Employee Motivation: Is Money, Vision, or Mission the Primary Motivator?

For Managers

Employee motivation is one of the things every manager thinks about most. It’s not because all managers are naturally empathetic. Rather, the manager’s job is to oversee the harmonious operation of an organization’s material and human resources. In other words, managers must try to encourage people to work hard. Material resources are much more predictable than humans. And yet, in order to be successful, a manager must help guide and predict the behavior of employees.

In order to do this, managers need to be able to understand employee motivation. Working with – rather than against – employee motivation is the key to getting the most out of an organization’s human capital resources. In this article, we’ll define employee motivation, share why it matters, and give several employee motivation strategies.

Employee Motivation

Employee Motivation Meaning and Definition

Before we take a granular look at what actually influences employee motivation, let’s share the definition and meaning of employee motivation. For the purposes of this article, employee motivation is defined as the internal psychological content that plays a large role in determining human behavior.

An amazing diversity of motivations go through the mind of any individual and end up shaping that individual’s behavior. Employees can be motivated by something primal, such as fear or desire. Others are motivated by financial incentives, which can stem from deeper motivations having to do with values, expectations, and more. You may be motivated by a story you tell yourself about yourself, or by some moral faculty. Management’s ability to influence or work with some of these employee motivations is limited, but not non-existent. It can be powerful to learn to read and predict employee motivations to better work with them.

Importance of Employee Motivation

It’s difficult to overstate the importance of employee motivation. We are put in a number of unique circumstances each day, but it is our motivations that dictate our actions. Employee motivation plays a big part in determining the output level of an employee.

And of course, to the extent that a company successfully leverages its ability to influence employee motivation, the impact plays out on a collective scale. Employees can be collectively motivated to achieve shared objectives, and when this alignment happens, amazing outcomes become possible. Conversely, when a workforce is made of individuals whose motivations are at cross purposes to one another, cohesion becomes near impossible.

Factors that Affect Employee Engagement and Motivation

There are many factors that affect employee engagement and motivation. A significant factor, among those companies can control, is the extent that an employee feels they are valued by the company. This is related to whether or not someone feels like a valued member of the community. This will determine if employees take on the group’s larger objectives or remain motivated by their own interests. Managers can use positive reinforcement, financial compensation, career advancement, and other forms of affirmation to communicate value to employees. There are other factors that affect employee motivation, but this is a primary one.

Does Compensation Motivate Employee Behavior?

Does compensation motivate employee behavior – or is that a false presumption? We know that financial compensation does motivate employee behavior, but there are limits to this. For one thing, every employee is different and is motivated differently. Employees can be motivated by a desire for status/prestige, achievement, stimulation, creative satisfaction, group belonging, and/or a desire to do good. Companies that fail to acknowledge these other dimensions of employee motivation are likely failing to get the most out of their employees.

Even the financial dimension of employee motivation is complex. Some are motivated by a primitive sense of accumulation and greed. Others are driven by a sense of need, scarcity, insecurity, or responsibility for caring for others. Others have specific reasons they want to earn specific amounts of money. Each of these employees will be differently motivated by financial compensation.

Regardless of the underlying motivation behind compensation, everyone needs money in order to survive. If you’re curious about consulting compensation, see our Consulting Salaries Guide here.

Employee Motivation Strategies

There is no one size fits all approach for employee motivation. The best employee motivation strategies are custom-made to fit each employee and each group. In some workforces – imagine a large retail store paying its workers minimum wage – the promise of extra financial compensation may be a powerful strategy. But imagine a professional services firm where employees are already highly compensated, but the firm culture has them working against one another in a way that hurts group performance. In this situation, management may want to initiate some form of team-building practice in order to align employee motivations with a group identity. In addition, in many competitive sales cultures, winning a sales race and being acknowledged as “the best” has been shown to be more effective than financial forms of motivation.


A motivated human can achieve fairly impressive things, and a motivated group can achieve world-changing things. The crux of employee motivation lies in aligning different individuals’ motivations with one another in order to compound the products of their talents. Today’s managers need to be careful students of human behavior. They need to know what motivates employees – both in general and specifically. And if they design and implement effective employee motivation strategies, everyone wins! Contact us today to see our training options.


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Filed Under: Consulting skills, Corporate Training, Leadership & Management