AJS South Africa


It is not (actually) just about the money.

With Employee Appreciation Day on the 4th of March, we thought it would be the perfect time to sit down and address what it truly means to be motivated. Especially for employees.

What makes people get up every day? What gives people their drive, their desire to work and do an excellent job? What makes employees come to work every morning with enthusiasm and a smile on their face?

It seems like the answers to these questions should all be self-explanatory. For most of us (at least on the face of it), motivation comes from within. It is (for the most part), triggered by rewards (whether they be financial, recognition or the achievement of a goal) that enhance our self-image, help us feel better about ourselves and make us “walk tall.” Like finally closing that big case with all its complexity and short falls – the one that no one thought you would win. On the other hand, motivation can be related to intrinsically motivating activities that we engage in for no reward at all other than the pure enjoyment and satisfaction that these activities bring us. Like finally climbing Mount Kilimanjaro for an example. It is both a goal and achievement that bring no reward but self-fulfillment. 

But when we turn more specifically to what motivates an employee, we find ourselves in a bit of a quandary. I mean, we know that money is a huge motivator – no one wants to (realistically) work for free (unless you are a Saint) and salary does evoke a sense of appreciation and “worth” (“What am I worth to my company?”) but is that it? 

Is it just about the money?

Motivation in the workplace

Motivation in the workplace has historically been recognised because of the extrinsic rewards (i.e. actions taken due to external causes such as avoiding punishment or receiving a reward) in the form of compensation, benefits, rewards, awards, career progression or conversely, to avoid reprimanding and (in many cases) ridicule.

But the truth is, organisations that provide their employees with both meaningful and engaging work will not only (and inevitably) contribute to the growth of the organisations bottom line but will also create a sense of vitality and fulfillment that echoes across the organisational structure, going as far as to improve the every-day lives of their employees. 

Ensuring your employees are (and stay) motivated can – 

1.     improve employee productivity and satisfaction; 

2.     help set individual and organisational goals; 

3.     put stress into perspective, and 

4.     structure jobs so that they offer optimal levels of challenge, control, variety, and collaboration.

All good things. Right?

Sure. And yet according to a study that was done by Gallup in July 2021, across 112,312 business units, 2,708,538 employees in 54 different industries, only 20% of employees globally are engaged and motivated in the workplace.

Gallup further reports that in the United States 15% of employees are actively disengaged which means that they have reported miserable work experiences and are poorly managed.

Which is a real shame because employee motivation is a big part of employee satisfaction which in turn is a big part of an organisation’s overall success.

So, the next question must be –

Why is employee motivation so important?

When employees are motivated, they are not only more productive, but they are more likely to stay with their company for longer, helping it to grow and succeed. 

As Harvey Mackay puts it – 

“Employee loyalty begins with employer loyalty. Your employees should know that if they do the job they were hired to do with a reasonable amount of competence and efficiency, you will support them.”

And this support, this motivation is exactly what we are talking about.

Because employees that feel supported and motivated by both their leaders and their organisations, will not only be more productive and loyal to their oganisations but they will also be less likely to suffer mental health issues, like burn out and depression. 

And believe us, this is not a common accepted norm.

In a New York Times article titled Your Body Knows You’re Burned Out written in February 2022, they set out that in a survey by Indeed more than half (52%) of respondents in the survey are feeling burned out and a staggering 4.3 million Americans quit their jobs in December in what has come to be known as the “great resignation” due to workplace stress. 

So not all organisations are supporting and motivating their employees. Evidently. Not all organisations are putting the well-being of their employees first, despite the common belief that companies have “apparently” prioritised the mental health of their employees (especially since the beginning of 2020). 

And the result? It is not just burnout and depression (which are concerning enough) that organisations need to be concerned about but employees who are not inspired by their work or organisation, employees that feel (actively) disengaged and demotivated (which if you recall is 15% of employees) are more likely to look for another job, resulting in the expensive process of recruiting, filling and training for the role once again.

Organisations are ultimately left wondering – where is the loyalty? Well as Mackay eloquently said – it takes two to tango.

Ok, so how do you ensure that your employees remain motivated?

It would be naïve to think that salary, peer recognition and workplace rewards are not important. They are. Of course. But there are a number of other ways that an organisation (whether big or small) can go about motivating employees and ensure that they remain happy, engaged and most of all healthy (physically and mentally) – 

1.     Nurture a culture of teamwork – whilst most employees are working from home (or at the very least are engaging in the hybrid model), team collaboration remains crucial. Bouncing ideas off of one another, having productive brain-storming sessions can bring a whole new aspect to a project. And that cannot be substituted for working alone in your own little bubble (for most roles but not all) without stimulation. By collaborating on projects across different areas within your organisation (thereby creating both intra- or inter-departmental cooperation), encouraging open communication channels as you go along, you ensure that your employees feel like their input was valued both by their team members and their organisation. They feel heard. And this will, no doubt, lead to an overall sense of well-being, happiness, productivity and employee motivation. 

