Secrets of a Brighter Workplace


Tips on how to understand, recruit and keep the best people for your business


How to motivate employees using a pick ‘n’ mix approach

It takes allsorts

Why do you go to work? What is it about your job that gets you out of bed of a morning?

Is it the money? Is it challenge? Is it the people you work with? Is it the opportunity to make a difference? Or to grow and develop?

Everyone has different reasons for doing the job that they do. Different needs that work fulfils.

Organisations often focus on what the business wants from its employees. But to engage people, you need to focus on what they want from the organisation. On why they work for you. On what motivates them.

Because, by tapping into why people work for you, you can ensure they’re motivated to do it to the best of their ability.

But there’s a problem. Most people don’t know what motivates them. So how can you, as their manager, possibly tap into that?

By taking a pick n’ mix, proactive and practical approach, that’s how.

Managers tend to focus on financial reward as the optimum way to motivate employees. But money isn’t everything – for two significant reasons:

1. Money is not a principle motivator for most of us. It’s a means to an end, not an end in itself. For most people, it is not money that’s of value but what it enables us to do.

2. One size definitely doesn’t fit all. Different people have different needs. By focusing on one need (financial security), managers miss all the others and therefore only meet the needs of a small proportion of their employees.

To motivate employees effectively, managers must find ways to meet all their different needs.

The six human needs

There are lots of motivation models which often overlap and correspond with each other.

Tony Robbins, entrepreneur and life coach, developed one such model. He identified six universal needs that drive all human behaviour.

These are:

  • the need for love and connection
  • the need for certainty
  • the need for significance
  • the need for growth
  • the need for variety and challenge
  • the need for contribution.

We are each a combination of these needs. We might for instance need to feel a connection with people we work with, while also needing variety and challenge. Or we long for certainty and for growth.

Our needs can change depending on context or our personal circumstances. For instance, if we’re very fulfilled socially outside work, we won’t need that sense of connection inside work as much as we might if we were very isolated at home.

Covering all the bases

How are you, as a manager of a group of people with very different and changing needs, supposed to know what each person needs at any given time?

The answer is, you can’t. Even if you ask people, they won’t always know the answer.

So, instead of trying to pin down everyone’s different needs, just make sure you cover all the bases.

It’s like when you’re trying to convey information to people. You understand that different people take in information differently. Some prefer it to be written down, some prefer it as images or as infographics while others are better with aural communication. You won’t necessarily know the preferences of the people in front of you though. So, in order to ensure you reach everyone, you use a combination of communication techniques. You cover all the bases.

It’s the same with motivation. To make sure you meet all the different needs of everyone in your team you need to provide a diverse range of motivational options. A veritable pick ‘n’ mix, if you will.

Practical actions to meet each human need

Here are some practical (and inexpensive) steps you can take to meet the six human needs. Pick at least one from each category to ensure you’re covering all the bases in your team:

1. Social: you need to have a strong connection with the people around you

Some people go to work because of the people around them, because of the connections they’ve made.

Action: encourage team members to get to know each other and provide opportunities for them to socialise outside work/away from their desks. E.g. after-work drinks, a bowling night etc. 

2. Certainty and safety: you need to have certainty, a sense of stability and security

For some people any sort of change can be destabilising, even a desk-swap. Work, for these people, is a place of familiarity and certainty, while also providing them with financial security.

As a manager, you can’t always avoid making changes or having change imposed upon you. But by recognising that some of your team may be particularly unsettled by this means you can work to alleviate the impact upon them.

Action: consult with people about change, big or small. Be open and transparent about what’s happening and why. Discuss the implications with them. Look to find ways to help them to feel more in control – what actions could they take to tackle the situation?

3. Significance: you need to feel valued

Many people get their sense of self-worth from the environment they’re in and the people around them. To feel good, to feel motivated, they need to know they’re valued and important to the team/organisation.

Action: consider ways in which you can acknowledge people’s value to the team/business. It could be as simple as a public thank you or more formal recognition such as a pay review, a promotion etc.

4. Growth and development: you need to feel you’re growing and developing as a person

Some people don’t want to stand still. They want to learn new things, develop their skills, progress. They’ll sign up for every training course on offer. They might even put themselves up for promotion before they’re ready. And they’re likely to leave if they don’t feel fulfilled.

Action: conduct personal development reviews and provide opportunities for growth and development. This doesn’t have to mean expensive training courses. It could be online learning, mentoring, or job shadowing.

5. Variety and challenge: you need to feel challenged and stimulated

Some people get bored easily. Too long in the same job and they’ll get itchy for change. They need newness, adventure and variety.

Action: provide opportunities for people to take on new responsibilities, get involved with new projects or different customers or departments.

6. Contribution and impact: you need to feel you’re making a difference to people/society

Many people need to feel that they’re contributing to something, that they’re part of something bigger. That the work they do has a positive impact on people or the environment etc. As a manager, it’s about translating the corporate vision into something tangible, something meaningful for people.

Action: help people understand how their work impacts on the experience/lives of their customers or the wider community. Provide opportunities for people to get involved with sustainability or corporate responsibility projects.


As a manager, the first step to motivating a team of people is to recognise that each member will have different motivations, different reasons for being there.

The second step is to understand that you don’t have to know what their different needs are in order to meet them.

The final step is to take a pick ‘n’ mix approach to how you motivate employees. Offer a diverse range of options so that each individual team member’s needs are met.

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