The Most Important Employee Motivator

Mark Sagor


BossEAP professionals don’t need a Gallup pollster to tell them that many Americans are feeling distressed about their jobs and work environments. We see the evidence every day in our offices: employees who are discouraged, running on empty and preoccupied by thoughts of “getting out.”

The good news is that managers don’t need a big budget or anyone else’s permission to help employees feel better about their jobs. What they need is the determination to do something about those factors known to move the needle on employee engagement and higher levels of performance.

A recent Gallup poll revealed that the more hours a day that employees get to use their strengths to do what they do best, the less likely they are to report experiencing stress, anger, sadness and physical pain. They also gain a boost in positive emotions the more they use their strengths resulting in feeling more energetic, happy and rested. Best of all, from an employer’s perspective, they are also more likely to have the energy to get things done at work.

It’s a simple formula: employees come to work to get something done and when they do their levels of well-being, motivation and engagement increase.

While it’s true that employees are feeling stressed by high workloads in this era of the lean workforce this is only part of the story. What this poll tells us is that employees who are able to use their strengths to accomplish their work objectives are much less stressed and more energetic than employees who are feel thwarted and unable to exercise their strengths.

In other words, the stressful affect of an enormous workload is mitigated by the experience of getting some of that work done. To accurately assess an employee’s stress you need to understand both the length of their “do-it” list and the extent to which they are able to use their strengths to get things crossed off that list.

Unfortunately, a staggering 95% of managers fail to recognize that making progress in meaningful work is the most important motivator for employees, well ahead of financial incentives (New York Times 9/4/2011) If you are a manager and the only incentives on your radar are the traditional tools of raises and bonuses you are missing the best available opportunities to optimize problem-solving, achievement, creativity, collegiality and happiness at work.

The most effective way for managers to help employees be more productive and less stressed is to help them to make progress in their most meaningful assignments by:

–  Removing external obstacles.

–  Setting clear priorities.

–  Recognizing employee strengths and providing encouragement.

–  Acknowledging strong effort.

Maybe we need a supplemental definition to the term “hostile work environment” This term has used almost exclusively in the legalistic sense to describe an atmosphere hostile to individual employees.

What about an atmosphere which is hostile to productivity: where priorities are always shifting, constant interruptions are tolerated and insufficient resources are allocated to projects? There are no statutory prohibitions against this second type of hostile work environment but the laws of business survival compel organizations to eradicate conditions which not only stress employees but prevent them from getting their work done.