2.     Improve communication – whilst not everyone’s favourite tool, social media makes it easy for employees to connect, collaborate and share information with one another. Once again encouraging collaborative teamwork and building comradery between colleagues. Social media (being the “go-to” for most millennials) will also ensure that your oganisation remains relevant keeping everyone up to date with what is going on both in your oganisation and within the wider community (and industry). But if social media is really just not your thing (or seems like a risk or too much work), organisational newsletters and company chats (like Teams) can offer value as well. The key here is communication. In whatever way, format, or platform – communicate with your employees and encourage them to appropriately communicate with you. 

3.     Appreciation for and recognition of employee’s efforts – appreciation and recognition are powerful motivators. It may seem like “soft skills” and unimportant (especially in the grand scheme of things), but appreciation and recognition make someone feel valued. And that’s gold. It therefore stands to reason (research aside) that when an employee is both recognised and rewarded for their efforts, they will feel happier in the workplace, happier at home and therefore more open to constructive feedback. In fact in the Harvard Business Review it was stated that “recent research suggests that symbolic awards — interventions such as congratulatory cards, public recognition, and certificates — can significantly increase intrinsic motivation, performance, and retention rates”. So, perhaps its time to let your employees know just how much they mean to the organisation. Small things can do wonders for employee motivation, like a simple “Thank You” email. And it really does not take a lot of time or effort.

4.     Make organizational goals clear – linking the work your employees do with the overall company mission is essential to providing a greater sense of purpose in a role. It is hard for someone to map the most efficient route when they do not know what their final destination is. Therefore, organisational goals and strategies should be communicated often and updated frequently. Employers must ensure that teams can connect their internal KPIs with their role in the company’s mission. Employees need (and want) to be kept in the loop. So, once again ensure open communication. On all things. And especially where an employee’s role is concerned. 

5.     Making your employee’s health a priority – poor health (whether mental or physical) can affect the bottom line of an organisation. Employees that are sick will need sick-leave and this in turn means productivity is low. Employees that are burnt out or who are depressed will be disengaged and unhappy, affecting not only your bottom line but can also cultivate feelings of negativity and unhappiness within a team – and that is like “root rot,” getting in at the root and making everything sick. Entire teams can fall victim to feelings of negativity towards an organisation. Especially if left to fester. And this results in employees being completely disinterested in doing anything to further the ambitions of their organisation. And you cannot afford this. By investing in programmes like The Modern Lawyer by Coaching Advocates, you can assist team members to enjoy their careers, make valuable contributions to their organisations and lead fulfilling lives both inside and outside the workplace. And that’s crucial because happy, healthy staff will naturally be more productive. And that is good for your bottom line. And for them.

6.     Development opportunities – often someone’s “measure of worth” and how they feel “valued” and appreciated is reflected by how much their organisation is willing to do for them. Often by investing in someone’s education and offering development opportunities to improve their skills is how you can go about doing this. Whether you offer to sponsor formal classes like MBA programmes, a Master of Philosophy with a specialisation in Corporate Strategy as offered by GIBBS (as an example), refer them to online resources or assist them with any other means  of development, if your employee feels valued, you will have done this the right way. The upside? The organisation will benefit from increased productivity as well as greater employee motivation and satisfaction… a solution where everyone benefits.

7.     Encouraging rest – employee motivation does not have to be complicated. Giving an employee an extra day off to take care of their health or family or simply because you noticed that they looked stressed out (without them having to tell you or ask for time off) will go miles to ensure that they feel both noticed and cared for enough to be given time to themselves. And as we set out in our article Sleep When You’re Dead?, rest is important. Rest, recuperation, focusing on family, friends and hobbies outside of work are crucial to better performance. Are crucial to healthier people and therefore healthier (and happier) employees. 

Of course, ensuring job security and guaranteeing fair wages goes an exceptionally long way in putting employees at ease. And that has the knock-on effect of ensuring employees stay motivated. But just like salary, peer recognition and workplace rewards, you probably knew that already. 

In closing, motivating your employees starts from the top. And is not a once off thing. As Zig Ziglar said – 

“Of course, motivation is not permanent. But then, neither is bathing; but it is something you should do on a regular basis.”

So, make it a habit. Make it a regular occurrence. Appreciate your employees, give them recognition, be kind to them and be grateful for them – after all your employees are the backbone and beating heart of your organisation. And just like your physical health, you need to constantly ensure that the health and wellbeing of your employees (and how they feel about the workplace) is top notch and in proper working order.

On that note, we will leave you with just one more quote from Walt Disney (it’s fitting) – 

“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.” 

We can talk about this all day long – how to motivate. And there are plenty of books on the subject. But the truth of the matter is this – the only way to ensure your employees are motivated (and remain so) is to show them, is to prove it. Is (just) doing it. 

– Written by Alicia Koch on behalf of AJS

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.