Can You Motivate Employees?


“Motivation is a fire from within.  If someone else tries to light that fire under you, chances are it will burn very briefly.” ~ Stephen R. Covey

Managers are expected to motivate the staff they oversee; it comes with the job title. If Stephen Covey, the author of one of most influential self-help book written, states that “motivation is a fire from within,” how is it possible for this to be done?

Taking a look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs there are 5 levels that humans must meet in order to fulfill their needs.  The first level is the basic needs of food, water, sleep, etc.  Once these are met, the second level,  safety, becomes priority including having “job security.”

Managers can help give employees this security by making sure that the employee knows his or her job duties and is given the proper training to complete them.

If employees feel secure in their job, then they will move up to level 3, which is the need to belong. Almost everyone who has to work wants to be a part of the work group and develop relationships.  Managers can play a big part in making employees feel that they are part of the team by engaging with them and letting them know they are valued.  If this is accomplished and the social needs are met, the employee will seek the next level.

Level 4 is the need for self-esteem, achievement and respect.  Managers need to keep their ears and eyes open to catch their employees doing what is right and commend them for it.  Let them know often what a great job they are doing and how much you respect them for the efforts they put into their job.  Remember, when they do well you look good.

As level 4 is met the gears start moving and employees will become more self-motivated as they gain the desire to meet level 5, self-actualization. They will want to learn more about the work they do and how they can help solve problems and be creative. They want to be more valuable to the company.

It is at this point that managers need to let employees take ownership of their job and continue to support, commend, and provide the tools necessary for the employee to do a great job.

It is important for managers to ask employees what will motivate them to want to continue to grow and perform well.  Listen to what they have to say and work with them to make it happen.

By understanding our human nature and what makes us strive to reach the top-level we can then understand where our employees are at and what we can do to help them move up the levels to becoming self-motivated on the job.  Their success is your success.


6 thoughts on “Can You Motivate Employees?

  1. So true Tina. I like Tony Robbins take on the human needs. He states we have 6, they begin with ‘Certainty’. That can be read as Security, Control, Reassurance, Trust and many other words. Your article points to this as the start point as well. Love reading you Tina. 🙂

    • Thank you for the wonderful complement Stu! You are so kind. I just find it simply amazing that we as managers are called to motivate our staff members and for the most part we really do not understand what motivation is or where it comes from. We can break our bumps trying to get the team going, but if their essential needs are not being met we will never get them past first base. Such an interesting topic. Have a great evening and upcoming weekend!

      • I read recently that the number one reason employees felt engaged and motivated was…wait for it… their immediate superior cared about them! Who in the corporate world would believe that. I bet most would say their employees are motivated by money!!

  2. Great Post!! It’s so true that leaders have to be aware of what is driving their team’s behavior and work to meet their needs. The key is to make sure to balance the organization’s needs with those of the employee’s. There are those who want unreasonable levels of recognition or unwarranted security. I’ve seen people who want assurance that they won’t be let go however, they are not performing even close to the level required. This mismatch has to be addresses and the organization’s needs may come first.

    • Carol, very good point. I do have to say addressing these mismatched issues is not one of my favorite things to do. But as you state it is necessary for everyone to understand what is reasonable and necessary to move the team along. This is where those team huddles come in handy. Have a great Friday!

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