Motivating Employees

Motivating Employees
Park University, 2017


Most businesses are aware that quality work comes from dedicated, determined employees. Despite knowing this, many business leaders struggle with the question, “what is it that mtivates our employees to do well?” If you ask ten different leaders this very question, you are likely to get ten different answers. The truth is that determining how to motivate employees can be a difficult challenge for any business owner, manager, or supervisor.  This core assessment seeks to make determining the best motivation methods for a company simpler, by providing thorough analysis of three different techniques used to improve employee motivation.

Method One – Incentive/Rewards Programs

Incentive programs, also known as rewards programs or compensation programs, strive to motivate employees by incentivizing their work goals.  “A reward system consists of financial rewards (fixed and variable pay) and employee benefits, which together comprise total remuneration,”(Armstrong, 2002, p. 3). By this definition, one might argue that an employees base pay and benefit offerings are then a reward system, and in a sense this true. However, for the sake of this paper, the focus will be on incentive and reward programs that take place outside of the expected pay rate and benefits that come standard with a given job.

There are many ways to incentivize and reward employees. Many rewards are given in the form of monetary bonuses on an employee’s paycheck. A reward doesn’t have to be a cash bonus, however, to be considered an incentive. According to Shields, “a reward may be anything tangible or intangible that an organization provides to its employees either intentionally or unintentionally in exchange for the employees’ potential or actual work contribution, and to which employees as individuals attach a positive value as a satisfier of certain self-defined needs” (2007, p. 12). Thus, rewards can be unique to the company offering them, and to the employees they are intended to inspire.

For example, many companies offer referral programs for their employees. Let’s say that Jane refers Tom to her company and Tom gets hired. The company may offer both Jane and Tom a $50 bonus after Tom’s third month with the company. This is an example of a bonus, or a financial reward. Financial rewards can be highly motivating, but the payouts can also be costly for the business. Thus, if a supervisor is using a financial reward system, it is important that they are familiar with their budget for rewards.

Similarly, it is important that the incentive program put in place is challenging, but realistic. Setting a goal that seems impossible to reach is likely to discourage employees rather than push them toward success. Conversely, a goal that is too easy can lead to many costly reward payouts without any improved business success. Supervisors must create financial incentive programs that push employees to work harder and meet higher goals on an achievable level.

Some companies encourage their employees with non-financial rewards. For example, meeting a sales goal may earn an employee an extended lunch break or an extra paid day off. Even seemingly small rewards, like an employee being able to choose the music played in the office that day, or having a reserved parking spot, can be very motivational in the right circumstances.

For incentive programs to be successful, the individuals implementing them must understand what is important to their employees. Offering an incentive program that no one is excited about is unlikely to help reach the goals the supervisors have in mind. Determining employee needs and opinions, through surveys or meetings, is crucial to creating an appropriate, fruitful incentive program that will lead to successful, motivated team members.

Method Two – Social Recognition Programs

Partially due to the potentially costly nature of implementing incentive/reward programs, many businesses seek alternative ways to motivate employees. “One such alternative means is known as ‘social recognition,’ under which employers use a variety of non-monetary means to recognize and reinforce desired employee behaviors” (Long & Shields, 2010, p. 1146). These social recognition programs seek to motivate employees through positive reinforcement and praise, rather than through prizes or privileges.

One benefit of using social recognition programs is immediately clear  – they are often less expensive than reward programs. However, there are other reasons that a business might prefer to utilize social recognition programs for their employees as well. For instance, some companies prefer social recognition programs because they encourage and celebrate employees who represent the company values. “A strong culture with clear values sets the stage for recognition. That’s because employees throughout the organization understand what guides their behavior on a daily basis,” (Barcalow, 2016, p. 12). Companies with this type of strong culture and clear core values can benefit from showing their appreciation to employees who represent that which the company stands for. Not only does the recognition motivate the praised employee, it also encourages other employees to similarly model the company values in hopes of receiving the same type of recognition.

Another reason companies might utilize a social recognition program is that it can be beneficial for tracking employee growth and progress. Social recognition programs tend to be based on many aspects of an employee’s job performance. Things like attendance, efficiency, attitude, and accuracy are just a few examples of what can be considered when determining which employees will be recognized. Accordingly, managers and supervisors have to track a lot of information about an employee’s work performance to make well-informed decisions regarding social recognition nominations. Access to this information not only helps leaders to determine who to recognize, but also helps them pinpoint areas where individual employees can improve. As such, recognition programs have the potential to not only help those who are being recognized, but to help every individual in the company reach their full potential as they are guided by leaders who have been tracking their strengths and struggles.

