The Ultimate Guide To Workplace Motivation

With part-time workers, motivation can be an issue. But as a business that relies on optimal performance to grow, you need the most of your team. For this reason, understanding the factors that motivate employees is not only useful, but essential, and doing so takes just a little work on your part to deliver a great deal of value to your staff and customers.

Here are important factors to consider when improving your workplace motivation:

Groups vs. Individuals

Perhaps the trickiest part of motivating your employees lies in the individuality of motivation. The same external or internal rewards that will cause one worker to flourish may fall flat with another member of the workforce. For this reason, two schools of thought have emerged.

The first is that employee motivation is reliant on relationships with employees. As a manager, particularly if your staff is small, it is possible to form a working relationship with your team and motivate each one on an individual basis. That way they are given an environment that optimizes their output, and, consequently, optimizes your operations.

However, for larger companies and teams with many moving schedules and components, this may not be possible. This is why the second school, which looks for generalized trends in human psychology and employing methods that work with them, was adopted. By understanding what makes your employees tick and providing mechanisms that tap their motivation, you can achieve the same or similar results, without the individualized attention that may be rendered impossible by time or manpower limitations.

Finding Common Ground

In this model, the key to employee motivation lies in fostering an environment that’s best for everyone. This may involve individual attention, but largely it’s predicated on creating a working model that harnesses the human instincts responsible for motivation, and leverages them to optimize business operations.

Extrinsic vs. Intrinsic Motivation

Motivation, as described in the research of Westminster College’s Carla Valencia, falls into two broad categories: extrinsic and intrinsic.

Extrinsic motivation is, as the name implies, the category that covers external motivating factors. An extrinsically motivated employee looks at their job as an opportunity to reach certain life goals, such as a home or car, and works with that goal in mind. As appealing as this motivation may seem, it is largely out of the control of the workplace and, as we’ll see, actually counter-productive to the more effective category of intrinsic motivation.

Intrinsic motivation is the opposite of extrinsic motivation; concerned with the motivation that arises inherently from tasks and the workplace environment. This may include work satisfaction, enrichment derived from particular tasks, or opportunities for job advancement. What’s interesting about intrinsic motivation is that it is actually stymied by extrinsic motivation, rendering the two categories mutually exclusive. Therefore, since intrinsic motivation is well within your managerial capacity to control, it is the category to focus on when crafting efforts to improve worker efficiency.

Hygiene Factors

When considering how to harness intrinsic motivation, it’s important to understand the difference between factors that motivate employees, and so-called “hygiene factors”. According to Frederick Herzberg of the Harvard Business Review, hygiene factors include, but are not limited to, items such as salary, working conditions, and fringe benefits. To workers, these are viewed as necessities to performing the job, not extras that provide incentive to excel.

Motivating Factors

Motivating factors, on the other hand, provide an enriching and intrinsically valuable mechanism by which employees willingly improve performance. The ways in which these factors can be employed are myriad, but Kenneth Thomas at the Ivey Business Journal breaks them down into four categories: meaningfulness, choice, competence, and progress.


When workers perform a task, they make an immediate evaluation of what that task means in the grand scheme of things. Sweeping the floor, for example, does little to change the circumstances of the world or the business, and is therefore seen with derision as a meaningless task.

Meaningful tasks are important because they provide a sense of significance to employees. For this reason, all efforts should be made to demonstrate what a task or series of tasks means to an organization. Instead of telling individuals to do their best and keep customers happy, for example, consider mentioning that the service they provide makes the customer’s day better. This taps the human instinct of altruism and community that makes even small chores like a smile or a handshake into a socially significant task.


The perception of control in our lives has a significant impact on our health, well-being, and mental state. Whether at home or on the job, the ability to sway our circumstances is an empowering one, providing motivation in the understanding that our actions will have a real and tangible impact.

This is an important fact to understand when crafting a workplace that motivates workers. Allowing individuals on any rung of the corporate ladder to make choices regarding the direction of projects, design of products, or method of execution injects value into the tasks they perform and breeds motivation in the process. Even menial decisions can have a big impact on worker satisfaction and productivity, so recognizing opportunities to give employees control will pay dividends.


No one likes to feel as if they’re bad at what they do. The thought alone is demoralizing, draining, and inherently de-motivating. Tasks and occupations large and small can feel overwhelming if the worker performing them feels lost in the woods without the tools to guide them.

For managers, this is a cloud with a silver lining. Employees enter the workforce with a number of skills, both learned and acquired outside of a formal academic environment. Leveraging these skills is not only smart business, it provides workers with an opportunity to feel as if they’re excelling. Form work units comprised of employees who lead the pack at a particular skill and give them work to do. The feeling of competency will motivate them, turning frustration into finesse, and improving your revenue through customer satisfaction and efficiency.


For part-time workers in particular, the feeling of progress can be fleeting. A car with spinning wheels has little value, and employees that perceive themselves as such are unlikely to bring the kind of motivation necessary to improve your business.

Instead of letting them flounder, find opportunities to allow them to make real progress in their lives and in your workplace. Avoid tepid titles that provide little in the way of tangible benefit, and instead opt for raises, incentive programs, and authority over projects and decisions. While the first two options are hygiene factors, the symbolic effect of a raise is decidedly motivational, raising morale and boosting worker output.

Getting the best out of your employees, temporary or otherwise, is key to making your business stand out from the crowd. By understanding the basics of employee motivation, and providing on-the-job value that will enrich the working lives of your staff will benefit everything from mood, to service, to revenue. Flex your managerial muscle and the benefit to your balance sheet will speak for itself.

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