What Really Makes a Motivated Employee

By Carly MacLennan

Illustration of man smiling with his feet on a desk with his cell phone.

We all like “The Office,” right? We laugh at the complete idiocy of manager Michael Scott, we laugh at Dwight’s idiosyncrasies and allegiance to the man, and we laugh at Jim’s ability to play pranks instead of work. But the show is also funny because it hits a little too close to home for many of us.

So how do you motivate your employees to enjoy their work more than putting office supplies in jello? To actually do their best work? To care about what your organization is building instead of just when the clock strikes 5:00? Do you have to have the best insurance policy, the highest salaries, and the most sophisticated office layout to keep your employees engaged?

Nope. Employee engagement is not driven by the high-level promises that are the dangling carrot of the hiring process. Employee engagement is about keeping your workers happy day to day. Employees who are happy with their everyday work environment stick around.

1. Thank you, next...

If thank you cards remind you of your grandmother, let us assure you — she was onto something. Turns out expressing and receiving gratitude pack some powerful benefits for your employees that will pay-off for your whole company.

Employees who receive and give thanks have improved mental health and wellness. It improves sleep habits and decreases stress. Hearing gratitude is a dopamine hit to our brains that improves our mood, self-esteem, and positive feelings towards the giver of that thanks. Imagine your employees having more positive feelings about you. Do you think they are more or less likely to work even harder moving forward?

image with text - the thanked group made 50% more donation calls than those who didn't. Wow.The answer is more. Harvard Medical School reported on a Wharton study where university fundraisers were split into two groups, one which received a pep talk full of appreciation for their efforts. The other didn’t. The thanked group made 50% more donation calls than those who didn’t. Wow.

Even better, these benefits aren’t limited to the employees you thank. Employees who receive appreciation are more altruistic, more likely to give thanks themselves, and more likely to work better in their teams. These positive feelings toward the-day to-day environment your employees work in — their boss, their team — will pay big dividends for your company’s progress going forward.

2. Community Counts

We differentiate between giving thanks and having a sense of belonging to the community of your organization, but the truth is one begets the other. Employees who give and receive thanks from their manager and team feel a we’re-all-in-this-together vibe. It directly builds community.

And humans need community. We are social beings with a need for belonging, so much so that social exclusion can cause feelings of physical pain. In light of this, why are we letting almost half of our employees feel isolated at work?

image with text - Harvard Business Review estimates a $52 million gainBeyond the negative effects of isolation on employees’ welfare, feelings of isolation can also damage your company’s bottom line in a major way. Harvard Business Review estimates a $52 million gain for a 10,000-person company when you take into account the 56% increase in job-performance, 50% decrease in turnover, and 75% decrease in sick-day use.

In other words, we simply can’t afford to leave our employees feeling out of the loop, excluded from the big vision of our organization, and unaware of the important role they play in accomplishing our goals.

3. Managers Make All the Difference

But how do we do it? How do we show appropriate appreciation and communicate how important our employees are to us as a team and an organization? The manager, of course.

You’ve heard the phrase, “People don’t quit their job; they quit their manager.” And it’s true. It’s true because a person’s manager has the highest impact on their day to day life at the company. The employee experience that drives their overall engagement.

We must train our managers to express thanks at least weekly. At Motivosity, we offer a software platform that makes it easy for managers and each member of the team to express gratitude to each other and give a little cash gift that can be cumulatively redeemed for a gift card of your employee’s choice, all funded by the company. The platform also fosters that sense of community along with all the positive feelings associated with being recognized for a job well done.

image with text - Managers can also use regular 1 on 1s to communicate their vision and priorities for each employee within the company.Managers can also use regular 1 on 1s to communicate their vision and priorities for each employee within the company. This is a great opportunity to be transparent about how each employee fits into the big picture and has opportunities to progress. These conversations increase an employee’s sense of belonging to a specific community within the company.

Simple things like communicating an interest in each employee’s life outside of work can also go a long way to build a positive relationship between an employee and their manager. Small talk follow-ups about a trip or a child who was sick or a favorite hiking spot nearby make a manager feel more human and caring. If working remotely, these can take place at the beginning of a virtual meeting or even in the emails that you send back and forth.

Overall, maintaining a good relationship between managers and employees is very important for keeping your employees motivated to stay with the company and give their work the best they’ve got. Do this by communicating two things: appreciation for specific things your employees are doing well and exactly how you see that employee as a valuable contributing member of your work community. You don’t have to hand out titles like “assistant to the office manager” to increase employee engagement, happiness, and tip-top work performance in your team.


ad image for free 1 on 1 software with Motivosity Lead
ad image for free 1 on 1 software with Motivosity Lead
Also worth checking out:
Be the Best Virtual Manager
Don’t Just Manage, Coach
Four Ways to Stop Employee Turnover and Keep Your Top-Performers Engaged