3 Simple Ways Managers Can Motivate Employees

Laura Saracho
April 5, 2022
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Being a manager can feel like both a gift and a challenge, right? Getting to a leadership role is a dream opportunity that takes skill and determination. However, most managers need some time to adjust to new responsibilities and learn about each individual on their team.

Friction exists between understanding how managers motivate employees and also finding fulfillment in their position, sometimes leaving behind their previous routines and habits from another role. When managers feel confident and motivated, it can lead to increased engagement and alignment between each employee and across teams.

But first, we need to identify what employees are looking for in their jobs, and you might be surprised by a few common motivating factors. 🕵️

Psst, people manager! Check out: The Complete Manager's Guide to Employee Recognition


How managers motivate employees

What motivates employees? 

Work norms are changing quickly, and employees are being more vocal about what motivates them and what needs to change. Think back five years ago—were you motivated by the same things you are now? Probably not 🙅.

Compensation and benefits are often the most common motivating factors for workers, but vary in how they are defined and implemented across organizations. New styles of management and motivation are taking shape, supporting increases in workplace engagement and sense of purpose for a growing younger workforce.

Managers who identify and support their employees’ personal motivations will set themselves apart in a competitive job market. Here are a few suggestions on how to motivate employees as a manager or team leader.

1. Support employee autonomy  🏘

Most likely, you’ve heard the terms “remote,” “hybrid,” or “flexible-schedules” at least five times this week. As the Great Resignation continues to redefine work norms, employees are demanding more autonomy and flexibility from their managers and leadership teams.

One survey found that 59% of respondents favored “flexibility” as more important to them than salary or other benefits, and 77% said they would prefer to work for a company that gives them the flexibility to work from anywhere. 💻

Workplace flexibility can be interpreted and implemented in many different ways. Managers should be mindful that what's “flexible” for one person may not be for another. Employee autonomy signals trust and mutual respect for how and when employees fulfill their job responsibilities.

No one likes a micro-manager. Be thoughtful about how you are tracking progress for your team and each individual. It might be more tempting to jump in and take over now because remote work requires extra patience, but showing constraint presents a healthy collaboration style between managers and team members.

Whether your team is fully remote, office only, or a little in-between, employee communication is key. Be sure to show empathy and support for each employee when understanding their motivations. Many times, they just want to feel heard, valued, and know your expectations for success.

Employees are motivated by managers who trust and connect with them beyond their performance. Managers who value autonomy for their employees give them space and encouragement to live their full selves at work and at home…because the lines are crossing more and more.

The idea of “work to live” and not “live to work” is spreading fast with employee autonomy expectations. As increases in part-time and full-time independent work continue to rise, expect more demand for autonomy from full-time employers.

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2. Provide clear goals and career paths 📊

Who was your favorite teacher in grade school? Ok, now name your least favorite (in your head, of course). Chances are your most-liked teacher was kind and thoughtful, but also delivered assignments and instructions in a way you could easily understand.

Well, why should work be any different? How many times do we end up with a manager that assumes their employees have it all figured out or should be able to read their minds?

Whether considering ways to describe a new project or giving feedback in 1-on-1 meetings, managers should know that as Brené Brown says, “clear is kind.” Employees should know what is expected of them and have a path to success. Many times personal and organizational goals shift too often, aren’t emphasized enough, or aren’t evaluated in a comprehensive manner.

Managers and increased employee engagement 

Work has to have a purpose to be sustainable for employee motivation in the long term. A Gallup poll revealed that employees who believe their work has purpose are more engaged, and engaged employees stay at companies longer, are more productive, and as a result—companies are 21% more profitable.

Managers and company leaders who align high-level and team goals with each employees’ daily work activities will see a higher level of engagement and productivity.

Does your company have a framework for setting collaborative and individual goals? When managers know how to motivate employees with the right mix of delegation, accountability, and incentive, it provides a unique recipe for high-performing teams and an engaged workforce.

Don’t overlook the power of repetition when it comes to managers leading their teams. If a team member gets off track or isn’t clear on how to do their job, managers should be the first to step in. Teams will reciprocate what they see modeled by their leaders. Managers should be motivated by some of the same goals that employees share. There must be a healthy balance between aligning goals and supporting the motivational factors for each employee’s career path.

good manager

3. Make time to recognize employees ➕

We recently conducted a poll that uncovered nearly half of employees who have left a job because they felt underappreciated by their boss. All levels of managers are pressed for time, but if they don’t make time for whom they are leading, how are employees supposed to feel motivated and engaged with their work?

In one study that looked at employee motivation over 40 years, the second most important driver of motivation (just behind a liveable wage) was appreciation. Because everyone’s career journey and responsibilities differ, many companies and managers feel trapped or confused about how to start a program or system to recognize employees. They understand the need and aim to be consistent, but a few obstacles stand in their way. In another recent study we conducted, only 19% of managers recognize their team on a daily basis. 


Manager Graphic 1 stat only


Are there any motivational hurdles you see between managers and employees? Do your employees feel appreciated on a regular basis?

Data and analytics are now becoming the driving forces behind everyday work activities and routines that were not easily measured. But now, the tools to drive daily employee engagement, recognition, and appreciation are easily available. More than just “outsourced praise,” employee recognition and rewards platforms (like Bonusly!) are assisting managers to deliver a trackable and meaningful support system that integrates with modern communication channels.


Managers who know how to motivate employees are crucial hires and contributing members of your organization. New styles of work autonomy and leading high-performing teams are giving managers unique opportunities to connect with their employees.

Do you have a system to assist managers in their engagement metrics and communication best practices? Leave a comment below!

Psst, people manager! Check out: The Complete Manager's Guide to Employee Recognition

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