Performance Management

Why motivation is key to employee engagement

We reveal the top 5 employee motivators and their impact on employee engagement – and explain why regular 1:1 conversations, not engagement surveys, are key to keeping a finger on the pulse of engagement in your organisation.

Why motivation is key to employee engagement

What is employee engagement?

In organisations with a strong people focus, employee engagement is always high on the agenda – but what is it? How many organisations fully understand what it means to have an engaged workforce, and how to drive engagement in every single employee?  

Today’s employees are looking for more than a paycheck from their employer: they want purpose, fulfilment and a sense of recognition, and engagement is an important part of that. Yet for a lot of businesses, employee engagement can feel like more of a buzzword than a tangible, measurable team performance strategy. However, with great conversations between managers and employees, employee engagement can be so much more. Get it right, and it can open the door to increased productivity, happiness and commercial results.  

Employee engagement is essentially how committed, emotionally connected and motivated an employee is in their role, and the organisation they work for. As a workplace approach, employee engagement strategies are designed to create a positive and productive work environment that enhances those things, leading to increased job satisfaction, motivation and commitment among employees. 

It’s about creating a sense of purpose and meaning, enabling employees to identify with their organisation’s goals and values, and encouraging open and honest relationships between employees and managers. Yet employee engagement initiatives – like surveys or workplace perks – can’t generate those things when used in isolation. The clue is in the name: employee engagement is all about engagement: a two-way connection between employees and their organisation. It’s about conversation: listening, talking, and creating actions that help every employee fulfil their potential. 

The power of conversation on improving engagement

The importance of that communication is what many organisations fail to realise when they implement standalone ‘employee engagement’ initiatives. It’s not about giving an employee a reason to engage with the business: it’s about listening to how the organisation, through managers, can engage with them. In the past, we’ve likened it to a friendship: how engaged would you be with a friend who only wanted to talk about themselves, but asked a lot of you in return? Any relationship should be mutual, and great conversations between employees and their line managers are key to helping you develop that in the workplace. 

Effective communication and conversation is a critical part of employee engagement, along with enrichment, recognition, rewards and an understanding of the employee’s individual needs and goals. It’s also important to note that employee engagement is not a one-time, tick-box exercise, but an ongoing process. Organisations need to continuously assess and evaluate how they are enhancing employees’ engagement with the business – and a broad-sweeping engagement survey will never be enough. It gives you an umbrella view, but it won’t help you to create meaningful change for the individuals behind the anonymous survey.  

Again, engagement isn’t about initiatives or generic perks that are pushed out by the business: it’s about listening to individuals and understanding what makes them feel engaged with the workplace.  

Organisations should strive to create an environment that encourages and supports this, from hiring and onboarding practices to workplace policies and procedures. Creating a sense of honesty, trust and transparency ensures that employees feel able to discuss their engagement truthfully, and flag when their engagement might be waning.   

Regular one-to-one conversations between employees and managers are a must-have part of this. You won’t know what employees are really thinking, or how engaged they truly are, without speaking to them frequently and instigating frank discussions. A tick-box or sliding scale on a survey might be able to tell you roughly whether a faceless employee feels engaged or disconnected, but it can’t tell you who, or why – and what you need to do about it to make sure you don’t lose your valuable talent or suffer a dip in productivity.  

A great conversation with a manager, however, can.  

Similarly, blanket employee engagement and wellbeing programs might boost engagement for some employees, but they can’t drive it in every single individual. What works for one person won’t work for another: to drive genuine engagement, you need to look at each employee’s specific drivers.  

While they are different for everyone, there are some more common factors at play. Below, we share the top 5 drivers amongst OpenBlend users to help you think deeper about what could be driving your employee’s motivation, commitment and satisfaction – and the importance of discovering engagement drivers with your teams.

What are the top 5 employee motivators that impact engagement?

What you often can't glean from an engagement survey is the factors outside of work priorities that influence engagement. Employees have complex lives that extend beyond their work, and as such their work and personal lives are inextricably entwined. 

For instance, personal or family issues, health concerns, financial stress, and other such challenges have a big impact towards how an individual feels towards their work. The key to understanding this is as we've said before through effective 1:1 conversation between managers and employees.

Understanding employee motivators that impact engagement can help you to make meaningful changes to the experience on offer. By acknowledging and addressing these 5 employee drivers that impact engagement (and thinking more widely about how you go about understanding and discussing individual engagement as a whole) it will allow you to work towards building a work environment where employees feel fulfilled, motivated to perform and connected and committed to their work and the organisation more widely:

  1. Health and exercise
  2. Time with family and friends
  3. Making a difference at work
  4. Money 
  5. Progression at work 

1) Health and exercise 

It’s important to listen to what individuals need to address regarding health and exercise, rather than introducing measures that pay lip service to the idea. Introducing in-office yoga because ‘exercise’ appeared on an engagement survey, for instance, won’t necessarily increase engagement. Enabling individuals to access and independently act on their health and exercise priorities will always be much more effective than taking a one-size-fits-all blanket approach. 

2) Time with family and friends  

People are actively seeking a better blend between their work and home life, particularly as hybrid working  and  Work From Home culture continue to blur the boundaries between our personal and professional lives. For employees with this driver, quality time with family and friends translates to more productive, focused time at work – increasing engagement through better balance. 

3) Making a difference at work  

When it comes to engagement, employees today want to feel that they are an important part of the business they work for: it improves diligence, productivity and a sense of job security, all of which are fundamental to feeling engaged with their employer. Managers can use 1:1s, facilitated by the OpenBlend platform, to communicate purpose to their teams, as well as measure their impact on the business to illustrate the difference they are making at work.  

4) Money  

Surprised that this isn’t further up the list? We’re not. Recent world events have influenced people to re-evaluate what’s important to them, and many have realised that money isn’t the sole priority they once thought it was. 

5) Progression at work  

This is one motivator where it’s particularly crucial to engage in open, honest conversation before taking action, as ‘progression at work’ can mean very different things to different people. Progression at work doesn’t always mean promotion (for instance, from employee to manager). When it comes to engagement, employees today want to feel that they are an important part of the business they work for and that the business itself is socially responsible. 

Discovering the engagement drivers listed above – and helping employees to fulfil them – comes down to great conversations. Just asking an employee off-hand, ‘do you want an in-office yoga class?’ or ‘are you seeing your family enough?’ isn’t a great conversation.

Employees don’t feel able to respond honestly to questions about their personal and professional circumstanecs unless they feel that they have a real platform to do so – one where they will be listened to, not judged, and able to create the right actions with their manager moving forwards. Great 1:1 conversations can lead to better employee engagement – but they need a platform that enables and supports both the employee and their manager.

Download the guide to discover more on:

  • What really drives employee engagement
  • How managers can discover employee motivation in 1:1s 
  • Why employee engagement is intrinsically linked to effective performance conversations
  • The top 5 employee motivators that impact engagement

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