Here’s How the Best Employers Motivate Their Workers

Employees are not machines, and their performance can’t be activated with the flip of a switch. Employers need to keep employees motivated.

When employees are genuinely motivated, they’ll help their organization shoot for the moon. But when barriers hinder their motivation, contributions dwindle, resulting in decreased productivity, limited innovation, and a sluggish pursuit of the company vision.


Top Workplaces research shows the best-performing companies have workforces where 90% or more of their employees say they are motivated to give their very best.

Efforts to foster motivation are most successful when practiced across all levels of the organization.

Leaders shape organizational motivation. Their actions make an impact by rewarding strong performance, fostering an inspiring vision, and expressing gratitude in employee interactions.

Managers are often best positioned to keep employees motivated. They must discover what motivates people. Managers ensure engaging and rewarding tasks, as well as the freedom to determine how best to accomplish the work.

Employees can harness their inner drive for excellence, communicate barriers to their manager, and collaborate to overcome obstacles. Employees also need to advocate for their own well-being and request challenging tasks.

For organizations looking to increase motivation, here are some suggestions:

  • Connect work with impact: Make sure employees understand the positive impact of their work at individual, team, and organizational levels. Emphasize the practical application of their contributions and convey appreciation from other teams, leadership, and customers.
  • Drill into departments: Review survey results for any departments or demographic groups struggling with motivation. Consider specific obstacles they may face, recent changes, or other underlying issues that may be interfering with motivation.
  • Sincerely thank employees: Appreciation goes a long way in motivating employees. Make sure to acknowledge hard work, goals achieved, and strong performance.
  • Increase employee autonomy: Constantly being micromanaged can lead to demotivation, so it's crucial for managers and leaders to grant employees the autonomy to decide how they approach their tasks. This not only empowers employees but also fosters innovation and efficiency in completing their work.

For organizations looking to take motivation to a higher level, here are some suggestions:

  • Offer learning opportunities: Learning new things keeps work interesting. While it’s great to feel successful in your role, if an employee already has everything about their role mastered it may prove difficult to stay consistently motivated.
  • Provide an inspiring vision: People will often row harder when they’re excited about where they’re going. Ensure the company’s direction is exciting for employees. Convey how smaller accomplishments build toward it.
  • Consider advancement: Employees rarely want to remain in the same role for the remainder of their career. Where possible, ensure advancement opportunities and prioritize internal promotions over external hires.
  • Address underperformers: If some employees consistently underperform or show a lack of effort, take deliberate action to address the issues. Other employees will notice underperformers. The lack of consequences may become an issue.

Watch for signs of burnout, monotonous work, lack of incentives or unfulfilled goals. Ensure employees have work-life balance (you can’t pour from an empty cup). Have projects that are interesting and challenging, and opportunities for continued growth. Ensure employees see positive outcomes for hard work, such as bonuses, pay raises, and promotions.

Bob Helbig is media partnerships director at Energage, a Philadelphia-based employee survey firm. Energage is The Washington Post’s survey partner for Top Workplaces. To nominate your company as a Top Workplace, go to

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