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Motivation and engagement

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The basic needs of staff and how to keep your employees motivated and engaged in their work.

Keeping employees motivated and engaged is the key to every organisation’s success. Unfortunately, there is no exact science to motivating employees since different people are motivated by different things at different times.

One day you may leave a hard-working and motivated employee in the office only to return the following day to find someone who is despondent and less than enthusiastic about their work. This could be down to a number of factors, such as personal issues, interactions with colleagues, personal or work-related worries or concerns or feeling undervalued.

There are many factors affecting motivation that managers have little or no control over. However, a good manager will do their best to keep their team motivated and engaged – it is better for morale and for productivity!

The basic job factors that keep employees motivated

Motivational needs

Professor of psychology David McClelland described three types of motivational need:

  • achievement
  • authority and power
  • affiliation.

All or just some of these may be motivational factors for your team. Find out more about McClelland's motivational theory (

Motivators and hygiene factors

Clinical psychologist Frederick Herzberg developed the concept of motivators and hygiene factors.

Motivators are things that cause us to feel motivated. Hygiene factors do not make us feel motivated or demotivated, they are just there. However, if a hygiene factor is missing an employee will feel demotivated.

Example of hygiene factors

One example of a hygiene factor is reasonable pay. This doesn't necessarily mean a huge salary, just a reasonable amount for someone to live off. An employee receiving reasonable pay will not feel motivated every time they receive their pay, but if the pay is absent or late they will become demotivated.

Other hygiene factors might include:

  • adequate space to work in
  • break periods
  • chairs and desks that conform to health and safety standards
  • IT equipment that works properly.

Read more about Herzberg's theory of motivations and hygiene factors ( including his rocket diagram of motivators and factors of job satisfaction.

Types of needs

Maslow's hierarchy of needs is a psychology theory which splits human needs into a number of categories, including esteem, safety and physiology. Maslow thought that people would move between levels in the hierarchy depending on how their needs were being met.

Examples of how these categories relate to the workplace include:

  • physiological: is the air conditioning effective, are bathroom facilities adequate, do employees have access to water?
  • safety: are employees in a stable work environment, is immoral behaviour discouraged?

Read more about Maslow's hierarchy of needs (

Checking the basics

What is the best way to check if there are any basics which are affecting your team's motivation? Should you just be noticing because you are a good manager? Don't wait until the next team meeting - ask your staff.

Asking about motivations

How managers can find out what motivates and what demotivates individuals.

Good managers know what motivates and what demotivates individual team members. The best way to find this out is to ask each person individually what motivates them and what demotivates them.

Why find out about motivations?

Understanding employee motivations enables you, the manager to build up a picture of how each individual likes to be managed. For example:

  • some employees like to be left alone to work on their own initiative, while others prefer more hands-on management
  • some individuals find criticism motivational, but others will feel hurt and demotivated if it isn’t delivered sensitively
  • one team member may be desperate for a promotion or public recognition whilst another team member may be very happy to stay in the job that they are doing and hate the idea of being praised publically.

How to ask about motivations

Asking what motivates and what demotivates individuals can be done on a one-to-one basis or it can be done as a team exercise, perhaps pairing up team members and getting them to ask each other and then providing feedback.

Conversations with demotivated individuals should always take place in private - never in front of other staff members or managers. A conversation might go something like this:

  • “Hi Sarah, have you got a minute for a chat?” The aim here is to sound informal and approachable.
  • “I’ve noticed that you’re not performing to the high level that you normally do. You seem a little demotivated.”
  • Be prepared to explain your observations fully and provide detailed examples.
  • “You’re normally very motivated and perform to a good standard. What’s changed?” You may need to ask additional, open questions in order to get a meaningful response.
  • Summarise what Sarah has said to show that you have been actively listening.
  • “What do we need to do in order for you to feel motivated again?”

You should not promise anything that you cannot deliver and must deliver on any promises made within the agreed timeframe. You should also ensure that the employee takes responsibility for any actions that they need to take.

Employee Engagement

An engaged employee is one who shows commitment and willingness to help out beyond their normal job which leads to better business performance.

Employers are interested in those employees who will do their best work, or ‘go the extra mile’. Employees want interesting work that they find absorbing and enjoyable. When these factors combine you have a win-win solution that meets the needs of the business and the employees’ needs at the same time. This is called employee engagement. Both sides have everything to gain by it and will work hard to maintain it.

It goes beyond job satisfaction and is not simply motivation. Engagement is something the employee has to offer as it cannot be ‘required’ as part of the employment contract.

There is no list of what creates employee engagement but CIPD research into employee attitudes found that the main drivers of employee engagement were:

  • having opportunities to feed your views upwards
  • feeling well-informed about what is happening in the organisation
  • believing that your manager is committed to your organisation.

Perceived fairness by managers when dealing with problems also has a marked impact  on individual performance, although this does not seem to be directly related to employee engagement.

There is more information about the importance of employee engagement and how the right environment can be created to improve it in the CIPD Factsheet Employee Engagement.

Page last edited Jun 23, 2017

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