – not only on the question of work location, but in as many situations as possible in general in your organization. Read more about how choice leads to motivation and loyalty. 

Total motvation work remote vs office and choice vs no choice - US


2. Listening to employees and getting their feedback increases motivation

Do you listen often and broadly enough to your employees? As mentioned in the beginning, it is essential that you ask employees and get their valuable insight and feedback if you want to increase your employee motivation.

We recommend facilitating an annual employee engagement survey and combining it with frequent pulse surveys to get more continuous feedback. This will lead you to an answer to the question: What motivates (and demotivates) our employees in the organization?

Once you know that, you can start implementing new initiatives in different aspects of the employee journey that make the work more meaningful to them and generate motivation.

But remember: listening to your employees make no sense if you don’t master the balance between insight and follow-up actions. Listen to your employees more frequently, but without it becoming hyper-frequently.


3. Understanding the greater vision and the “why” will increase motivation

Your employees want to understand the greater vision of the organization. If they don't, it affects their motivation. What does their work effort even matter?

The top management has to explain very clearly what the goals are and what is required of the employees and organization to be successful.

The employees also want to understand the “why” in their specific role. Why work on this task and not the other? If everyone knows the “why” of each work task, it will increase motivation on even the smallest and simplest work task. Because if you don't understand why it is important and the reason for working  the way you do, you won't want to go an extra mile, and you won't understand how your effort and hard work pay off.

Learn how to master the employee experience 

The book “Mastering Employee Experience – 16 specific steps to take in your EX transformation” gives HR and top management 16 specific initiatives for implementing a transformation of employee experience over a 3-year period. Download your free book extract here. 






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