As with incentive programs, there are challenges to be considered when implementing an employee recognition program. Individuals desire to be valued and commended; however “the profound changes transforming the world of work are challenging the very premise of the value of individuals and their achievements within the company,” (Brun and Dugas, 2016, p. 718). In other words, employers and supervisors must consider the unique needs of their staff and the culture in which they are living. Employee recognition is not a “one size fits all” method of motivation. Some employees are likely to be motivated by different techniques than their coworkers. This makes it important for individual as well as group feedback to be provided, to ensure that as many people as possible are motivated by the program. Similarly, it is important that the employees perceive the feedback and accolades to be valuable, fair, and genuine. If the employees feel that the recognition program is simply an excuse for supervisors to celebrate their favorite employees, or get the impression that the feedback is unoriginal and canned, the program is far less likely to be successfully motivational.


Method Three – Employee Empowerment

Employee empowerment can be defined as motivating individuals by giving them the opportunities and resources to think and act as leaders.  “Employee empowerment programs have been widely adopted in the public sector as a way to improve organizational performance. Empowered employees improve performance largely by finding innovative ways of correcting errors in service delivery and redesigning work processes,” (Fernandez and Maldogaviez, 2013, abstract). Psychologically speaking, this is not a surprising conclusion. Most individuals enjoy feeling like they are in control or powerful. By empowering employees to think for themselves, companies are giving them that power and control.

While many companies are utilizing this method, it can be a daunting idea for many business owners and supervisors. Giving employees too much free reign has the potential to create more problems than solutions. Therefore, it is crucial that a company utilizing the empowerment method has ground rules in place regarding what freedoms the employees have, and what they are able to do. Many successful empowerment programs are not based on employees being able to do whatever they want, but instead based on open communication between employees and supervisors. This type of environment encourages employees to brainstorm and make criticisms or suggestions without the fear of being reprimanded for sharing their views. These employees are now empowered to be innovative and creative, two elements of business success that cannot be overstated, while still not having total control over business decisions.

The empowerment method is likely to be harder for a company to implement than either the reward or recognition methods. While those two methods are centered on actions – either reward giving or providing approval – the empowerment method is centered on an idea. For an empowerment program to be successful, the business leaders must really believe in the concept of employee empowerment.  A business that implements an empowerment program but does not give their employees the proper resources or opportunities to feel empowered is unlikely to see the same success that a company utilizing an effective empowerment program would.


Employee motivation can be advanced in many different ways. In order for a business to successfully motivate its staff, it needs to determine which of the motivation methods is most likely to be successful for their unique situation.

For example, imagine that a supervisor that employs primarily college students has a high call-out rate on Fridays and Saturdays. That supervisor may find that offering free pizza on Fridays and Saturdays motivates his or her employees to not call-out that day, and thus helps with the weekend staffing issue. However, this same incentive would likely not be beneficial if the supervisor was trying to solve a different problem, or if a company with a different demographic attempted the same technique. Considering the individual needs of a company, the demographic of employees, the needs and desires of employees, and the problem at hand are all important steps in determining which motivation method, or which combination of methods, is most likely to be successful.

It is not uncommon for an employer to offer many different ways of motivating employees.  Therefore, each of the three motivation methods – reward, recognition, and empowerment – might be used within the same organization. Similarly, any combination of these methods may be utilized depending on a company’s goals and needs. A company may also find that its motivational methods need to be changed or adjusted over time. As a company grows, and new challenges are faced, being able to change the motivational techniques used can be beneficial in ensuring that the business is doing everything it can to accomplish its goals.

Employee motivation is key to a business’ success. Without motivated and hard working employees, it is unlikely a company can meet its goals. Thus, leaders must stay informed and open minded to new motivation styles. By determining and utilizing the appropriate motivation method, leaders are able to create and manage strong, inspired teams, leading to a satisfying work environment, and to a job well done.


Armstrong, M. (2002). Employee Reward (3rd ed.). London: Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. Retrieved from:

Barcalow, N. M. (2016). Why Employee Recognition Matters. Marketing Health Services, 36(1), 12-13.

Fernandez, S., & Moldogaziev, T. (2013). Using Employee Empowerment to Encourage Innovative Behavior in the Public Sector. Journal Of Public Administration Research & Theory, 23(1), 155-187. doi:10.1093/jopart/mus008

Long, R. J., & Shields, J. L. (2010). From pay to praise? Non-cash employee recognition in Canadian and Australian firms. International Journal Of Human Resource Management, 21(8), 1145-1172. doi:10.1080/09585192.2010.483840

Shields, J. (2007). Managing employee performance and reward: Concepts, practices, strategies (2nd ed.). Retrieved from

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