Leadership Matters: The 4 levels of employee motivation

Telling your employees the ‘why’ of their work can spur their performance.

What motivates the employees at your credit union to do their best work? Are they working just for a paycheck, or do they feel that they are making a positive impact in the organization—and in the community?

Over the past few decades, the nuances of workplace motivation have been studied from every perspective imaginable: psychology, neuroscience, biology, organizational theory and more. Many of the findings have been counterintuitive, such as the fact that monetary compensation is one of the weakest motivators out there.

Fortunately, you don’t have to comb through dozens of research articles to develop a basic understanding of employee motivation. After decades of running companies and working with managers, I have come to think of employee motivation as having four basic levels. Let’s take a look at each of them.

Level 1 Motivation: “Because You Told Me To”
Some employees do their work because the boss told them to. If they didn’t do the work, they would get in trouble and risk losing their source of income. So they process that transaction, make that call, attend that training, or perform whatever other task is at hand, usually doing the bare minimum.


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