Mann im Büro mit Motivation für seine Arbeit

5 effective strategies to motivate your team


Gone are the times when a job was only an end to itself and the working day started and ended with the punch card: And no wonder, as we spend 81.396 hours at work on average. But generation Z suffers from a lack of motivation: 82% state that they want to put minimum effort into their work. The buzzword is “quiet quitting” – meaning working to rule. This is especially true in Europe, where employee engagement is lower than in all other regions of the world. It is therefore even more important that teams and employees are motivated sustainably while providing them with space for self-realization. Because motivated teams not only work more efficiently and diligently but also have the success of the company at heart.

What is motivation?

Let’s be honest: Only very few people land the job of their dreams directly: And even if they’ve found it, it often comes with unforeseen hurdles and one or two dips in motivation. Differences of opinion within the team, stagnating projects or a lack of success are demotivating for individuals, teams and/or the company. And precisely this is where strategic motivation kicks in, which can make almost any job more palatable. Motivation is the goal-oriented and conscientious execution of tasks, which always carry an incentive: This can be a reward in the shape of praise, fun, bonuses and salaries or even mean further training and promotion prospects. So even if employees haven’t (yet) found their dream job, active motivation from the employer can make a significant difference.  

zwei Kollegen, die Spaß haben und motiviert sind, ihre Arbeit zu erledigen
Businesswoman giving a high five to male colleague in meeting. Business professionals high five during a meeting in boardroom.

Reasons for lack of motivation

Doctors, actors, and software developers: These are dream jobs for Germans. But almost every job can be fulfilling, often independent of which tasks it entails. Provided that intrinsic and extrinsic employee motivation is right. Paramount to this are the clear definition of goals and tasks. As studies show, 40% of the team’s success depends solely on the motivation of the employees. The numbers speak for themselves:

  • Only 15% of employees feel connected to their work.
  • Why? 39% of them do not feel valued enough at work.
  • This leads to about 81% considering a job change.
  • High employee retention results in 87% less probability of employees handing in their notice.
  • For a total of 66% of employees strategic employee motivation and incentives are a reason to stay at their current company.

As the Harvard Business Review writes, it is worth finding out what the reasons are behind a motivational low. And these can be very different: Often employees can not identify with the task or even the company, do not feel sufficiently qualified or even overqualified. Identifying the reasons is especially important with an already existing motivational low and can play a role in strategic coping: The approaches can be diverse, from the communication of values, creating of interest, the building of identity and company, over courses and training to embedding into a bigger goal or financial incentives. But often it is not money that makes a significant difference, because motivation and self-actualization are directly connected. A look at Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs” reveals how motivation and (job) satisfaction are linked and how the current job can become a dream job with the right strategies.

Strategy 1: A positive work environment: The motivational pyramid

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs divides basic human needs into five levels:

  1. Physiological needs
  2. Need for security
  3. Connection to other humans
  4. Esteem
  5. Self-actualization

Maslow is interesting as he provides a clear hierarchy of basic requirements for contentedness, which create a framework for every workplace: Basic needs such as water, food and rest times; Financial and physical security; A positive social network, that praises the work of employees through recognition and appreciation; And, most importantly of all, room for self-actualization and connection of work and the own identity. Because: According to a study 35% of employees wish for more recognition at their place of work.

Even though Maslow did not design these levels specifically for the workplace, they contain hints for the positive design of the work environment and can help with employee incentivisation. Employee engagement, motivation and the fulfilment of employee needs are closely linked and have to be thought of together in strategic motivation.

Strategy 2: Setting clear goals and managing expectations

In his treaty “Goal setting theory of motivation” Edwin Locke describes the direct connection between work performance, clear goals and sustainable motivation. Because goals not only clearly define areas of responsibility but with them, the feeling of responsibility grows as well. The basic requirement for this is a personal sense of meaning. Why is it important for the employee to complete the task conscientiously? Companies should ask themselves exactly this question when it is about dividing goals into measurable interim steps and putting across expectations. Goals, motivation and rewards always work in mutual response. Because without interim steps many goals can quickly seem like unachievable utopias, that abstractly glow in the distance. To achieve them, it is important to first divide them into sub-goals and to divide the tasks within the company and/or among teams. These should be clear to understand and achievable within a certain time frame. They constitute a kind of schedule to which employees can stick. Because small successes lead to new motivation regarding upcoming interim steps.

Menschen in einer meeting, die die Motivation zur Arbeit bekommen
Joyful colleagues planning work at briefing

Why are clear goals so important for motivation?

