employee motivation


The theory behind employee motivation & retention

employee motivation
To maintain growth, companies need to maintain and add to the team and knowledge base they currently have and so the subject of employee motivation and retention is an important one for businesses.

So, what is it that keeps employees happy and motivated in their current role?

We’ve taken a look at the theories and research behind employee motivation to find out what companies and managers need to do to retain their top talent!


What is Employee Motivation?

Motivation is defined in a number of different ways, but it can be thought of simply as a person’s willingness to put in a high amount of effort in order to achieve certain goals. It also takes into account the person’s individual gain from achieving those goals. It’s thought that there are 3 different aspects to motivating employees.


The 3 Key Aspects to Motivation

These are

  • The individual employee’s needs
  • Their expectancy of a desired outcome
  • Their job and how it’s structured.

An employees’ needs are internal factors that drive their behaviour. The employee’s job also needs to motivate them. Each of these are explained in more detail below and employers must consider all of these when looking at ways to motivate and retain their employees.


What Needs Should Employers Consider and Adhere To

One of the most popular theories behind a person’s needs is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. This considers a person’s physiological needs, their need for security, affiliation, self-esteem and need for self-actualisation.

  • Physiological – These needs can be met through offering food and drink options at work
  • Security – This can involve financial security like wages and pension or physical security like suitably secure working conditions
  • Affiliation – Can be achieved through encouraging social interaction and creating a positive, inclusive team spirit
  • Self-esteem – Involves praise and reward
  • Self-actualisation – Employers can look to provide more challenges and encourage creativity

Equity is also an important factor. Employees want to know they’re being rewarded fairly, especially compared to their colleagues. If people feel they aren’t being fairly paid or rewarded they may intentionally restrict their input.


Employees’ Expectancy

Expectancy in terms of employee motivation involves an employee believing that their efforts will produce their desired outcome. The more convinced they are that they’ll get their desired outcome, the more effort they’ll put in to achieve it. This goes for the task itself, for example will their task yield results that contribute towards the achievement of their individual and/or company goals.

It also involves the reward they’ll receive from their employer should they succeed. This goes back to equity and receiving a reward for the completion of a goal or objective that they feel fairly reflects their achievement and/or effort. Employees are more satisfied when they feel they’ve been equitably rewarded.


Job Design

A boring, monotonous job won’t motivate employees and this is a key point when it comes to employee motivation and retention. Employees need sufficient challenge in order to stay motivated. Consider the idea of ‘flow’, where there is sufficient challenge in a task relative to a person’s skill level. If the challenge is too low then the person isn’t going to be engaged or motivated by what they’re doing. Too much challenge and the employee will struggle. Employers should aim to provide employees with sufficient challenge.

Responsibility and advancement are two factors that can greatly motivate employees. Managers can motivate employees through ‘vertical loading’ rather than ‘horizontal loading’ when assigning tasks. Horizontal loading involves assigning an employee tasks that are of a similar difficulty or challenge. Vertical loading involves giving employees more responsibility and challenge. This often involves assigning employees tasks that would normally be carried out by their managers or supervisors.

There are also a few other motivators that employers should consider. According to the Job Characteristics Model, employees are motivated when they:

  • Feel personal responsibility from the outcomes of their job
  • Feel that their contribution significantly affects the overall effectiveness of the company
  • Are aware of how effective they are at converting effort into performance.

Employees should be made aware as much as possible just how their performance and efforts affect the business. This ensures that the work employees put in feels ‘meaningful’ to them.


The key themes we’ve found when looking into employee motivation and retention is that employees want to feel valued and have meaning to what they do. Employees also tend to respond well to increased responsibility and challenge. Employers can do a number of things to help meet the needs of their employees, many of which are quite simple to do. Certainly making employees feel more valued can go a long way!


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