Seven Ways to Motivate Employees

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In the famous scene from “Glengarry Glen Ross,” Alec Baldwin is brought in as a corporate consultant from “the big boys downtown.” His condescending demeanor, crude and insulting language, and intimidating presence are meant to motivate an underperforming sales team and scare them into doing better.

Among other things Baldwin does to insult the sales reps, he reveals some harsh changes to the monthly sales contest:

  • First prize is a Cadillac Eldorado.
  • Second prize is a set of steak knives.
  • Third prize is you’re fired.

Baldwin’s motivational pep talk (caution: not safe for work) is a YouTube all-star with more than 4 million views, considered a cult classic in the sales world.

Would Baldwin’s motivational style really work for a company, or would it just create a nightmare for the human resources department? The reality is there are very few organizations where Baldwin’s behavior would be accepted or tolerated.

But it gets to a bigger question that every organization and small business must deal with. How do we properly motivate our workforce? What makes employees tick?

Here are seven ways to better motivate employees:

Financial Incentives

Most employees are financially motivated. Aligning the financial rewards of an employee to the success of the company is a great way to get everyone rowing in the same direction. Even if it’s just a small share of the profit, the employee will feel and act like an owner.

Another idea would be to adjust the base salary and compensation splits as appropriate. Offering the real go-getters in the organization more upside based on their success or the success of the company can produce an exciting and financially rewarding opportunity for money-motivated employees.

Company Vacations

Companies have been rewarding top performers with trips since we learned how to fly. The reason? It works. It allows the employees who meet their goals the opportunity as a group, along with other top performers, to enjoy time away from the office, most commonly in a sandy, warm location.

Company trips are a great way to strengthen the bonds among employees and can lead to them feeling significantly more connected to the organization. A win-win all around.

Additional Time Off

Some innovative small businesses and startups allow employees unlimited vacation time. While there is an inherent level of assumed responsibility that comes with unlimited vacation time, allowing employees to thrive and live a well-rounded life can be a strong motivator. It also can be a significant differentiator when potential hires are evaluating companies.

If it is a fit for your business, rewarding employees with the ability to work remotely one day a week or more can go a long way to improving their quality of life and appreciation for the job.


One of the best pieces of management advice I ever received was that everyone is motivated by different things. Some employees will appreciate being recognized more than others.

This is a valuable thing to learn about new hires. Do they like to be recognized for achievements? If so, do they prefer private or public recognition? Rewarding employees in a manner that fits their preferences is important.


Aside from getting a raise, nothing says you’re doing a good job like getting a promotion, even if it’s just a better job title.

Gym Memberships

With companies facing soaring health insurance costs, rewarding employees with gym memberships is a valuable way to improve their health and promote a healthy company culture. Healthy employees are happy employees.

Professional Development

Employees are thirsty for personal and professional development opportunities. Allowing employees to have a voice in the development programs they’re able to attend (on the company’s dime) is good for business and employee motivation. Developing a culture of constant learning and improvement will serve your company well both short and long term.

The clear and concise answer is anything that improves the quality of life for your employees, or improves their health or happiness, is a good motivator. But don’t assume all motivators work equally well on all employees.

Can you think of some good motivators not mentioned here? Please leave a comment below if there’s a motivational incentive you’ve seen work at a company you’ve owned or worked at — or one you wish would be offered at your current job.

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