Motivation in a company always means the pursuit of a goal that’s bigger than a single person or even the team. That is why it is essential for companies to clearly define the tasks and areas of responsibility and to communicate these effectively. The formulation of goals has to be simple, understandable and clear for all parties to avoid misunderstandings and to increase performance and quality. This is where milestones come into play: They often mean that yearlong work is coming to an end and celebrating and rewarding reaching them will motivate for upcoming projects. Employees are being conveyed a feeling of appreciation.

Communication: Feedback and recognition

Feedback and praise are incredibly important to motivate employees sustainably. And open communication promises even more: It not only helps to make the work day more smooth but also strengthens the emotional binding between employees, team members and managers. Both extrinsic and intrinsic motivational factors can be used with the help of clearly communicated goals and their execution. Communication simultaneously improves the relationship between employees and managers, which binds them to the company, resulting in fewer sick days and improved overall performance.

Strategy 3: Extrinsic and intrinsic: Those are the motivation methods

Before it gets to motivational lows and resulting economic consequences, strategic motivational actions can help to incentivize employees and simultaneously motivate them. There are several different ways to achieve employee motivation. Some of the most commonly used methods are monetary incentives through bonuses or salaries, learning- and career chances, flexible work division and organisation, paid holidays, etc. However, it has been shown that methods without money, e.g. recognition and praise, trump financial incentives. The formulation of goals is therefore not only incredibly important for employees, but also for executives and managers who need to know which goals should be accomplished when to provide adequate feedback and to praise their employees. Extrinsic types of motivation, such as money, can be combined with intrinsic motivation factors such as recognition, improvement and learning progress. The latter is far more sustainable, as they explicitly target Maslow’s self-actualisation and convey appreciation on a personal level.

Strategy 4: Gamification of everyday working life

Gamification primarily means: Having fun with things that at first sight are not fun. People love games and the reward that comes with winning. The Dutch historian Johan Huizinga went as far as to call games an attribution to culture and humanity and called humans “Homo Ludens” – the playing human. It has been shown that playing is directly connected to the contentedness of people and that it can be improved by small playful alterations at work. This is especially true for onboarding: Instead of boring presentations, gamification helps new employees to start the new job motivated. And according to a survey, this strategy seems to work especially well for the notorious Gen Z.

The possibilities go from a point system within a team and award ceremonies for reached milestones (e.g. in the form of vouchers, a free lunch or a day off) to the nomination of an employee of the month. Even boring tasks can be made more attractive through games, by creating a sense of purpose, introducing competitions or using short exercise units for mental refreshment.

Frau bei der Arbeit, die glücklich und motiviert in den Tag startet
Portrait of cheerful african american businesswoman discussing and smiling at the meeting with colleagues

And according to surveys, the commitment is worth it: 89% of people surveyed saw an increase in productivity thanks to gamification; 88% stated to be happier at work. Even physical advantages become apparent: 71% of people surveyed felt less lethargic; 66% stated that gamification had reduced their stress levels.

Strategy 5: Professional development

It has long been known that humans never finish learning and that successive knowledge transfer has a positive effect on motivation. Nevertheless, further training and promotion prospects are often neglected in employee motivation. But professional development has advantages for both employees and the company: Employees are supported on their way to self-actualization (the very top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs) and feel valued. Simultaneously, the company can ensure that trained staff is employed, who stay up to date with new developments and trends and who might produce pioneering innovations. In the best-case scenario, the personal goals of employees can be combined with those of the company.

Conclusion: More fun, more motivation

The mood in a team stands and falls with every single person. Work to rule and quiet quitting are killers of motivation that can quickly spread to the whole team or even the entire company. Because who likes to do the work that others leave undone? The motivation of employees through executives and employer branding that prioritises the engagement and self-actualization of employees cultivates a healthy and simultaneously exciting work environment, that allows for the playful identification with the tasks and goals of the company. To motivate your employees long-term and sustainably, it is worth having a look at the internal structures and how these can be designed to leave room for fun, self-actualization and recognition. Motivation should be thought about sustainably and should not only be implemented when the mood of the employees has already lowered. The combination of the strategies named here connects with your employees on several levels and therefore promises long-lasting motivation. Invite your employees to games and, thanks to strategical action, improve not only their motivation and engagement but simultaneously playfully ensure long-term corporate loyalty and efficiency enhancement. Games have a positive effect on the creativity and problem-solving of employees. We at Humanoo know one thing for certain: Fun is the best motivation!