Seven Ways to Motivate Employees
by Bruce L. Katcher

Four out of ten employees do not feel their supervisor supports their growth.

The Problem

The challenging economy of the past few years has exacerbated the problem of motivating employees. For many, rising health care costs have gobbled up most of the meager raises they have received. Advancement opportunities have been severely limited due to the lack of growth of their organizations. And they have become disillusioned with management due to continuous reports about the corruptness of senior management at many leading U.S. corporations. They are feeling over worked, unappreciated, and under compensated.

How to Motivate Employees

Motivating employees today requires getting back to basics. Here are seven methods.

  1. Actively Foster Employee Growth
    Four out of ten employees do not feel their supervisor supports their growth. Employees are more motivated when they know that by staying with the company they will have an opportunity to grow. Yet when business is slow, organizations are very quick to cut training. Our research shows that only half of all employees feel that they are given the opportunity to learn new skills on their job.

  2. Link Pay to Job Performance
    Only 3 out of 10 employees feel that their company does a good job of linking their pay to their job performance. My son just returned home from his freshman year at college. He is working at a retail store for the summer, his first real job. As part of his training, he learned that every time he convinced a customer to sign up for the company's credit card he would receive $5. He was also told that he would receive another $10 for selling a few selected products. He came home one day and said, "Dad, these incentives REALLY are motivating me. I had learned in my economics class that incentives are one of the 10 Guiding Economic Principles but now I really see it." He added, "I wake up each morning and think about how can I make more of these sales."

  3. Set Clear Performance Expectations
    One of the reasons employees don't believe that their pay is tied to job performance is because they have never been told exactly what is expected of them. If they don't know what is expected, they won't know what they need to do to be viewed as a good performer. Management merely assumes that employees know what is good job performance and what is not. If job standards, criteria for success, and specific performance levels are not made clear and specific, employees will not be motivated to perform well.

  4. Provide Employees with the Opportunity to Fully Use their Skills
    One-third of all employees do not feel they are being fully utilized. It is important to employees that they feel as though they are fully using their valued skills and abilities on their job. If they are not, they will quickly lose interest in their work. To fully utilize the skills of employees, ask them what else they would like to do and provide them with opportunities to use these skills.

  5. Enrich Jobs
    One-third of employees do not feel they have the decision-making authority they need to do their jobs well. To enrich a job, provide employees with challenge, autonomy, personal growth, and more of a say in how their work is performed.

  6. Help Employees Feel Part of a Winning Team
    Ever notice how winning teams have a tradition of winning and losing teams have a tradition for losing? Success breeds success. Employees desperately want to be part of a winning team. However, senior management more often communicates failures than successes. Share the good news and thank employees for their contributions. Doing so will help improve employee motivation.

  7. Help Employees Feel That Their Work is More than Just a Job
    There were three movers in front of a moving van. One was asked, "What are you doing?" He responded, "I'm just putting in my time for this moving company." He added, "The more hours I work, the more money I make." The second mover was asked the same question. His response, "I am moving these boxes from the truck to the house." The third mover responded, "What I am doing is very important. I am helping a young family start a new life for themselves here on the east coast."

    Which mover do you think is more motivated?

    It's easy for employees to lose site of the fact that no matter what their actual work involves, they are performing a more important function for their customers.


Motivating employees today is particularly challenging. To do so, get back to the basics. Link pay to job performance and help employees grow, feel part of a winning team, and see the value of their work.

Dr. Bruce Katcher is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist and President of The Discovery Group. He has more than two decades of experience conducting employee opinion and customer satisfaction surveys. Prior to founding The Discovery Group, Bruce headed up the Organization Research and Development consulting practice of the Boston office of The Wyatt Company. Visit The Discovery Group for additional information.

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